King County youth jail

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.

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A Day in the Life of Seattle City Council

A Day in the Life of Seattle City Council:

The day: Thursday, April 25, 2024

In the morning, Councilmember Martiza Rivera led the Librairies, Education, and Neighborhoods committee meeting, where she blamed the recently announced rotating library closings and reduced hours on the benefits librarians won in their most recent contract. The expense of ebooks were also mentioned as a culprit. Downplayed was the impact of this year’s hiring freeze.

In the afternoon, Council President Sara Nelson led the Governance, Accountability, and Economic Development committee meeting. During public comment, a commenter brought attention to a possible conflict of interest Nelson has with the new gig worker minimum wage rollback legislation, and she interrupted him, attempting to derail his request for her to recuse herself by asking which item on the agenda he was referencing. (It was obvious which item he was referencing.)

During the discussion on the police officer recruitment bill, Nelson brought up the overwhelming nature of climate change, saying because there is no magical solution to climate change, we do nothing. But apparently hiring new police officers is not tough like climate change, hence this new bill, which seems unlikely to have a strong impact on hiring numbers, although it will give the Council someone to yell at if numbers don’t get better of their own accord. 

In the evening, two councilmembers held town halls in their district: Robert Kettle in District 7 and Cathy Moore in District 5. Kettle had friends Council President Sara Nelson and Councilmember Tanya Woo in tow. 

At Kettle’s event, he once again stated his belief that the SPD is the best police force in the nation. A few hours later, the news broke that four more women officers at SPD have filed a tort claim alleging sexual harassment and sexual discrimination by Chief Adrian Diaz, Lt. John O’Neil, and human resource manager Rebecca McKechnie. This is the third suit brought against the SPD for gender discrimination in the last six months. Meanwhile, SPD has been under a federal consent decree for twelve years and the new proposed SPOG contract does not make the accountability changes the presiding judge has indicated he wanted to see before fully ending the decree. And this is the best police force in the nation?

Worse yet, when asked whether the city has ever discussed bringing in the National Guard for “the most dire parts of this community,” Nelson said, “The short answer is yes.” She referenced Gavin Newsom calling in the National Guard in San Francisco. 

Meanwhile, at Moore’s event, she announced she’ll be introducing legislation reinstating the old law against “prostitution loitering” that was unanimously repealed by the Council back in 2020. Yes, even Alex Pedersen voted to repeal this law. 

As PubliCola reports, “The council repealed the laws against prostitution loitering and drug loitering after the Seattle Reentry Workgroup, established to come up with recommendations to help formerly incarcerated people reenter their communities, recommended repealing both laws on the grounds that they disproportionately harm people of color and amount to “criminalization of poverty.””

Moore says she hopes the law will allow officers to approach prostitutes, look for diversion opportunities, and see if they’re being trafficked or not. It is not clear whether this law is actually needed in order for officers to do these things.

Moore also said she’d be voting to approve the new SPOG contract that gives 23% raises to police officers while making few improvements to accountability.

Other News:

The first SPD killing of the year happened last week

The King County Law and Justice committee met this Tuesday to discuss the Superior Court’s Jury Participation and Diversity Report and to hear from the Auditor’s Office on the audit they recently performed on the Judge Patricia H. Clark Children and Family Justice Center (CCFJC), otherwise known as the youth jail. They also got an update on implementation of recommendations for all criminal legal system audits since 2020. 

The main findings from the audit on the youth jail were that while the facility was designed for short stays of 30 days or less in mind, most of the youth now held in the jail are staying for longer. 84% of youth have stays of more than 30 days, more than half are there for at least 3 months, and about a third are there for six months. The youth are housed in the CCFJC while waiting for the resolution of their cases.

This is a problem because the facility is not designed with ample green spaces, a big enough gymnasium, and flexible programming space, all of which are needed if youth are staying there longer. Youth staying longer tend to have greater needs as well, and CCFJC doesn’t offer all the appropriate programming. Longer stays in the youth jail have also been shown to increase recidivism. 

The other issue uncovered by the audit was the impact of staff shortages on the care of the youth staying at the facility, as well as on staff morale. Staff shortages lead to modified staffing schedules, which means more time the youth are spending in their cells. During a normal schedule, a youth will spend 11-13 hours in their cell, whereas they will spend at least 14.5 hours in their cell during a modified schedule. 

There have been times when educational class time has been so shortened teachers have worried about meeting state educational requirements. Short staffing can also cause recreation programs to be canceled and make it difficult for youth to meet with mental health counselors. Both teachers and juvenile detention officers end up being stretched thin. 

Right now 79 out of 91 total positions for juvenile detention officer are filled. The low staffing point thus far was in March of 2023, when there were only 68 juvenile detention officers. 

Recent Headlines:

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All Kinds of Power Struggles in Seattle This Week

Seattle News:

This week there are some interesting follow-ups on developing stories we’ve discussed in the past.

First, Publicola reported that CM Nelson plans to propose legislation that would require the Public Safety Civil Service Commission (PSCSC) to switch police officer tests to the Public Safety test. The current National Testing Network test is more rigorous and was developed with the City of Seattle’s consent decree in mind. The Public Safety test, on the other hand, has a 90% pass rate on the first try. Contrary to what Nelson said in the previous public safety committee meeting on the topic, this seems likely to in fact compromise the standards for police officers in Seattle.

But the plot thickens! The PSCSC has sole authority over developing and holding testing, and changing this would require a law change. From the Publicola article: “Courts have upheld the PSCSC’s authority in the past, Scheele notes. “The last time the Council passed an ordinance undercutting the commission’s independence it had to be repealed,” she said, after a state appeals court ruled that the city council acted outside its authority when it passed a law moving many of the PSCSC’s “substantive” duties, including officer testing, to the city’s Human Resources Department.” So a court case regarding this issue may be in our future. 

Meanwhile, hiring new officers has become difficult across the country and is much more likely to be related to the fact that perceptions of being a police officer have shifted and people aren’t as interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement. 

Relatedly, SPD issued a tepid and disingenuous defense of their treatment of female officers. On the same day, KUOW published an investigative report on sexism and harassment within the department that emphasized how scared these female officers were to even speak to the press: “These women started talking with each other and agreed to speak with KUOW on condition of anonymity, because they feared retaliation. Floyd was the only one to let KUOW identify her. The women said that if found out, they could be investigated for speaking to the press without permission. One woman shook through her interview with KUOW. Five women declined to speak with KUOW, saying through intermediaries that they were scared of retaliation.”

In other news, City Attorney Ann Davison charged the six protesters at a City Council meeting in February with gross misdemeanors for trespassing. And we also got some more information about why Davison might have made the decision to disqualify Judge Pooja Vaddadi from all criminal cases at Seattle Municipal Court. The Stranger reported that Davison asked a higher court to review Vaddadi’s decision to disqualify an assistant city attorney from prosecuting a case. The day after this decision of Vaddadi’s was the day then-Criminal Division Chief Natalie Walton-Anderson sent out the infamous memo that I covered here, announcing the new policy of disqualifying the judge from all future criminal cases.

The Stranger published an in-depth piece on the problems currently faced by Seattle’s dual dispatch program, aka the “alternative” emergency response program that doesn’t follow the best practices of such programs run elsewhere. Ashley Nerbovig reports that the program is currently underutilized and mostly getting referrals from SPD instead of from 911 dispatch. Here is a particularly pertinent quote from the article:

Right now, Smith acknowledges the City is watching whether this program can exist without pissing off either the police or fire union. Police union president Mike Solan has expressed a distaste for police alternatives, appearing to view them as an insult to SPD officers. The City’s contract with SPOG prevents it from shifting any work from sworn-officers to civilians without negotiations. Given how much leverage the City has already given away in the MOU, and given the repeated emphasis from the Mayor and the council on hiring more police officers as the only solution to public safety concerns, it seems unlikely that they’ll push hard to take lower-priority work off the plates of officers who constantly complain about having all this low-priority work on their plates. The other lingering question is whether the City plans to actually fund the program long-term.” 

Finally, Publicola reported on two smaller stories. First, the City Council are having embarrassing budget conversations in which they call out problems of efficiency with the budget that do not in fact exist. And second, CM Bob Kettle exposed City Hall to COVID when he knew he’d been exposed but did not choose to work from home until he got a positive test. For those who are unaware, it is in fact possible to spread COVID before you test positive. 

Jail News:

The Seattle Times reported about a 24-year-old who hung himself while in the Klickitat County Jail last year while withdrawing from fentanyl, which highlights how underprepared many Washington jails find themselves for dealing with the current fentanyl crisis. The article says, “As of 2019, Washington’s county jails had among the highest death rates in the nation. Suicide has been the leading cause of death in the state’s jails and in jails nationally.”

