Seattle Breaks Its Sweeps Record in 2023

Seattle News:

This week Real Change reported that the city of Seattle’s Unified Care Team performed 2,827 sweeps in 2023. Compared to 922 sweeps in 2022, this represents about a 207% increase in the number of sweeps performed, with an average of 7.75 sweeps performed per day. This is the highest number of sweeps conducted in a single year in Seattle since the numbers began being recorded in 2016. 

The Unified Care Team has a budget of $26.6 million in 2024. $2.2 million of this covers police wages for staffing sweeps.

Complaints about unhoused people also increased to 41,536 in 2023, while the city received 29,304 complaints in 2022. 

In the article, Real Change referenced “a growing body of research that suggests encampment sweeps and other policies of continual displacement directly contribute to increased rates of death and illness.” Critics say that sweeps are not only deadly but also ineffective, failing to address the root causes of homelessness.

My latest piece at The Urbanist covers the recent announcement that Seattle will not be using ShotSpotter technology this year, as well as the surveillance technology expansion going forward, including license plate readers that have some serious data security concerns. This expansion could impact people seeking abortions and gender-affirming healthcare, immigrants, domestic violence victims, and those practicing their constitutional right to protest, among others. The public safety committee will be discussing the license plate readers again at their meeting on Tuesday, June 11 at 9:30am. 

Interim SPD Chief Rahr has been in her new job for about a week, and so far she has not chosen to shake up SPD management. John O’Neill will continue to head up SPD’s public affairs office, in spite of being accused of sexual harassment and retaliation by female subordinates. And Rahr reinstated Assistant Chief Tyrone Davis to full duties just 8 days after former Chief Adrian Diaz put him on administrative leave. She said her decision was based on newly available information.

Mike Solan, the president of SPOG, has said he’s open to flexible scheduling and part-time officers on the force. He said he isn’t concerned about losing a lot of officers once the backpay authorized by the new SPOG contract is processed. But he implied the city will not be able to hire as many officers as it wants until accountability measures for police officers are changed. “The pay is very nice. We thank Mayor Harrell and the city council for recognizing that this needed to be fixed,” he told KOMO. “But until the accountability piece gets rectified to a reasonable point. You’re not going to entice more people to come here. It needs to be addressed immediately.”

The Seattle Times’ editorial board said SPD’s response to the tort claim filed by 4 women officers several weeks ago was “breathtaking in its defensiveness” and quoted Mayor Harrell citing that in his decision to demote Diaz: 

“The quotes in the newspaper on the people making claims was completely inconsistent with how I want the department to respond to allegations,” Harrell told the editorial board after his May 29 announcement seeking a new chief. “And yes, that always factors into strategic decisions that I make — that words do matter, and how you respond to allegations matters.””

Nevertheless, the editorial board thinks the now vacant position of SPD Chief is “one of the best law enforcement jobs in the country.”

Meanwhile, PubliCola reported that the City Attorney’s Office wants to begin using Stay Out of Drug Area (SODA) orders, which prevent people from entering certain areas of the city with “continuous drug activity.” As PubliCola explains:

Studies of SODA areas in Seattle have found that they can exacerbate biased policing when police target people of color, as well as people who appear to be homeless, for exclusions from large swaths of the city, including the areas where most social services are located.”

The Stranger reported on Court Monitor Antonio Oftelie, who seems to have a cozy relationship with SPD and doesn’t appear to take accountability particularly seriously. A text conversation about “Cookie” Bouldin’s lawsuit against the city between him and two members of SPD leadership seemed dismissive:

“Boatright responded at length, saying Bouldin’s lawsuit involved “decades old” claims and adding that the department “has bent over backwards to accommodate Cookie.” Oftelie then asked about Bouldin’s motivation for the suit.

“Cynically? She’s ready to retire and wants to get paid on way out, [sic]” Maxey said. 

Maxey went on to claim that if Bouldin really wanted change, she would have filed an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint. Bouldin ultimately filed a lawsuit in November, in which she called parts of the EEO complaint process “patronizing and harassing.””

Another text message chat between the three above shows Oftelie saying he is interested in seeing “systemic learning” instead of the accountability the community wanted.

A new incident of potentially excessive force used by two SPD officers was recorded last Friday. The officers were arresting a man for felony arson. The video shows the two officers punching and kneeing the man as well as hitting him several times with a baton. It is unclear whether one of the officers was also kneeling on the person’s neck, which would be against SPD policy.

DivestSPD reported on an incident that occurred last June, when SPD officers decided to socialize for 49 minutes at a Starbucks instead of responding to a domestic violence call.

Councilmember Martiza Rivera walked back her amendment freezing 2024 EDI funds, instead introducing an amendment that will require a report from the Office of Planning and Community Development by September 24. The amendment passed 8-1, with only Councilmember Tammy Morales voting against. Rivera and her fellow council member Bob Kettle argued that the 2024 EDI funds were never at risk, in spite of all the analysis saying the opposite. Proponents of the EDI program are worried this may be a signal that the program could be on the chopping block come budget season.

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