OIG whistleblower

A Grab Bag of Public Safety News

WA State Legislative News

I wrote last week that both 2037 and 5919 would be sent to the Governor to be signed, and in this case I am happy to be wrong! 5919 was killed at the last minute during concurrence in the Senate. The bill was moved for concurrence by Republicans three separate times, and each time the motion was voted down. Both Senator Pedersen and Senator Dhingra were instrumental in halting this legislation.
Therefore only 2037 (the bill pertaining to Terry stops) has proceeded to the Governor’s desk. The Washington Coalition for Police Accountability has sent Governor Inslee a comprehensive letter asking him to veto section 3 of the bill. If you’d like information to help you send your own letter, you can find it here.
While it was disappointing that we could not make further strides towards equitable public safety during this session, it is noteworthy that of several harmful bills that would have rolled previous reforms back, only one made it through the entire session.

Seattle News

Carolyn Bick broke the news on Twitter late last week that OIG Deputy Inspector General Amy Tsai is leaving the OIG to take a job with the City of Redmond. Tsai was involved in aspects of the whistleblower complaint in OIG, and it’s interesting that both she and Andrew Myerberg left their positions within a couple months of one another. Now Seattle will be replacing two senior positions within its police accountability system this year.
The CPC continues to struggle to reach quorum at their meetings, hampering their ability to conduct business. Interestingly, CP Juarez has been sending a representative from her office to CPC meetings since her election as Council President. The OPA has no response to the CPC on the letter they wrote regarding the Proud Boys “ruse” incident and says any response will be completely SPD-driven.
The Seattle Times had an article last week with the following headline that says it all: “Harrell says he ‘inherited a mess,’ will solve crime issues by putting arrests first, social services second.” In spite of the fact that Harrell was on the City Council from 2007 to 2019, including as Council President for the last four years (and interim Mayor to boot!), so far his political strategy of passing the buck (and all the blame) for today’s problems, many of which were being addressed during his tenure, onto Mayor Durkan seems to be working.
City Attorney Davison announced a new initiative this week to address 118 repeat offenders, to either book them in jail or refer them to mental health or addiction treatment services. She has made a deal with the King County Jail to book these individuals even if they are arrested for a non-violent offense (in COVID times the jail no longer books routinely for these kinds of cases). However, this plan might run into a roadblock since service providers probably lack the necessary capacity to take on so many new cases.
SPD had a plan to crack down on “disorderly conduct” near transit stops along Third Avenue, but Mayor Harrell put it on hold on Wednesday before it took effect. The cause of this delay is not entirely clear, although a spokesperson for the Mayor, Jamie Housen, said it was “to allow more time to reset norms and to evaluate what enforcement strategy is most appropriate and effective.”
Meanwhile, City of Seattle employees are beginning to return to the office right as case numbers are rising significantly in Europe, which often presages a COVID wave in the United States. But don’t worry, they’ve installed protective barriers for workers who deal with the public. Apparently they haven’t yet received the memo that COVID is airborne….

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Continued Accountability and Transparency Problems

The theme of today’s newsletter seems to be a lack of accountability and transparency, so buckle up!

