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Mayor Refuses to Acknowledge the Clear Roadmap of How Police Accountability Can be Improved in the SPOG Contract

Seattle News:

Mayor Bruce Harrell recently sat down for an interview with Cascade PBS and spoke at length about issues relating to public safety. The whole thing is worth a read, but I do want to call out one thing he implies, that people asking for more accountability in SPD aren’t being specific: “So rather than people saying nebulous claims that we want more accountability, tell me specifically.”

Police accountability advocates in Seattle have in fact been incredibly specific, even in the face of really technical issues that can be fairly opaque. For example, asking for the ability to implement the 2017 Accountability Ordinance is a very specific demand, and the details of what that would take have been laid out many times by many people and organizations. People Power Washington sent an incredibly detailed letter in 2022 laying out exactly what accountability improvements Seattle needs to make, a letter that has been circulated widely to the Mayor’s Office, last year’s City Council, this year’s City Council, and the OPA, among others. It is incredibly disingenuous for Harrell to say people are “saying nebulous claims” of wanting more accountability. There is nothing nebulous about what people are asking for.

Speaking of Mayor Harrell, his office announced a shakeup of staff this week. Budget Director Julie Dingley has resigned and her last day will be Friday, May 17. As a reminder, the Mayor usually presents the proposed budget the last week of September, so this is interesting timing for the resignation of the person in charge of preparing said proposed budget, particularly considering the looming $241 million budget deficit. 

A new hire is Natalie Walton-Anderson as the Mayor’s new director of public safety. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Walton-Anderson recently left her job at the City Attorney’s Office as the Criminal Division Chief. During her time at the City Attorney’s Office, she wrote the infamous memo laying out the office’s new policy of filing an affidavit of prejudice on Seattle Municipal Court Judge Pooja Vaddadi for all criminal cases. She announced her departure soon after the mistrial of the Stop the Sweeps protester who was tried for attempting to stop the police from moving an RV while its owner obtained a spare tire in order to move it herself. 

PubliCola reported: “Walton-Anderson was known for aggressively filing charges in drug-related cases that would ordinarily get channeled into the city’s pre-booking diversion program, LEAD, and Davison credited her with instituting the “high-utilizer initiative,” which targets people accused of multiple misdemeanor offenses for more punitive approaches than other defendants.”

And on the accountability front, the new SPOG contract, which will only cover from 2021-2023, will receive its final Council vote at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 14 at 2pm, skipping a committee hearing. Per the Central Staff memo, the contract will cost the city $96 million this year, and will add around $40 million per year to the SPD budget starting in 2025. As has been previously reported, the city has negotiated for very few accountability improvements in exchange. If you would like to email your councilmembers or prepare a public comment, there is more information here.

The Governance, Accountability, and Economic Development committee met on Thursday and voted unanimously to pass the SPD officer recruitment bill out of committee. It will likely receive a full Council vote on May 21. A few amendments were added, including one walked on by Councilmember Rob Saka and written by Councilmember Tammy Morales (who does not sit on this committee) that will require more reporting from SPD on how they’re doing with the 30×30 initiative that has to do with hiring women officers. This is in the wake of several women officers coming forward in the last six months alleging sexual discrimination and harassment.

Meanwhile, the Council has been signaling for some months its interest in finding another jail with which to contract due to the King County Jail’s booking restrictions for low-level non-violent misdemeanor crimes, including possibly the SCORE jail in Des Moines. Not only did the SCORE jail experience a large number of inmate deaths last year, but it is inconvenient for public defenders, and doesn’t provide the same access to basic things like video calls that work, privacy for an attorney to speak with their client, and ability to get people to their court appearances. 

The Stranger reported that the King County Public Defender’s union SEIU 925 said if Seattle uses SCORE, it could obstruct defendants’ constitutional right to an attorney. It could also extend case times. The Stranger continued in its usual trenchant fashion:

Sending someone to SCORE for a crime such as criminal trespass—which could mean that an unhoused person tried one too many times to use the bathroom at a grocery store—also seems like a waste of resources. SPD officers would have to drive that person about 16 miles to Des Moines, book them into SCORE, then drive 16 miles back, not to mention all the changes Seattle Municipal Court would need to make, either transporting more defendants or setting up video only appearances for people in jail. All that, so SPD could focus less on crimes with a real public safety risk, and instead boost officers “morale” by throwing people in jail for low-level crimes.”