And Publicola reported on the death of a woman in the SCORE jail last year. She died of dehydration, malnutrition, low electrolyte levels and renal failure. 4 people died in the SCORE jail last year, which is a very high number given its population. About the fatality report, Publicola had this to say: “The report said Majoor was well-known to staff at SCORE and implied that this may have led to inadequate care: “Over familiarity with the decedent and previous detox experiences were discussed as possible issues.””

At the King County Law and Justice committee meeting this past week, councilmembers discussed the plan to close the County’s juvenile detention facility. In 2020 Executive Dow Constantine promised to close the facility by 2025, but that date has been recently pushed out until 2028, and judging by the committee discussion, is likely to be pushed out even further. Indeed, some councilmembers did not seem convinced that actual achievement of zero youth detention will ever be possible.  

The main points of contention appear to be whether the newly proposed respite and receiving centers for youth would feature locked doors and what the differences might be between security and safety. 

Councilmember Jorge Barón spoke eloquently about the problem, saying, “It strikes me as a failure of our society that we have people at a young age engaged in harm-causing behavior, including very serious criminal behavior. We need to really reflect on that. What kind of society are we creating and how do we change that?” He spoke about how the current system contributes to harm-causing behavior rather than reducing it. 

The County will start public engagement on the Care & Closure plan soon, as well as releasing recommendations for improvements that can be made to the existing facility that can be included in Constantine’s budget proposal this fall. Meanwhile, the advisory committee will continue to meet to hash out the question of security vs. safety.

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The Political Wheel is Turning

Seattle News:

Remember the Stop the Sweeps case at Seattle Municipal Court last week? The judge declared a mistrial after the jury was unable to reach consensus. On Monday morning, an Assistant City Attorney announced they would not retry the case, “citing a need to save city resources.”

Soon thereafter, the news broke that the head of the Seattle City Attorney’s Office’s criminal division, Natalie Walton-Anderson, announced her resignation after only two years in the position. Interesting timing, no? She will leave at the end of February, and this position will not be subject to the city’s hiring freeze. 

In the Jaahnavi Kandula misconduct case against Officer Auderer, SPD’s command staff has recommended he either be suspended without pay for one month or fired. About Auderer, they wrote:

“The disgrace you have brought to the department on a global scale will undoubtedly stain SPD’s reputation for years, and your insensitivity tarnished some observers’ perceptions of all SPD officers.”

However, they disagreed about the OPA’s finding that Auderer showed bias (ageism) and say they are worried that keeping that charge will make any discipline easier to overturn. They instead want the focus to remain on the professionalism charge. 

Auderer will have a disciplinary hearing with Chief Diaz on Monday, March 4. In addition, the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission is considering decertification of Auderer because of his comments. Were he to be decertified, he would no longer be allowed to work as a police officer in Washington State. 

CM Hollingsworth of D3 held a well-attended public safety community meeting on Tuesday evening. She said she expects a new SPOG contract to be ready potentially in March or April of this year. Capitol Hill Seattle’s article also mentions “talks of major hiring bonuses” for SPOG members, in spite of the fact hiring bonuses still haven’t been shown to actually work. 

The meeting focused especially on gun violence. CM Hollingsworth has worked with Black Coffee Northwest to hopefully  activate the area around 23rd and Jackson when it opens in a few months. It sounds like she mostly spoke about hiring more police and trying to increase their morale. But some attendees had other ideas, like this student:

“A senior at Garfield High shared how they saw a person die from gun violence on Sunday, and that police presence seems to be ineffective. They asked how or if the city works with mental health services in schools, because teachers are taking on the mental health load of students and adding more police officers doesn’t accomplish much on the mental health aspect.”

Apparently SPD had both enough staffing and enough morale to conduct inspections at four LGBTQ+ bars and clubs last weekend. Officers told managers they observed lewd conduct violations because a few people were wearing jockstraps and they saw a bartender’s nipple. After public outcry, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board said they would suspend enforcement of its lewd conduct rule.

House Our Neighbors will be holding a press conference on the morning of Tuesday, February 6 to announce a ballot initiative to raise new progressive revenue to fund the Seattle Social Housing Developer.