Seattle News

Amy Sundberg
Good morning, and welcome to Seattle’s Council Briefing. CP González is excused today so CM Herbold is serving as CP pro tem.
The big Seattle news today is, of course, CM Sawant’s recall election. So far it’s looking like turnout is better than expected, which could be a sign in favor of CM Sawant.
This week there is a special Public Safety and Human Services Department committee meeting on Thursday morning at 9:30am. Among the topics under discussion will be legislation requiring the City Attorney’s office to give quarterly and annual reports on data related to its diversion programs in an effort to increase the transparency of the office. If passed through committee, this legislation should receive its Full Council vote on Monday the 13th, the last Full Council meeting before winter recess.
Also in Seattle City Council news, apparently CM Herbold and CM Juarez both wish to be considered for the role of next Council President. Committee chair assignments will be reshuffled as well.
The OIG has released its year-long audit on SPD’s disciplinary system, and surprise, surprise, they’ve found several shortcomings. For example, SPD’s police chiefs chose the least severe discipline possible in almost half the cases from 2018-2021, officers with a history of misconduct don’t typically have any trouble being promoted, and supervisors cannot track suspended officers’ overtime work, meaning officers can make up for any required disciplinary time off with overtime. Many of the identified holes exist either because of Seattle’s police union contracts (both of which are currently expired) and/or the discretion of SPD’s police chief. In 2022, the police union contracts will continue to be negotiated and Mayor-elect Harrell is expected to appoint a new police chief, both of which will have ramifications to SPD’s disciplinary system.
Speaking of the OIG, Carolyn Bick has a new article out in the South Seattle Emerald today digging further into the whistleblower complaint from within OIG. It appears the Seattle City Council is responsible at this point for commissioning an investigation looking into the complaint, and more specifically Public Safety and Human Services committee chair Lisa Herbold. There seems to be a lot of resistance to actually taking the complaint seriously and launching a thorough investigation; only one aspect of the complaint, the allegations about an OIG auditor who appears to have been certifying cases without thoroughly reviewing the evidence, is currently being investigated. While challenging to summarize their article briefly, Carolyn Bick chronicles a trend of obfuscation, confusion as to actual OIG and OPA policies and procedures, and a general lack of true oversight by the Seattle City Council on this issue.
In another instance of a lack of transparency in Seattle, the City has now spent a whopping $407k on contractor fees to analyze the matter of Mayor Durkan’s missing text messages. The private contractor was hired over a year ago by the City Attorney’s Office to produce a forensic report on the matter, a report that has yet to be delivered. That’s a lot of money for taxpayers to pay for no results as Mayor Durkan prepares to leave office.

County and State News

 

King County’s Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) is expanding next year, adding two new positions to the office. One of the new staff members will join the investigation review team, and the other will join the policy analysis team. This is part of OLEO Director Abouzeid’s “push to expand his office’s role as a quasi-think tank on police oversight policy for Washington state. “We would like to see statewide policy to codify the roles of civilian oversight bodies, because otherwise oversight becomes a hodgepodge of what police unions negotiate into their contracts,” he said.” This is a good reminder that not only will a new Sheriff be chosen by Executive Dow Constantine next year, but the current KCPOG contract expires at the end of this month, meaning new negotiations on the horizon.
Following up on the redistricting debacle of November, the State Supreme Court has refused to take on redistricting themselves, instead accepting the redistricting commission’s late maps. We may be seeing several lawsuits about these new maps in coming months. Meanwhile, we are left with the troubling disregard of the Open Meetings Act shown by the commission’s behavior leading up to their deadline.

Local Media Shakeups

 

Not only as Crosscut‘s opinion section been shut down (although a new effort to provide a greater diversity of voices has been promised), but Kevin Schofield at SCC Insight has announced he’s discontinuing his reporting at the end of the year, further shrinking the area’s sources of independent journalism. As you know, I often link to Kevin’s work in this newsletter, and he reports on Seattle issues not covered by any other news outlet.
Especially in light of these recent developments, I urge you to consider donating to Publicola, whose reporting I also often share here. They are looking to expand their coverage next year and could use your financial support. Their goals for expansion are admirable and would be valuable to the community. Similarly, you might also consider donating to the South Seattle Emerald, another source of excellent local reporting. As Kevin eloquently says, “Every journalist working the local government beat can tell you that it is both physically and mentally exhausting.” Local independent journalism is crucial for holding government accountable and increasing transparency; these venues both need and deserve your support.

