MRJC

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:

“Stealth Jail Expansion”: The Fight Over the SCORE Jail Contract Continues

Let’s take a moment to celebrate that the Washington State Supreme Court upheld the capital gains tax!

Seattle News

On Tuesday the City of Seattle and the Department of Justice filed a request to replace the 2012 Consent Decree with a new “Agreement on Sustained Compliance” that would focus on SPD’s use of force particularly related to crowd control and accountability. Among other measures, SPD would need to adopt a revised crowd management policy, and the City would need to hire a consultant to make recommendations about the accountability system. In addition, Mike Carter reports the city also acknowledges that it must address racial disparities that have shown up in reviews of both police use of force and investigative stops.” 

Mayor Harrell’s office has calculated the consent decree, lasting 11 years thus far, has cost the city $200m. The motion asks Judge Robart to find the SPD has reached “substantial compliance” with most of the original consent decree requirements. As Erica C. Barnett reports, ongoing labor negotiations with SPOG, including whether important accountability advances agreed upon in the recent SPMA contract are included in the next SPOG contract, play an important role as to whether the city will be able to be found in compliance with the accountability piece of either the original consent decree or any new agreement.

This new “agreement on sustained compliance” would be anticipated to be completed in about a year, and unlike the original consent decree, it wouldn’t require a two-year sustainment period before exit, which would give Mayor Harrell his coveted exit before the end of his term. The next step in this process is for Judge Robart to schedule a hearing.

Advocates in Seatle have often had mixed feelings about the consent decree in recent years. In the last three years in particular, it has often been seen as a barrier to more systemic change and a way to potentially apply a veneer of respectability to the SPD while maintaining the status quo. The SPD’s budget has grown substantially from when Seattle entered into the consent decree, from $252.2m in 2012 to its present size of $374.3m. 

Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting on Tuesday had a surprise addition to the agenda: a project update on SPD’s recruitment and retention. While the council members received a memo on March 14 detailing current progress with the hiring incentives passed last year, none of this information was presented at the meeting, with Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell saying “it’s too early to draw a definitive conclusion.” 

In 2021 SPD hired one officer for every 12 applicants; these figures aren’t yet available for 2022. In spite of all its new hiring, recruiting, and retention efforts, the department is still struggling to maintain its size: as of 3/16, SPD’s hiring numbers are at -6, a number that was amusingly omitted from the presentation. SPD has hired 19 officers and experienced 25 separations since the beginning of the year. 

No mention was made at the meeting of the difficulties of retention given the recent suit filed by Cookie Bouldin alleging racial and gender discrimination or last year’s lawsuit in which an SPD officer was awarded $1.325m in damages due to getting carbon monoxide poisoning on the job.

The team presenting to the CMs announced their goal of 30% of officers being female by 2030 with no mention of the Bouldin lawsuit. CM Nelson also stated the importance of “having a positive place to work at” without addressing the implications of these suits.

When considering SPD’s attrition rate, it’s important to remember some people leave the department because they’re under investigation for less than savory reasons. For example, the OPA released a report last week about the case of Officer Cleades Robinson. As DivestSPD reported: “OPA found there was more than enough evidence to show that Robinson committed at least two gross misdemeanors: patronizing a prostitute and communicating with a minor for immoral purposes.” Robinson resigned before final discipline was handed down in January. Another SPD Captain was arrested in November 2019 for trying to buy sex and retired before the investigation was completed. 

Once Mayor Harrell took the helm of the city at the beginning of 2022, sweeps of homeless people substantially increased, Guy Oron reports. The City of Seattle performed 943 sweeps in 2022, which means sweeps were happening on average twice or more every day. Of these sweeps, 771 sweeps–almost 82%–were obstruction sweeps, meaning the City wasn’t required to give notice to those being swept. To get an idea of how much sweeps have increased, there were 158 sweeps in 2022 where notice was given, whereas in 2021 there were 53 sweeps done with notice, meaning the rate of sweeps with notice has TRIPLED. Many locations were swept multiple times, including 66 sweeps in Occidental Park, 53 sweeps near the Ballard Library, and 18 sweeps at the Ballard Commons.

By comparison, there were 1,192 sweeps in 2019, meaning we’re seeing the return of an old status quo that was interrupted by the pandemic and a temporary acknowledgement due to the George Floyd protests that just maybe we should treat people more humanely.

Matthew Mitnick, currently running for Seattle CM for District 4, has been accused by former supporters of breaking child labor laws, wage theft, and creating a toxic work environment

King County News

The King County Council postponed their vote on the SCORE jail contract for the second time this Tuesday. They are working on a variety of amendments (discussed last week) that would limit the size and scope of the transfers from the King County Jail and require various reporting and Council approvals. Unfortunately, none of these amendments would stop the SCORE contract outright; this contract would cause what opponents are calling a stealth expansion of King County’s system of incarceration. 