Finally, in a nice catch of rhetoric shift, David Kroman noted that City Hall is now calling the JumpStart tax the PET, or payroll expense tax. The name JumpStart is very aligned with the much discussed JumpStart spending plan memorialized legislatively, which allocates funding as follows: 62% affordable housing, 15% small business, 9% Green New Deal, and 9% Equitable Development Initiative. There has been speculation the Mayor might push for an end to the JumpStart spending plan in the 2025 budget. 

King County News:

Renton is currently voting in a special election to determine whether the minimum wage will be raised. Ballots have been sent out, and voting ends on February 13.

Executive Dow Constantine announced his plan going forward to ultimately shut down King County’s youth jail. He originally promised to close the youth jail by 2025, but his new plan both definitively nixes this timeline and doesn’t present a new proposed closure date. More on this soon.

WA State Legislature:

HB 1062, which would prohibit the use of deception in interrogation, had a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee yesterday. You can read more about this bill here.

You can read here about the status of various bills now that we’ve passed the first cut-off date. One noteworthy survivor is Rep. Dariya Farivar’s HB 1994, which would allow some misdemeanor cases to be dismissed if a defendant meets conditions set by the judge. HB 2331, which would stave off school book bans based on discrimination, also survived, as did HB 1513, a bill reducing low level traffic stops.

Recent Headlines:

 

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The Debate over ShotSpotter in Seattle Continues, While King County Takes Up Juvenile Solitary Confinement

Seattle News:
Budget

A new op-ed critical of ShotSpotter being in Seattle’s 2024 budget was published this week. There will also be a webinar about ShotSpotter next Wednesday, November 8 at 5:30pm; it will live stream on YouTube and has a Facebook event page.

Speaking of ShotSpotter, at last Friday’s budget meeting, an amendment was proposed to cut $1.5 million from the Crime Prevention Pilot proposed in the Mayor’s budget (this would cut all funding associated with ShotSpotter and CCTV cameras, while leaving money for license plate readers) and instead use these funds to pay for behavioral health services at tiny home villages that have been partially defunded in the 2024 budget. These services allow tiny home villages to house folks with higher acuity needs than they’d otherwise be able to take. 

CM Herbold said she was disappointed that it didn’t appear any additional community engagement has happened over the use of ShotSpotter since last year. Apparently about a month after her request to Senior Deputy Mayor Tim Burgess for the studies he said existed to back up his claim that uniting the ShotSpotter technology with CCTV cameras improved its accuracy rate and its admissibility as evidence in court, he finally sent her some studies. Six of these studies only spoke to the potential benefits of CCTV cameras, with no mention at all of ShotSpotter acoustic gun detection technology. One final document sent was a suggestion found in a guide that one might pair the two technologies, but this didn’t include any study nor reference to a study.

CM Pedersen said we needed to fund ShotSpotter and CCTV cameras because of SPD’s low staffing levels. Perhaps he is not familiar with this study, which found: “Although the study is limited to one city, results indicate AGDS may be of little benefit to police agencies with a pre-existing high call volume. Our results indicate no reductions in serious violent crimes, yet AGDS increases demands on police resources.”

CM Nelson said, “I think there is probably evidence on both sides of the argument depending on which study you’re looking at.” She then failed to present a single study supporting the use of ShotSpotter. 

There was a marathon budget meeting to discuss all the councilmembers’ proposed amendments last Friday. Besides the one using ShotSpotter funding for behavioral health services for tiny home villages, here are some of particular note:

  • Two amendments add funding for domestic violence survivors, including one for mobile community-based survivor supports.
  • Two amendments add funding for inflationary adjustments and a 2% provider pay equity increase for ALL human services worker contracts (some of them were excluded from this in the initial proposal), although one of the sources of funding has raised some questions.
  • A State of Legislative Intent (SLI) requesting HSD and CSCC/CARE perform a gap analysis of the City’s current and priority investments in gun violence prevention as compared to the recommendations in the King County Regional Community Safety and Wellbeing (RCSWB) Plan, and identify complementary, duplicative, or gaps in services provided by the City and King County. 
  • Additional dollars for both the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) ($50k) and the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) ($222k)
  • A proviso asking SPD to resume their contract with Truleo, which provides technology to review body worn camera footage. There is a long storied history behind this one, but it seems worth mentioning ACLU WA has historically been against the use of this technology for privacy and civil rights reasons. 