This week Mayor Harrell announced the organizations who will receive $7 million in capital funds for facility improvements to provide post-overdose care, opioid medication delivery, and case management services. The Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) will receive $5.65 million, and Evergreen Treatment Center will receive $1.35 million, subject to federal approval. DESC will operate a post-overdose stabilization center on Third Avenue, with renovations to begin by quarter 1 of 2025. They will pilot services from their Crisis Solutions Center in the CID starting in June. Evergreen Treatment Center will launch a new mobile clinic this summer.

It is the end of filing week! I sat down for an interview with Alexis Mercedes Rinck, who is running for the City Council at-large seat this November. It also seems that Shaun Scott, who is running to be a state representative for the 43rd LD position 2, now has a challenger in Andrea Suarez, the founder of We Heart Seattle. Suarez first filed for position 1 in the 43rd LD against Nicole Macri, but it turned out she accidentally filed for the wrong position.

Recent Headlines:

 

Mayor Refuses to Acknowledge the Clear Roadmap of How Police Accountability Can be Improved in the SPOG Contract Read More »

A Disappointing SPOG Contract, Ignoring Community’s Interest in Accountabilty, Takes Another Step Forward

Seattle News:

Mayor Bruce Harrell announced legislation to move forward the new SPOG contract, previously discussed here. The new agreement, which gives SPOG members a total retroactive pay raise of 23%, only covers up until the end of 2023, which makes it “partial.” Negotiations for the 2024 contract are ongoing and currently in mediation. It is worth noting that if mediation fails, the next step would be to go to interest arbitration, the decision of which would be binding for both parties. 

For the most starry-eyed perspective of what this contract accomplishes, you can read the city’s press release, but it’s important to remember that this new contract does not even meet the minimum bar of achieving the 2017 Accountability Ordinance. Many advocates would like to see accountability pushed beyond an ordinance passed 7 years ago. The contract needs to be passed by City Council in order to be finalized.

I wrote a piece covering the current conversation related to SPD police officer recruitment and standards. I cover Councilmember Sara Nelson’s legislation asking to switch the officer candidate entrance exam, concerns with SPD’s backgrounding, and SPD cultural problems, including the recently filed tort claim by four female SPD officers alleging sexual harassment and discrimination. I also point out that Mayor Bruce Harrell’s recent move to hire an independent investigation firm to look into these charges comes an entire 7 months after the 30×30 report was released that uncovered these issues, and only after three separate law suits and tort claims that all allege sexual discrimination. 

The Stranger reported that “Council Member Tanya Woo let it slip last night that Public Safety Chair Bob Kettle and the City Attorney are “looking into possibly taking away the contract with King County and trying to have a contract with SCORE, private jails…” While SCORE isn’t technically a private jail, it does have serious safety concerns and would be more costly than the King County Jail, which Seattle currently uses. Whether private jails are also being looked into or Woo simply misspoke is unclear. 

In a strange display at Monday’s Council Briefing, Councilmember Cathy Moore appeared to be close to a temper tantrum over alleged uncollegial conduct from colleague Councilmember Tammy Morales after Moore voted against Morales’s Connected Communities legislation last week. The legislation would have made it easier to build more affordable housing in the city. You can watch her speech here. Thus far no journalist has been able to uncover any evidence that Morales actually said anything inflammatory. While this doesn’t have anything to do with public safety per say, it is a glimpse into a Council that continues to say bizarre things and occasionally throw facts to the wind. 

As we prepare for budget discussions this fall, it’s important to have an understanding of where the large ($240 million and growing) deficit came from. A new five-year analysis shows that around 79% of budget growth during that time came from keeping up with inflation, including increasing wages for city workers. New and expanded programs supported by the JumpStart tax accounted for 19%. 

As The Seattle Times reported, other budgetary issues have included increased legal claims against the city (much stemming from SPD’s behavior in 2020), increasing insurance costs, and costly technology upgrades.

SPD Officer Daniel Auderer, Vice President of SPOG whose claim to fame is laughing at Jaahnavi Kandula’s death, will be representing SPD at a national traffic safety conference in August in Washington DC. Taxpayers will undoubtedly be footing the expense for this trip.

Payments for the retroactive pay raise for the Coalition of City Unions, previously thought to be delayed until fall, will be given in July instead. The timeline of retroactive pay for SPOG members won’t be decided until after the City Council vote on the new contract.