The sense of urgency around this SCORE contract is interesting given it’s been almost three years since Executive Constantine said he wanted to eventually shut down the “decrepit” King County Jail. In the intervening time, the death and suicide rates in the jail have gone up and the staffing numbers have been in continuous decline, not to mention it was without potable water for a month last fall. However, it’s only since the ACLU of Washington filed a suit against the County due to the appalling conditions within the jail that the County’s message has shifted to sudden action without the necessary time to build a good plan that would not expand incarceration in the County.

To weigh in on the SCORE contract, you can email or call your King County CMs and/or give public comment at the next King County Council meeting on Tuesday, April 4 at 1:30pm. Talking points will be updated at tinyurl.com/TellKCC.

In addition, sources say the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) is planning to move 50 additional people from the King County Jail to the Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC) in Kent this weekend (April 1-2). The DAJD already moved 50 people from the KJC the weekend of March 11-12, a move that has resulted in consequences: those 50 inmates are being double-bunked in cells in which the toilets can only be flushed twice an hour, resulting in unsanitary conditions. And Erica C. Barnett reports on another problem as well:

“Folk says the jail guards’ union has filed a demand to bargain over the decision to move 50 people to the RJC, noting that the 1:104 ratio of guards to inmates is far below the usual “direct supervision” standard of one guard for every residents. Haglund told PubliCola previously that although 1:104 isn’t ideal, the unit will be safe with just one guard because no more than 64 people will be out in the unit’s common area at one time. Folk disagrees, telling PubliCola, “The staffing ratio for this is just not safe.””

Meanwhile, King County reported that as of last week there have been 296 King County residents who have died due to drug or alcohol poisoning since the beginning of the year, a number that exceeds the total number of overdose deaths in 2012. 

Recent Headlines

The Exodus of Inmates from the King County Jail Continues

We’ll start off this week by looking at Chloe Cockburn’s recent reporting on the current landscape of policing in the United States. Police have already killed hundreds of people in 2023 (220 to be precise, and keep in mind we’re only two and a half months into the year). That figure is up 6% since 2021. 

She also reminds us of a Gallup poll conducted at the end of April-early May of 2022, saying:

If you were just going by media commentators you would have thought that support for reforms had completely collapsed in the face of rising concerns about crime. On the contrary:  45% of Americans in 2022 supported eliminating police enforcement of nonviolent crimes, and 44% supported eliminating police unions. Moreover, 15% of Americans support eliminating police departments entirely, while Black Americans support this at the rate of 21%.”

I bring this up because I know some of you are disheartened by recent developments in the Washington state legislature. It is important to remember in spite of what the media might be saying, there is still an appetite in the United States for taking a different avenue to public safety that is more equitable and less harmful. The work being done in this space matters.

Seattle News:

This past Tuesday Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee discussed the Seattle City Attorney’s Q4 2022 report. In Q4, the City Attorney’s Office received 2,740 referrals from SPD. For pre-pandemic comparison, the SPD gave 3,529 referrals in Q4 of 2018 and 3,724 referrals in Q4 of 2019. These referrals were all misdemeanors, as the City Attorney’s Office doesn’t deal with felony charges. 

The Seattle City Attorney’s Office also announced a 50% decrease in their case backlog over the course of 2022. The office filed 1,323 cases and declined 3,336 cases in Q4. Many of those declined cases were part of the aforementioned backlog. The office also took the opportunity during their presentation to discuss the difficulties recruiting and retaining prosecuting attorneys given their relatively low salaries compared to salaries of prosecutors in other cities.

At the State of Downtown event on Tuesday, Mayor Harrell said he wants to change significant laws to improve public safety, but he declined to give any details on what those laws might be. Stay tuned!

King County News:

Erica C. Barnett reports that this past weekend 50 inmates were moved from the King County Jail to the Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC)  in Kent. The MRJC is also suffering from insufficient staffing. According to the Department of Adult & Juvenile Detention, most of the people who were moved are facing misdemeanor or non-violent felony charges.

If you remember the plan discussed by the King County Law & Justice committee last week to move 50 additional inmates to SCORE in Des Moines, the Public Defenders’ Union is now trying to get an amendment added to that legislation that would codify the Department of Public Defense’s visitation needs and require some reporting. This legislation is due to be voted on by the full King County Council next week. 

Meanwhile, the Bellevue City Council approved funding for teams to provide public safety on public transit including the light rail. I’ve heard this new transit unit will consist of 7 armed officers who will patrol light rail stations and transit hubs. A community forum to discuss this new, already funded unit was held this past Tuesday evening.

Washington State News:

Taija PerryCook had a very informative article on the new 988 system in Crosscut. My takeaways:

  • Crisis Connections, which answers King County’s 988 calls, has experienced a 25-30% increase in calls since 988 launched last July. 
  • Before 988, Crisis Connection answered around 40% of calls within 30 seconds. Now they are able to answer 90% or more within 30 seconds.
  • 95% of calls are resolved over the phone. Fewer than 2% of 988 calls end up involving the police or EMS. 
  • For the 5% of calls not able to be resolved over the phone, speed of that response is critical. There is currently a bill in the state legislature that would increase funding for rapid-response teams. This bill was passed in the House and is now being considered in the Senate.

Recent Headlines: