Pedersen

The Ongoing Crisis at the King County Jail

King County News

News broke a few weeks ago about Michael Rowland, a Black homeless man experiencing a mental health crisis who died in the King County Jail on April 19th of last year after being put into the prone position twice, once by SPD officers when they arrested him and again by corrections officers at the jail. There is research showing that using the prone position can be dangerous, for example by increasing the chances of cardiac arrest. As Sydney Brownstone and Greg Kim write:

Rowland’s death probably should have been classified as a homicide, according to Maastricht University professor of forensic medicine Dr. Michael Freeman, who reviewed the autopsy report at the request of The Seattle Times.

Also exposed in this article is the fact that two days after Rowland’s death, Tim Burgess, the director of strategic initiatives for the Mayor’s Office, complained that the jail was refusing to book people whose medical issues could be handled in the jail: 

“I’m fearful,” Burgess wrote, “that I will hear next that an arrestee has a hangnail and is declined.”

The King County Jail has been dodged by problems in recent months. The jail has experienced an extremely high rate of suicide since 2020, along with severe understaffing. Nor was it following a 2021 state law requiring it to publicly post analyses of unexpected jail deaths within 120 days until a Seattle Times article revealed this failure. It was also without potable water for a month last fall. 

In the summer of 2020, Executive Dow Constantine said the following in his State of the County address:

 

Completed in 1986, the King County Correctional Center is decrepit and expensive to operate, and its physical layout does not lend itself to behavioral health and other care…We must reimagine King County’s downtown Seattle campus in light of the realities today. And the old jail must at some point come down. As we prepare the budget later this year,  I intend to propose a phased closing of the King County Correctional Center after the pandemic.

WA State News


The 2023 state legislative session begins next week! Possibly on the docket include bills that would ban solitary confinement, reduce stops for low-level traffic violations, establish an independent prosecutor for the state, allow the Attorney General to investigate and sue police departments illustrating patterns of misconduct, remove qualified immunity, and eliminate the jaywalking law. We will also see legislators continue to grapple with addressing the Blake decision; at least two bills will be introduced for this purpose, one of which will focus on decriminalizing drug possession as well as providing treatment.

A few upcoming dates: Friday, February 17 is the policy committee cutoff; a bill must be passed from its policy committee by this date. Friday, February 24 is the fiscal committee cutoff, when a bill must be passed through any necessary financial committee. And Wednesday, March 8 is the deadline for bills passing out of their house of origin. Legislative sessions in Washington alternate between long and short sessions, and this year we have a long one, so that means there will be continuing action in Olympia until April 24.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson released his office’s legal opinions of questions relating to 2021’s bills 1310 and 1054, both of which have generated controversy in spite of being fairly mild. 1054 banned police use of chokeholds and neck restraints, while 1310 required de-escalation if possible and limited officer use of force in some situations. 1310 was partially rolled back last year after pushback from police departments and police unions. Ferguson prefaces his remarks on the legal interpretation of the laws by stating: 

As we noted in our previous Opinion addressing the first three questions, the answers to your questions are extremely difficult because reasonable minds disagree about the correct legal conclusions. We provide legal answers for them here, but must acknowledge that these answers are debatable and uncertain.

Tina Podlodowski is stepping down as Chair of the WA State Democrats, and Shasti Conrad, a two-term Chair of the King County Democrats,  has announced her candidacy.

Seattle News

This week has been a relatively slow news week for Seattle, but there are a few items of note. First, the City Council finally confirmed Adrian Diaz as SPD’s Chief. He has been serving as Interim Chief since Carmen Best resigned in 2020.

And second, CM Pedersen has announced he will not be running for a second term, making him the third councilmember with intentions of leaving at the end of the year, along with CM Herbold and CP Juarez. The remaining four councilmembers whose terms end this year have not yet announced their plans.

Recent Headlines

 

The Ongoing Crisis at the King County Jail Read More »