SPD has ended its use of the experimental BolaWrap, a lasso-like device that they touted for using in situations where people in crisis had knives. In a report, SPD reported using the device only 3 times in 2023, and in one of these incidents the technology failed spectacularly. As The Stranger reports:

In 2021, the City agreed to restore more than $4 million for SPD’s discretionary spending fund in part based on the justification that SPD needed the money to invest in BolaWrap technology. The decision seemed rooted in the idea that new technologies can stop police violence. But cops often ignore less-lethal options in favor of their guns. In the SPD cases where they killed Caver, Hayden, and Charleena Lyles, no officer used the less lethal tools that SPD already equipped them with, such as Tasers, pepper spray, a baton, or a shield. Still, the City thought the BolaWrap, already a ridiculous concept for a device, would suddenly do the trick.”

King County News:

I wrote an article describing the new guaranteed basic income (GBI) program run by the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County, starting in fall of 2022. While this program benefited people from many walks of life, I focused my article on two examples of folks receiving the GBI benefit who were justice-impacted and readjusting to life outside of prison. GBI programs like these continue to show large benefits, both for their recipients and for society as a whole. 

If you’re interested in the work around recommendations regarding the King County youth jail, there will be an informational webinar on Thursday, May 23 from 6-7pm. The Care & Closure Advisory Committee is also reconvening to discuss their two recommendations that were not unanimous: the proposed respite and receiving center and short-term respite housing. Their first meeting will be on Monday, June 3rd at 4pm.

Recent Headlines:

A Disappointing SPOG Contract, Ignoring Community’s Interest in Accountabilty, Takes Another Step Forward Read More »

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.”

Recent Headlines:

 

Council President Nelson Pushes Back Against Experts’ Opinions Read More »

Seattle’s Alternate Response Pilot a Far Cry from 2020 Demands

Seattle News:

Yours truly was quoted in a recent Urbanist article about the recent shakeup at the Mayor’s Office, which reports that Tim Burgess will be promoted to Deputy Mayor in Monisha Harrell’s wake. Former OPA Director Andrew Myerberg will also be receiving a promotion to Chief Innovation Officer, which will put him on the executive team. It appears that current Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell will be staying until the end of the summer.

Senior Deputy Mayor Harrell appeared at Tuesday’s Public Safety and Human Services Department committee meeting to deliver a presentation on the City’s much-delayed dual dispatch response. The City is hiring six mental health professionals and one clinical supervisor; the mental health professionals will be dispatched in three teams of two, with two teams working at a time. When the new program launches, theoretically in October, it will respond to calls such as welfare checks and person down calls, and it will not provide 24/7 response. Monisha Harrell spoke to the potential of alternate response programs to act as preventative measures that address situations before they become emergencies. 

However, this new program ultimately won’t deliver on the hope to have a new non-police emergency response in Seattle, which has been consistently blocked for the last three years by SPD, SPOG, and former Mayor Durkan. As Ashley Nerbovig at the Stranger succinctly summarizes: “A lot of questions about the direction of the program remain, and part of the pilot program includes collecting data to learn what types of calls don’t require police. That data basically already exists, though. The National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform’s 2021 analysis showed that 80% of SPD calls for service involved non-criminal matters. The report also found that about half of all calls did not require a sworn response.” 

She reports that the main difference between this pilot program and the already existing Crisis Response Team is that with the new program, police will be allowed to leave the scene if they decide their presence is unnecessary. This might reflect a recent change in the pilot design as in the past, the dual dispatch plan has been described as having police staged nearby in case backup was needed, which is a key difference as police being directly on the scene can have an escalating effect. In any case, it seems clear the new pilot deviates from the model proven by the successful CAHOOTS and STAR programs.

Meanwhile, the overdue white paper was not mentioned.

On Tuesday the Mayor held a press conference to discuss his downtown activation plan, but he was interrupted by a small group of protesters demanding a ban on sweeps during the winter and extreme weather events. According to The Stranger, he got “incredibly flustered” and stated that the press conference “had them outnumbered at least.” Expect local groups to take notice of the Mayor’s discomfort with protestors and increase their direct actions in response.

Publicola reported on the substance of the proposal, which is mostly a repeat of what the Mayor has announced before: “And, of course, it assumes a heavier police presence downtown—a mostly unspoken, but bedrock, element of the proposal. “Make Downtown Safe and Welcoming” is actually number one on the plan’s list of seven priorities, starting with arrests of people “distributing and selling illegal drugs” (and, presumably, using them—Harrell mentioned that a bill criminalizing drug possession and public use will likely pass in July).”

Mayor Harrell’s office has released a memo on OPA findings about former SPD Chief Carmen Best. Because Best refused to participate in the investigation, the OPA said they were unable to find sufficient evidence to determine whether several of her statements in the summer of 2020 were “knowingly false.” The Mayor’s memo acts as a toothless rebuke, as Best will suffer no repercussions for her actions, even as the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog reports that “Best’s use of information and inaccurate statements fits into a pattern of disinformation and “improper ruses” used by SPD during the protests.”

SPD Officer Constantin, who was fired for his social media posts, had his appeal dismissed after he failed to appear. Former SPD Officer Adley Shepherd’s appeal (he was suing the City after being fired for punching a woman he’d arrested and handcuffed) has also been dismissed.

County, State, and National News:

The King County Sheriff’s Office has been ordered to reinstate a deputy they fired in 2021 for killing an unarmed man who was wanted for the theft of a vehicle and a poodle. (The poodle survived.) King County later settled with the man’s family for $2.5 million. Deputy George Alvarez, who already had five shootings under his belt at the time of the incident, will return to the department, although he will not be reinstated to the SWAT team. As Publicola reports, Tamer Abouzeid, the director of OLEO, hopes the outcome of this case could lead to changing the burden of proof of administrative investigations to a preponderance of the evidence, which is a lower burden of proof than the current standard used of clear and convincing standard. 

In the last three or so months, nearly 400 inmates in the King County Jail have been moved to the Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC) in Kent. MRJC  now houses about 40% of the average daily jail population, up from around 25%, while the population of the downtown jail has been decreased by about a third. Right now, SCORE is housing 30 jail residents for King County. 

Meanwhile, Larch Corrections Center in Clark County will be closing this fall. It is one of twelve prisons in Washington State. Apparently the Department of Corrections is also finally developing a plan to reduce the use of solitary confinement in Washington prisons, after strong grassroots advocacy for legislation that would ban such use entirely, given that solitary confinement that lasts more than 15 days is recognized as torture by the United Nations and various human rights organizations.

Scott Greenstone at KNKX recently published an excellent piece outlining the lack of drug treatment facilities in Washington state and consequences of the new Blake fix drug law. While legislators and the governor insist the new law is meant to help people get more treatment more than it is to increase incarceration rates, there is a serious lack of treatment facilities in the state, and the existing facilities often have wait times of several months. We don’t know the full extent of the problem because “it’s unclear how many beds are actually sitting empty right now in Washington: The system is so complicated and poorly tracked, neither the governor’s office, nor the Washington Department of Health, nor the Healthcare Authority could provide those numbers.” And the urgency of the problem is increasing: while the number of people getting treated for substance use disorder has stayed relatively flat, the number of overdoses has skyrocketed in recent years.

The article also features noted addiction expert Caleb Banta-Green, who spoke to his feelings of discouragement after the new law was passed, as well as his worries that it will “make it easier to shut down clean-needle exchanges, and force people into an ineffective treatment system.”

Nationwide, we’re seeing a drop in the murder rate, as reported by Radley Balko: “If trends continue, 2023 will see the largest percentage drop in murders in U.S. history. The drop will be driven primarily by large declines in big cities. This would seem to undermine the argument that the 2-year rise in homicides during the pandemic was driven by criminal justice reform, George Soros’s favored prosecutors, or policing shortages.”

Housekeeping:

I’ve received a few pledge requests through Substack, so I just wanted to give you a reminder that if you want to support Notes from the Emerald City via subscription, you can do so through my Patreon.

Recent Headlines:

Seattle’s Alternate Response Pilot a Far Cry from 2020 Demands Read More »

Community Outcry against King County’s Potential SCORE Jail Contract

King County Jail News:

On Tuesday morning, a 58-year-old woman died in the King County Jail. She had been booked into the jail on Friday with a charge of burglary. We don’t yet know her cause of death. 

On Tuesday afternoon, the King County Council met to discuss, amongst other things, the $3.5m SCORE contract that would allow them to transfer 50 people (to start) from the King County Jail to the SCORE facility in Des Moines. While this is being sold as a “short-term” solution to run until the end of 2024, there is already discussion of expanding the number of inmates transferred to SCORE. 33 people gave public comment asking the CMs to vote no on this new contract. There have been several lawsuits brought against SCORE by family members of people who died in the jail, alleging the facility failed to provide adequate medical care. Being transferred to SCORE might also impact the quality of inmates’ defenses. You can see my live tweets of the CMs’ discussion here

At the briefing, CM McDermott stated that booking restrictions haven’t changed and asked for the reason for the growth of the King County Jail population in 2022. Analyst Leah Krekel-Zoppi said that pre-pandemic, the average daily population of the jail was 1900, which dropped to 1300 due to the pandemic. The average daily population now is 1500-1600. She refused to answer the CM’s question about why it’s higher now.