CM Mosqueda also laid out her plan for discussing new progressive revenue options, as well as other budget-related legislation that isn’t required to balance the 2024 budget. Initial proposals will be discussed on Wednesday, November 15. There will be an additional budget committee meeting after the budget is passed by Full Council (theoretically on November 21) to discuss and vote on these progressive revenue proposals. That extra meeting will be on Thursday, November 30, and should any legislation pass that day, it will then move to a Full Council vote on Tuesday, December 5.

It is pressing for the Council to discuss new progressive revenue options due to the forthcoming budget deficit, which for 2025 currently sits at $251 million. Any new revenue that is passed by Council would need time to be implemented, so in order to have new revenue to fill that budget gap in 2025, legislation would need to be passed sooner rather than later.

New progressive revenue options you can expect to see include a proposal for a small city-wide capital gains tax and the potential repeal of an extant water fee/tax. Councilmember Sawant has proposed two amendments that would require small increases to the current JumpStart payroll tax; these amendments would fund mental health counselors for schools ($20 million) and pay increases for city workers ($40 million). CMs Herbold and Mosqueda co-sponsored both these amendments.

In addition, there has been some talk of a CEO pay ratio tax. This could be instituted as another layer of the JumpStart payroll tax, to be levied on total payroll and applying only to corporations that exceed the CEO pay ratio. It is unclear how much additional revenue this would generate.

The Affected Persons Program, originally funded in the 2023 budget, did not have its work group implemented by the OPA this year. In response, it has had its funding moved over to HSD to contract with a community-based organization to coordinate the workgroup.

SPD’s New Ruse Policy

SPD announced their new ruse policy to much fanfare this week. This policy was created in response to the infamous Proud Boy ruse during the 2020 protests, as well as another ruse by SPD in 2018 in which an officer lied to the friend of a suspect in a fender bender, saying a woman was in critical condition because of the crash. The suspect committed suicide about a month later.

The new policy outlines the circumstances in which a ruse is allowed to be conducted. They are no longer supposed to be used for the investigation of misdemeanor property crimes. Perhaps most strikingly, they are also not allowed to be broadcast over radio, social media, or any other mass media format, a rule that, had it been in place in 2020, might have prevented the Proud Boy ruse. Officers are also supposed to consult with a supervisor before instigating a ruse, although only when “reasonably practical,” which seems like a potentially large loophole.

There are also now new requirements for documenting patrol ruses, which has led to some speculation over how many ruses will actually be documented in the manner described in the policy, as well as how much extra time (and potentially overtime) this might require. The word “ruse” is required to be specifically used in these reports, which could potentially make public disclosure requests around these sorts of police actions a bit easier to implement. 

What this new policy doesn’t directly address is the lack of communication that may have led public officials such as Seattle Public Utilities’ Emergency Manager into believing and making decisions based on their belief in the Proud Boy ruse.

Black Officers Alleging Discrimination at UW Police Department

Back in 2021, five Black officers at the UW Police Department filed a claim alleging dozens of incidents of racial discrimination in their workplace. Jury selection for this trial, which involves claims of over $8 million, began last week. Apparently an outside review was done of the department in 2019, which found a “culture of fear.” And yet UW President Ana Mari Cauce expressed surprise at the lawsuit since the review didn’t mention racism as a concern. How it would have uncovered such a thing given the aforementioned culture of fear is an open question.

King County News:

Solitary Confinement for Juveniles

The King County Council is discussing a new ordinance to replace the ordinance they passed in 2017 banning solitary confinement for juveniles, with a possible vote planned for this coming Tuesday.

First, some scene setting: King County’s youth detention facility has been experiencing staffing shortages. Right now 73 detention officers are employed there, while they are funded for 91 officers. This year they have hired 20 new detention officers while 21 detention officers have left their positions, leaving the facility with a small net negative for the year in terms of staffing numbers. 

The Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention say they would like the juvenile solitary confinement ordinance changed in order to be able to provide one-on-one programming to juveniles at the facility. This would involve a change to the definition of solitary confinement.  But advocates, including ACLU Washington, the King County Department of Public Defense, and Team Child, have brought up a few concerns:

  • Due to the continued staffing shortage, advocates are worried staffing issues might become an exemption to the ban of solitary confinement for juveniles. While Councilmember Balducci’s proposed striker amendment does improve upon this, they desire to see stronger language clarifying that staffing issues won’t become an exemption to this regulation, especially in order to prevent solitary confinement being justified as needed due to a facility safety issue.
  • The ban on juvenile solitary confinement does not include any enforcement mechanism for violations. Without a means of enforcing the right to not be put into solitary confinement, the ban doesn’t necessarily protect juveniles in practice. Advocates are asking for a system that allows kids who have been illegally held in solitary confinement to be able to collect damages without having to file a lawsuit as a means of enforcement. 