American Police Have Managed Not to Kill Someone 13 Days This Year

Seattle Budget Wrap-Up

The Seattle City Council passed the 2023-2024 municipal budget last week in a bitter 6-3 vote. CM Sawant cast her usual protest vote against a budget she characterized as an austerity budget, while CMs Pedersen and Nelson voted against the budget because…they were upset 80 unfillable positions were eliminated from SPD. They were also concerned that the Council will be continuing to practice basic fiscal oversight over a police department that ran completely amuck as recently as two years ago, as well as having a track record of habitually overspending their overtime budget. Quelle horreur.
Before we get any further, a correction. Both my reading of Seattle’s City Charter and consultation with others had, back in 2020, led me to the conclusion that the budget needed a ¾ vote to pass, which if rounding up, meant 7 out of 9 council members needed to approve it. However, since the budget passed with 6 votes last week, this understanding was clearly incorrect. Unless more comes to light about this matter, we can expect future budgets to require only 6 votes to pass.
Let’s talk some more about those 80 abrogated positions, shall we? The Seattle Times editorial board weighed in last week, saying:
Against this backdrop, council members Lisa Herbold, Dan Strauss, Tammy Morales, Debora Juarez, Kshama Sawant and Teresa Mosqueda flouted the mayor’s request and voted to eliminate 80 unfilled SPD positions. Mayor Bruce Harrell wanted these positions to support his effort to rebuild the department to 1,450 officers.
This ignores the fact that these abrogated positions are unfilled and will remain unfilled for several years. Those positions will remain unfilled regardless as to how the Seattle City Council feels about it because of simple mathematics; SPD literally cannot hire and train enough new officers to expand the department quickly, especially given the number of separations every year. 160 unfilled and still funded positions remain in SPD even after this abrogation, and CM Herbold estimates it will take EIGHT YEARS to fill 120 of these positions. That means that even if Council members wish to aggressively grow the police department, no additional positions will be necessary until 2030. Furthermore, additional positions are added to city departments all the time; this is standard practice, and the idea that Seattle council members will be unable to do this in 2030 (or whenever the need might arise) if they are in agreement as to the proper size of the department is absurd.
It is also worth noting the overall SPD budget will grow by around $15m in 2023 after shrinking for the last two years (2021 and 2022). The Council’s changes to SPD’s budget from the one proposed by Mayor Harrell at the end of September amount to a less than 1% decrease. Fiscal realities due to lower-than-expected city revenue meant there simply weren’t a lot of additional resources to devote to any part of the budget, including to a police department that is only expecting to gain a net of 15 police officers in 2023 in spite of funding hiring bonuses and an expensive media campaign. Unfortunately, this also negatively impacted investment in alternative public safety programs that are often both more effective in making people feel safe and more cost effective than hiring more police.
This was CM Nelson’s first budgetary vote, but why did CM Pedersen choose this year to put his foot down budgetarily speaking, given the above? Certainly the budget included much more controversial choices back in 2020, when he chose to vote in favor of it. One cannot help wondering if next year’s elections have something to do with this change in approach.

Other Seattle News

Seattle has released its legislative agenda for the next state legislative session, which begins in January. The following items related to public safety and the criminal legal system made the city’s agenda, among others:
  • ending qualified immunity for police officers
  • allowing police chiefs to lay off officers on the Brady list
  • removing issues of “disciplinary action, appeals of discipline, subpoena authority, and any state reforms related to law enforcement” from collective bargaining
  • supporting independent prosecutions of deadly use of force
  • supporting more training for cops
  • supporting “increasing the flexibility for local jurisdictions to allow civilian personnel to respond to 911 calls and low-level criminal calls, as in the CAHOOTS program”
  • eliminating or significantly reducing the role of local law enforcement officials in immigration law enforcement
  • supporting various gun laws, such as limiting or banning assault weapons and having a ten-day waiting period for purchasing a firearm
  • supporting criminal legal system reform, including “decreasing mass incarceration and supervision, decreasing racial disproportionality, making the system more equitable, and ending the death penalty” (note no specific mention of solitary confinement)
  • funding for behavioral health care and substance abuse disorder treatment as well as permanent supportive housing
While all of this is very interesting, mostly in seeing what made the cut and what didn’t, it’s worth noting the city’s legislative agenda as it pertained to public safety last year was barely addressed. That being said, the climate is considerably more friendly towards getting things done this year.
Meanwhile, both Will Casey at The Stranger and Doug Trumm at The Urbanist have called out the difficulties of progressive voter turnout in Seattle in odd years. Unfortunately, changing our local elections to even years would require a change in state law, but it is a popular idea, as is evinced by the success of the measure in King County in last month’s elections to move some elections to even years. Otherwise, Will Casey talked to political consultant Michael Ferkakis, who suggests, “If progressives want to have a shot at winning, they have to really focus on turning out low-turnout voters and having policies that are progressive but can’t be construed as radical to scare consistent voters.” Not the most inspiring strategy for progressives who want to get things done. Ferkakis particularly called out District 1 as a difficult district for a progressive.
The investigation into former OPA Director Myerberg is continuing to drag on in its messy way:
Further documentation reveals that the City plans to spend — or, at the time of this writing, has already spent — $50,000 on Seyfarth Shaw to “fact-find” for the OIG, despite the fact that the OIG is not looking at the formal allegations as articulated in Lippek’s original complaint. In other words, the City is apparently spending thousands of public dollars to fund a fact-finding mission based on a flawed investigatory premise.

Other News

Five cities in our region–Kirkland, Bothell, Kenmore, Shoreline, and Lake Forest Park–have agreed to band together to offer a regional crisis response that merges Kirkland’s program with the RADAR Navigator program. It will begin operation at the end of Q1 2023. Kirkland CM Black said about the program, “We are committed to reducing reliance on law enforcement as the primary responders to our community members experiencing behavioral health crisis and finding other ways to connect them to care and resources.”
As we near the end of 2022, it seems like a good idea to check in with the Mapping Police Violence resource to see how the US has been doing this year. US police have killed 1,074 people so far this year. There have been 13 days this year during which the police succeeded in not killing someone. Black people have been three times more likely to be killed by police than white people during the last decade, even though they are 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed. Only 1 in 3 killings over the last 6 years began with an alleged violent crime. 35 people were killed by police so far this year in Washington State.

Recent Headlines

Jim Brunner
NEW: Lawsuit seeks to stop disqualification of WA ballots for signature mismatches, arguing practice is arbitrary, error-prone & disproportionately disenfranchises young voters, voters of color #waelex https://t.co/R5E81NALZ1 via @seattletimes
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Council Votes to Take More Money from You but Not Amazon - The Stranger

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Seattle City Council approves budget. Here are 3 things to know | The Seattle Times

American Police Have Managed Not to Kill Someone 13 Days This Year Read More »