One possible explanation for this increase is, as Erica C. Barnett suggests, the Seattle City Attorney’s High Utilizer program, which skirts the current jail booking restrictions for misdemeanors: “In January and February 2022, before the high utilizer initiative went into effect,  the average daily population at the downtown jail was 910; for the same period this year, it was 1,220. The increase is the result of a complex mix of factors, but jailing 142 people for low-level misdemeanors is undoubtedly among them.” She also found that on average, each one of these “high utilizers” served 117 days in jail in 2022, so they each spent significant time in the jail.

Another possible factor is people in the jail waiting for competency services. As Ashely Nervobig reports: “A February 7 report from the King County Prosecutor’s office showed about 80 people waiting for competency restoration services, with the state failing to provide treatment to some of the people in the jail for more than a year, according to Casey McNerthney, spokesperson for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.” 

Other possible factors for the difference in the jail population between 2021 and 2022 include an increase in SPD arrest reports–there were 10,601 such reports in 2022 versus 9165 in 2021–and the possibility the police are overcharging; that is, the practice of either adding charges or using a higher initial charge when such charges may not be able to be proven. This practice would be another way of getting around the King County Jail’s current booking restrictions. 

CM Zahilay asked two questions that remained outstanding and that the CMs resolved to discuss during their (confidential) executive session: 

  1. There is ambiguity over which type of booking restrictions can be mandated by a County Executive. Some say these restrictions can only apply to misdemeanor charges, but there are also some counties in Washington that may have restrictions relating to certain felonies.
  2. Is the County legally allowed to pay people’s bail? In the past (pre-pandemic) King County gave a $400k contract to the Northwest Bail Fund, but it’s not clear if any of this money was ever directly used to pay bail. It sounds like it was used to fund wraparound services that helped people qualify for bail. Data from that program showed the number of people able to post bail increased significantly during its adoption in 2019-2020. CMs were very interested to learn how many people are housed in King County’s jails because of being unable to pay bail.

If the CMs do not approve this new contract with SCORE, it would be incumbent upon them to decrease the population of the King County Jail in other ways, hence the importance of the above questions. The Shut Down King County Jail coalition is asking for the CMs to do exactly this and reduce the jail population by ceasing imprisonment of those experiencing mental health crises and stopping imposing bail, which has the impact of holding poor people in this facility while those with more resources are allowed to go free. However, some CMs signaled more interest in putting additional definitions and limitations around the SCORE contract as opposed to searching for ways to decrease the County’s jailed population in any meaningful way. 

The vote on this legislation was delayed until the next King County Council meeting on Tuesday, March 28. In the meantime, you may write or call your King County CMs and/or plan to give public comment on the 28th.

Seattle News:

SPD detective Cookie Bouldin has filed a $10m tort claim against SPD, claiming racial and gender discrimination and retaliation for whistleblowing. She says she has faced gender and racial discrimination for the entirety of her 40-year career, which began in 1980, when she was one of only two Black female officers in SPD. She is known for reaching out to communities of color and running a youth chess club, both of which she says have made her a target. The claim states: “​​She notes that the hostile work environment she has been subjected to has increased dramatically in recent years.”

In an analysis of Ann Davison’s first year as Seattle City Attorney, Guy Oron writes:

“​​The King County Department of Public Defense (DPD) has denounced the CAO’s approach to prosecution during Davison’s tenure, setting up a Twitter account at @CourtWatchSMC called “Seattle Municipal Court Watch” to monitor cases when the CAO has filed charges against poor residents and people experiencing mental health illnesses. Notable cases that the DPD has highlighted include prosecution of people for stealing paper towels, selling cigarettes without proper licensing, sleeping under a tarp in a business parking lot and staying in a building slated for demolition to stay warm. These selected anecdotes seem to align with the data, which shows that the vast majority of SMC defendants rely on public defense.”

Election News:

King County Executive Dow Constantine has announced he will not be running for governor in 2024. This was after the Northwest Progressive Institute released poll results showing Attorney General Bob Ferguson as the leading Democratic candidate in a potential 2024 governor’s race, assuming current Governor Inslee chooses not to run for a fourth term. Bob Ferguson polled at 21%, whereas another possible Democratic candidate, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, polled at 7%.

Recent Headlines:

Community Outcry against King County’s Potential SCORE Jail Contract Read More »