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.

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