If you would like to weigh in on this issue, you can email or call your King County councilmembers and/or give public comment in person or remotely at the committee meeting on Tuesday, November 7 at 9:30am.

Drugs in King County Jail

According to an indictment, a former King County Jail guard allegedly accepted bribes to bring methamphetamine and fentanyl into the King County Jail for two inmates. 

In response, Executive Constantine released the following statement

“The charges alleged in this indictment represent not just a breach of public safety, but a disdain for the trust placed in those we count on to serve and protect. I want to make clear – the charges against this former employee and his co-conspirators tarnish the work that our corrections officers do every day to serve their community with professionalism and the highest standards of care.

The public can count on King County to continue doing everything we can to stop fentanyl and other contraband from entering our correctional facilities.”

Once again, this calls into question the intentions behind Seattle’s drug criminalization bill passed earlier this fall, given some of the people arrested due to this bill will end up in a jail in which illegal drugs are potentially circulating.

WA State News:

Finally, a small tidbit of what is to come during the next state legislative session beginning in January 2024:

Meanwhile, more help will be sought to fill the ranks of law enforcement agencies. The Association of Washington Cities wants the Legislature to update the local Public Safety Sales Tax to allow councils to use the funds to boost officer pay and increase behavioral health resources. It’s also asking the state to offer more classes at the Basic Law Enforcement Academy and expand regional academies.”

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The Seattle War on Drugs Redux

Seattle News:

Everyone is talking about the primary results, with some commentators claiming a progressive victory and other publications saying November looks dire for progressives. As always, a strong push to turn out the vote is likely to favor progressives, who will also need to keep fundraising to match the big business dollars pouring into their moderate opponents’ coffers.

Mayor Harrell has announced new “War on Drugs” legislation. As Erica C. Barnett in Publicola reports (bold-faced mine):

So what does the bill actually do? Exactly what an earlier version of the bill, which the council rejected 5-4, would have done: Empower City Attorney Ann Davison to prosecute people for simple drug possession or for using drugs, except alcohol and marijuana, in public. The substantive portion of the bill, which comes after nearly six pages of nonbinding whereas clauses and statements of fact, is identical to the previous proposal.”

CM Lewis, who voted against the earlier, very similar bill back in June, has said he now plans to co-sponsor it. You can’t make stuff like this up.

He told The Stranger “his time on the Mayor’s workgroup assured him the City intends to front-load treatment rather than send people to jail.” However, the new legislation would not require front-loading treatment, and much of how the system would work in practice would be up to the discretion of the City Attorney–the same City Attorney who unilaterally shut down Community Court only a few short months ago. As The Stranger reported:

“King County Public Defenders Union President Molly Gilbert wanted to empower Seattle Municipal Court judges to divert cases when cops arrest someone, but instead the bill leaves all the power to dismiss charges in the hands of the City Attorney.”

Much of the reporting on this legislation has emphasized the Mayor’s $27 million dollar plan. Not only are none of these new dollars, it is critical to emphasize $20 million of this amount is expected from an opioid lawsuit settlement that will be paid over the next 18 years, a detail that demands scrutiny. Calling this a $27 million plan seems to be a rhetorical hat trick bordering dangerously close to dishonesty, given it will only result in an additional investment of $1.15 million per year for programming.

According to the press release, the remaining $7 million will go “toward capital investments in facilities to provide services such as post-overdose care, opioid medication delivery, health hub services, long-term care management, and drop-in support.”

CM Herbold has said she will hear this legislation in the Public Safety and Human Services committee before the summer recess (August 21 – September 4), which would mean it would have to be on the agenda next Tuesday, August 8.

Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee and the Select Labor Committee is having a special hearing at 5:30 pm on Tuesday, August 8 to hear an introduction to collective bargaining with the Seattle Police Management Association (SPMA), followed by a period of public comment. The SPMA represents fewer than 100 SPD lieutenants and captains, making it much smaller than the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG). The latest SPMA contract was approved last June and lasts through the end of 2023. The City is required to provide a public hearing at least 90 days before opening negotiations with the SPMA to allow the public to weigh in on what should be included in the new contract. 

The SPMA contract is often considered to set the stage for what is possible in the SPOG contract, as SPOG tends to take a more hardline approach to contract negotiations. One unfortunate aspect of both of these contracts is that they tend to linger for years after their expiration before a new contract is agreed upon, creating the necessity for a large dollar amount going towards back pay. While most labor unions do negotiate for back pay should their negotiations run long, this would normally only be for a relatively short period of time (for example, six months). Compare this to the more than two and half years of back pay in play within the SPOG contract currently being negotiated, a number that could easily grow to three or even three and a half years. The evergreen nature of these police guild contracts doesn’t incentivize the guilds to come to an agreement with the City.

On the morning of Thursday, August 10 at the Finance and Housing committee meeting, the Progressive Revenue Stabilization Workgroup will issue its recommendations. Given the $200 million gap between 2025’s projected revenue and expenditures, it behooves the City to consider any options presented very seriously indeed.

King County News:

A fight involving eight kids broke out at King County’s youth jail last week, leading to more room time for kids in the jail this past weekend. Executive Constantine has committed to closing this jail by 2025, but while the daily average population had dropped to 15 in 2021, that number started to creep back up in 2022 and is now up to 34.7. The population the day of the fight was 41. The average length of stay per kid has also increased. The King County Executive Spokesperson Chase Gallagher says the plan to close the jail remains on schedule.

Recent Headlines:

The Seattle War on Drugs Redux Read More »

Seattle City Council Votes Against New War on Drugs

Seattle News

On Tuesday, the Seattle City Council voted against criminalizing simple drug possession and public drug use in a close 5-4 vote, with CMs Herbold, Lewis, Morales, Mosqueda, and Sawant voting no. The swing vote is widely understood to be CM Lewis, who said in his remarks he’d arrived at the meeting prepared to vote in favor of the bill but found that he simply couldn’t because the public deserved more discussion. He cited the recent unilateral decision by City Attorney Davison to end Seattle’s Community Court as a key factor in his decision, saying he felt the Council should figure out how they would do the diversion and treatment component as part of the package. He also mentioned how well the legislation was polling (one source says his district polled 60% in favor), but that this vote was more important than retaining his seat (CM Lewis is up for re-election in November.) For more details, you can read Ashley Nerbovig’s excellent write-up.

Council Central Staff had reported the City Attorney’s office hadn’t bothered to run a racial and equity analysis of this legislation, nor would they say how many new cases they anticipated pursuing or how much that would cost. Because the legislation skipped the normal committee step, councilmembers were not even able to ask the sponsors questions about the bill. It seems possible we’ll see a different version of this bill in the future, assumedly one with clearer information about its impacts and with diversion and treatment programs to go along with it—although where the money for such programs would come from is an open question, given current budget constraints. 

It is also important to note the effect of this legislation not passing is NOT legalizing drug use and possession. Seattle police officers can still arrest people for possessing and using drugs, as well as seize drugs as contraband. This bill determined the matter of jurisdiction, meaning where these cases would potentially be prosecuted. For now, they will continue to be prosecuted by the King County Prosecutor’s Office instead of by the City Attorney’s Office. The City Attorney’s Office can, however, still prosecute drug use on buses and bus stops as this was already part of municipal code.

King County News

Allen Nance, the director of King County’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD), has written to the state supreme court asking them to rescind a ruling barring local courts from issuing warrants against and jailing young people who fail to appear at their hearings or violate other court orders. This ruling was originally made in 2020 and made permanent in 2021. If it were to be rescinded, Anita Khandelwal, director of King County’s Department of Public Defense, says the result would be a spike in youth incarceration, especially for youth of color, who she says received 82-84% of warrants in 2019.