Recent Headlines

Tacoma City Council to vote on appointment of next police chief | KNKX Public Radio

Prosecutors can photograph tattoos of Auburn officer charged with murder, judge rules | The Seattle Times

Rev. Harriett Walden speaks out against hate crimes after she says she was targeted | The Seattle Times

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Last Week of Seattle Budget Season and More OIG Woes

Last Week of Seattle Budget Talks

Amy Sundberg
Good morning, and welcome to today’s Seattle Council Briefing!
The last week of Seattle’s budget talks is going to be a busy one! First, the Solidarity Budget is holding a rally outside City Hall tomorrow (Tuesday) from 6-8pm, which is an excellent time to make your support known. Happily, it even looks like the rain is going to hold off.
On Wednesday, the Council will publish a list of the proposed amendments to the 2022 budget. On Thursday morning, the last public hearing on the budget will be from 9:30-11am (signups beginning at 8am), followed by a budget meeting discussing the proposed amendments. If the Council can’t get through all the proposals on Thursday, they will also meet on Friday.
Then on Monday, the budget committee will convene in the morning directly after the Council Briefing to vote on budget-related legislation. Finally, they will make a final vote on the 2022 budget and all related legislation Monday afternoon at 2pm. There will be one last chance for public comment at that meeting (11/22 at 2pm). And of course, you can always email and call your CMs as well!
We have heard about two potential amendments that may be discussed on Thursday. CM Sawant announced an amendment to raise the JumpStart tax to fund more investments in affordable housing and the Green New Deal. Thus far, her colleagues have been reluctant to increase this tax so it is uncertain whether she’ll have enough co-sponsors to bring the amendment to a vote.
Meanwhile, CP González has signaled she’s working on an amendment that will abrogate the extra SPD officer positions that the department is unable to fill this year. This is actually more important than it may sound on the surface. SPD has a huge number of funded but vacant positions, which results in a much larger amount of salary savings for them every year than is realized by the average city department. Having these unfilled but funded positions as the base for each year’s budget means the SPD starts out with much more money for staffing than they can possibly spend. In practice, what this means is if the Council retrieves this money (that isn’t actually going to be used for officer salaries) to use for other priorities (like community alternates to public safety or affordable housing), then this is characterized as a “cut” to the SPD budget and becomes immediately controversial. Having the SPD budget start closer to the actual salary spending needed will alter the conversation and make it more transparent when SPD is adding funds for expenses other than officer salaries.
Unsurprisingly, much of the conversation about the budget this year is about SPD. The Solidarity Budget is calling for further cuts to the SPD budget, while Mayor Durkan and Mayor-elect Harrell are calling for the SPD budget to be what Mayor Durkan originally proposed. There is even vigorous debate over what exactly constitutes a cut. For an excellent summary for the issues around SPD’s budget so far, check out this article from the South Seattle Emerald:

Continued OIG Woes

Meanwhile, Seattle’s accountability system continues to show cracks, as Carolyn Bick’s recent reporting in the South Seattle Emeraldshows:
Based on a preliminary internal quality control investigation conducted in July 2021, it appears that Office of Inspector General (OIG) auditor Anthony Finnell failed to thoroughly review more than 30 protest case findings issued by the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), before issuing either full certifications or approving cases as “Expedited” — cases in which the OPA determines that findings can be issued mainly on intake investigations.
The article continues by laying out many examples that show Finnell’s pattern of not thoroughly reviewing OPA case findings and simply rubber stamping them as approved.
In light of the OIG whistleblower and the problems revealed in the OPA’s report on the Labor Day SPOG HQ protest, this is further evidence that the current accountability system is not working as designed. The lack of an established process for investigations of serious allegations related to the accountability system is alarming, as is the apparent lack of recourse for residents of Seattle who are concerned about the continued accountability issues we’ve been seeing. While it is frustrating that public officials don’t appear interested in addressing these concerns, it makes it all the more important to continue to both monitor and raise awareness about what is happening.

Recent Headlines

Mosqueda Brings Durkan's Budget Back to Reality With Cuts to SPD - Slog - The Stranger

Understanding the NICJR report

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