Council President Nelson Pushes Back Against Experts’ Opinions

Seattle News:

At this week’s Governance, Accountability, and Economic Development Committee meeting, Council President Sara Nelson hosted a discussion on draft legislation of an “SPD Recruitment Ordinance.” The ordinance as currently drafted would do the following: 

  • make permanent an SPD recruitment and retention program, moving 3 positions created by a previous ordinance for a recruitment manager and two recruiters into SPD
  • encourage the Public Safety Civil Service Commission (PSCSC) to consider the use of the entry level police officer exam used by multiple other agencies in Puget Sound region (known as the PST test)
  • asks PSCSC to make personal contact with officer candidates within 48 hours
  • requests PSCSC increase frequency of eligibility rosters to every 2 weeks
  • add to police exams unit in HSDR a new position for more robust candidate support (a position that will be paid for in 2024 with vacancy savings in SPD recruitment and will cost $146k/year extra starting in 2025)

There appears to be a small amount of friction between city council members and the Mayor’s Office over the details of this bill, as the Mayor’s Office would like to move only 2 of the recruitment positions to SPD, with the third going to PSCSC. However, the Mayor’s Office is reportedly looking to see if they can accommodate the council members’ desire in their reorganization plans. 

Council President Nelson said that while PSCSC Director Andrea Scheele had expressed concern that switching entrance tests would lower standards, she doesn’t believe that would be the case. It is unclear why she believes this, given it is Director Scheele’s literal job to review and assess these exams.

She also said that only 5 jurisdictions within Washington State are using the test used for SPD officers-–the NTN test-–although Council Central Staff member Greg Doss later corrected her, saying 27 cities in Washington use the NTN test, as well as all the West Coast Seven cities. 

Councilmember Kettle suggested using both tests, and while Doss said three jurisdictions in Washington do use both tests, he suggested doing so would be complicated and have legal ramifications. All three jurisdictions who do so have developed a special pre-employment process to make sure using both tests remains fair. It seems likely SPD would likewise have to develop a new pre-employment process in order to use both tests.

Council President Nelson also discussed how this legislation was changed to use discretionary language when it came to the PSCSC after receiving input from the law department. However, she says she has been closely reading the City Municipal Code herself and thinks it is unclear who gets to select the test. 

There have been many stories about the new proposed SPOG contract, on which SPOG members are currently voting.

The headlines sum up the situation: the contract represents a huge raise for SPD officers (we don’t yet know the full fiscal impact on Seattle’s overall budget) and almost no accountability improvements.

Even The Seattle Times editorial board agrees the proposed contract would be a mistake, writing, “To strengthen bonds between cops and communities, Seattle leaders must ensure that any new labor agreement fully implements the city’s landmark 2017 Police Accountability Ordinance.”

An attached MOU to the proposed contract lists some duties that could, were this to be approved, be taken on by civilian employees. As The Stranger reports, “Instead of creating serious police alternatives that could save the City money and help alleviate staffing shortages at the department, the MOU outlines civilian roles that look more like personal assistants to cops and that protect cushy positions wholly unsuited for some of the City’s highest-paid employees.”

As I wrote at The Urbanist:

Noteworthy in this list is the item regarding wellness checks. The MOU with SPOG passed last year allowed the new Community Assisted Response and Engagement (CARE) team to respond to two call types: person down and wellness checks. This new MOU places additional restrictions on wellness check response, saying civilians can only respond to these calls “where the identified individual known to the caller does not have any history of or current suicidal ideations, significant health problems including mental health, history of or fighting addiction, history of or concerns of domestic abuse, or is living in one of the City’s ‘wet houses.’” Some advocates are concerned these additional parameters could mean wellness checks able to be performed by CARE civilian responders will be few and far between. Indeed, this definition appears to preclude the idea of an alternate civilian emergency response to mental health crises, a policy strongly supported by Seattleites.” 

This concerning news comes at the same time that U.S. Rep. Adam Smith has begun touting a new federal investment of $1.926 million into Seattle’s CARE program. He says, “This funding will help launch the CARE Department, which will support the Seattle Police Department and Seattle Fire Department by diverting health mental health, substance use disorders, and related wellness services calls to this new civilian-run department.” Apparently he hasn’t read the new SPOG proposal nor The Stranger’s reporting on how CARE’s dual dispatch is currently going.

Meanwhile, PubliCola reports that many city workers who just had a new contract approved, including retroactive pay raises for 2023 and 2024, won’t be receiving those payments until at least October, which would be six months after agreeing to the bargaining agreement. It is unclear whether a new contract with SPOG would face the same delay in payout.

At this week’s Public Safety committee meeting, councilmembers heard a report on the OIG’s latest use of force assessment for SPD. Some noteworthy points from the presentation:

  • The counts of force against Black, Hispanic/Latino, and other minorities increased. 
  • Unknown race for both subjects with complaints of pain and civilians subject to pointing of a firearm increased substantially in 2023.
  • 2022 and 2023 years had no Type III and no Type III use of force in response to behavioral crisis for the first time since 2015.

At the presentation, Chief Operating Officer of SPD Brian Maxey bemoaned that “the same communities that complain about over policing complain about under policing.” He said the goal is to police based on need rather than by demographics. The presenters stated that the data showing increased use of force against Black and Latino community members wasn’t enough to draw conclusions of bias in what came across as “thou doth protest too much.” The Inspector General of the OIG, Lisa Judge, said they want to do a deeper dive to better understand what is driving “that particular snapshot of use of force.” 

A female lieutenant at SPD, Lauren Truscott, has made a complaint against SPD’s Lt. John O’Neil, the head of public affairs. The OPA has opened an investigation around this complaint. 

As KUOW reported, Truscott believes SPD’s acceptance of sexual harassment and discrimination comes from the very top and has called for new leadership: ““Women are being marginalized and dismissed, and no one is listening,” Truscott said. “We should never be treating employees as though they’re disposable. They are our most valuable commodity, but especially during a staffing crisis.””

The Loudermill hearing for Officer Daniel Auderer, the SPOG VP who was caught on bodycam joking about Jaahnavi Kandula’s death, was supposed to be held on April 1, but it was delayed.

The City Attorney’s Office finally filed a complaint against Seattle Municipal Court Judge Pooja Vaddadi for a case in which an assistant city attorney was disqualified from a case. A Superior Court judge found that Judge Vaddadi had acted properly. Nevertheless, the City Attorney’s Office is still continuing to prevent Judge Vaddadi from presiding over criminal cases.

Lisa Daugaard, Co-Executive Chair at Purpose Dignity Action, tweeted that the program CoLEAD, which provides lodging for unhoused people with behavioral health issues, has “shrunk from 250 rooms to 130 and a year from now will likely be down to 60.”

PubliCola published an update on how things are going with the new Seattle drug ordinance criminalizing public drug use and possession, saying that it doesn’t seem to have made more than superficial changes to the level of drug use. And there are other problems: “According to municipal court records, the average time between an arrest under the new drug law and when the city attorney files charges is about 70 days; more than half of the people charged under the new law had to wait 90 days or more for Davison’s office to file charges. This is in sharp contrast to Davison’s promise, in 2022, to decide whether to file charges in all criminal cases within five business days after her office receives a referral from the police department.”

The entire article is well worth the read.

Other News:

The Renton City Council has increased the hiring bonus for lateral police hires for the Renton Police Department. Formerly lateral hires received $10k upon hire and $10k after completing a one-year probation period. Now they will receive $20k upon hire and $20k after completing a one-year probation period, for a total of $40k per lateral hire.

Gun sales in Washington, which increased last year as the legislature passed new gun control laws, have plummeted so far in 2024. As measured by background checks, gun sales in January and February were cut in half this year compared to last year, and March gun sales were down 70%. You can read more about gun sales in the state here.

King County officials are considering whether they can begin their own corrections officer training program, with Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion asking Attorney General Bob Ferguson whether counties have the legal authority to do so. The state Criminal Justice Training Center does not support this idea. 

A man who died at the ICE facility in Tacoma last month had been held in solitary confinement for nearly all of his 4-year internment there. He spent nearly a decade in solitary confinement in state prisons before being transferred, so all together he spent more than 13 years in solitary confinement. ICE said he was in solitary confinement for “disciplinary reasons.” The Department of Correction reports 8 people have been held for over 500 days in the most severe restrictive housing. 

The Seattle Times reports: “The agency’s disclosure about Daniel’s time in state custody calls attention to the broad use of solitary confinement, not just by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And it raises more questions about whether Daniel’s prolonged periods of solitary contributed to his March 7 death at the Northwest ICE Processing Center.”

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