Recent Headlines

Seattle City Council Votes Against New War on Drugs Read More »

Proposed Surveillance Tech Can Lead to Biased Policing

Seattle News

There have been no budget meetings during this second week of Seattle’s budget season, as both CMs and the public analyze the proposed budget and consider its ramifications and any changes they’d like to see. The next opportunity for public comment is on Tuesday, October 11. There will be public comment at the beginning of the budget meeting beginning at 9:30am (sign-ups starting at 7:30am), AND the first public hearing, also for public comment related to the budget, will be that evening at 5pm (sign-ups starting at 3pm). You can give your public comment at both meetings either in person at City Hall or remotely.
Speaking of budget season, the Solidarity Budget will be having its virtual volunteer orientation tomorrow night, Thursday 10/6 at 6pm. You can sign up to participate here.
One of the more controversial line items of the proposed budget is the $1m allocated in SPD’s budget for ShotSpotter. Mayor Harrell has been a long-standing proponent for the technology, which places microphones throughout specific neighborhoods in order to pick up the sounds of gunfire. Not only would this increase SPD’s surveillance capacity in a more diverse and lower income neighborhood in Seattle, but its efficacy is also in question. The OIG in Chicago found that ShotSpotter rarely results in evidence that leads to evidence of a gun-related crime, and the presence of the technology changes police behavior; areas with a perceived higher frequency of ShotSpotter activity leads to the justification of more stops and more pat-downs during stops, aka biased policing. In addition, prosecutors in Chicago are having to withdraw evidence generated by the technology. It is perhaps no surprise that the cities of Charlotte and San Antonio have dropped use of this technology in past years, or that the city of Buffalo recently blocked its implementation.
If you ever wonder how effective public comment is, wonder no more! Apparently one public comment made by programmer Scott Shawcroft at a redistricting commission hearing, in which he suggested putting Magnolia in District 6 and Fremont in District 7, prompted the amendment discussed in this newsletter last week that puts all of Magnolia in one district and divides Fremont into THREE districts. The last public hearing for the redistricting commission in Seattle is this Saturday, October 8 from 10am-12pm. You can register to give public comment online here, where you can also get the relevant Zoom link, or alternately you can show up in person. If you’d like to support the Redistricting Justice for Seattle proposed map, you can find talking points here.
In the story that keeps giving, remember those pesky deleted text messages of our former Mayor Durkan? New forensic evidence found that 191 of her texts were MANUALLY DELETED. This is very different from previous statements that the missing text messages were simply due to a setting mysteriously set to delete texts after 30 days. In addition, six other city officials had “factory resets” performed on their phones during the relevant period in 2020. This new evidence could strongly impact current lawsuits against the city.
The SPD announced they fired Officer Andrei Constantin, who took to Twitter to make fun of protesters and victims of police violence, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and local activist Summer Taylor, who was killed while protesting on I-5. Constantin had racked up at least nine other OPA complaints during his tenure at SPD, which began in April of 2016.
At the Council Briefing on September 26, CM Herbold announced that SFD has been doing an analysis of calls they respond to that can lead to violence. The analysis suggested an automatic joint response of SPD officers escorting SFD personnel to both overdose and seizure calls, as patients can be unaware of their surroundings and have an initial violent reaction after receiving NARCAN or coming out of a seizure. Along with this near-term change, the Joint Safety Committee is considering other recommendations along these lines.

King County News

Budget season has also begun in King County, and now is the time for you to email your King County council members about your budget priorities. People Power Washington has a script for you to use if you are so inclined. You can find the King County budget schedule, including opportunities to make public comment, here.
We conclude today’s newsletter on a somber note. Erica C. Barnett recently did an investigative piece on the King County youth jail, which is well worth a read. While the occupancy rate of the jail is rising and the number of staff is falling, the jail frequently uses solitary confinement for its juvenile occupants:
King County officials are aware that keeping kids in their cells is a problem, but the use of the practice has been escalating. In July, there were 13 days when kids were locked in their cells between 18 and 20 hours a day because of short staffing at the jail. Additionally, an independent monitor’s report released in May found a “significant increase” in the number of times youth were put IN “restrictive housing” (solitary confinement) because of a risk of “imminent and significant physical harm to the youth or others,” along with a spike in the length of this form of confinement; in the first quarter of this year, 41 kids were put in restrictive housing for an average of 6 hours per session.
We have kids in King County who have already experienced the trauma that resulted in them being in jail in the first place who are now having their trauma compounded by being locked into their cells for 18 to 20 hours per day. While the County has convened an advisory committee to make recommendations for how to phase out youth incarceration, little progress has been made thus far, which is concerning giving the urgency and gravity of their mandate.

Recent Headlines

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Proposed Surveillance Tech Can Lead to Biased Policing Read More »