It’s Almost as if Seattle Doesn’t Want to Reimagine Public Safety After All

Seattle Budget: Parking Enforcement Officers

Last Thursday, the Council held budget meetings about the potential parking enforcement officer (PEO) transfer from SDOT to SPD, SPD’s proposed budget, and the Community Safety and Communications Center’s (CSCC) proposed budget. There’s a lot to cover here, so let’s dive in.
First up are the PEOs. The move to SDOT about a year ago has not thus far been a success, and labor issues have resulted. The PEOs are vastly understaffed, both as a result of general unhappiness over a botched move and SDOT’s decision to keep some positions open so as to use the money this freed up to pay for their overhead costs (more about that in a minute.) There are only 80 PEOs right now, for a department that calls for the staffing of 123 FTE. The PEOs are still housed within the physical structures of SPD, they still wear SPD uniforms, and they still have SPD emblazoned on their vehicles. They no longer have access to SPD databases (well, really it’s the FBI’s CJIS, more about this in a minute). And then of course there was the debacle where, due to “mistakes” made by SPD and potentially the last Mayor’s Office, the PEOs weren’t given their special commissions when they were moved to SDOT, and therefore $5m worth of traffic tickets had to be either voided or refunded earlier this year.
Whether it was sabotage or simply shocking incompetence, nobody can argue that this has been a smooth transition. Hence the Mayor’s proposal to move the PEOs back into SPD.
Because of the way SDOT calculates its overhead, which is complicated due to its multiple funding sources, it costs an additional $8m from the General Fund to keep the PEOs in SDOT, a fact that the Mayor’s Office and SDOT, who both lobbied heavily for the PEOs to move to SDOT rather than the CSCC, somehow failed to mention at that time.
Another issue is the PEOs’ lack of access to the CJIS database. Right now SPD provides them with a static hot sheet with a list of vehicles by license plate that are stolen, but the PEOs can’t call in to get at-the-moment information from the database, which includes information such as registered owner and address. It is unclear how large a problem the lack of access to this database actually is, but it is interesting to note that even if they were to move to the CSCC, the PEOs wouldn’t be granted access to it; the 911 dispatchers have this access, but WASPC, the state body who decides these matters, has said the PEOs aren’t performing a criminal justice purpose and therefore are ineligible. No outside legal analysis of this issue has been completed.
The SPD, unsurprisingly, is happy to welcome back the PEOs with open arms, especially as they’ll come with funding for the entire 123 FTE. Because there are only currently 80 PEOs, that means SPD will get an extra $4.2m; while they will use part of this sum to hopefully pay for additional hires, there will be some left over, for which they will inevitably find an indispensable use within the department. The PEOs themselves took a poll and overwhelmingly expressed a desire to be back in SPD rather than in SDOT.
A third option not explored in the aforementioned poll is to move the PEOs to the CSCC, which was the Council’s original plan back in 2020. Aside from the issue of database access, the CSCC is a new department that would need lead time to prepare to receive the PEOs, which would nearly double their headcount. There would probably be some extra overhead involved with this as well, although nowhere near SDOT’s staggering $8m price tag. However, this move would preserve the Council’s intent to move civilian functions outside the police department in response to the protesters that were in the streets for so much of 2020.

Seattle Budget: Seattle Police Department

SPD is enjoying being able to say they’re taking the largest cut of any department. This is misleading rhetoric, of course; the actual size of their budget will be larger than it was in 2022 if the proposed budget doesn’t change. Much time was spent in the SPD budget meeting discussing the $250k increase to Harbor Patrol, which moved into a discussion of whether certain aspects of Harbor Patrol might be more suitable for a civilian response (namely, search and rescue and water safety). In response to this suggestion, Senior Deputy Mayor Harrell mentioned that houseboat piracy was a problem.
Moving past the serious piracy issue facing Seattle, Central Staff projects 153 officers will be separating from the department in 2022 by the end of the year. Once again, SPD’s projections for separations and hiring for 2023 seem overly rosy, although the high rate of separations has been going on for long enough at this point that people can now bring up the point of diminishing returns, ie that in a smaller police force, there will also be a smaller number of people leaving. The 80 positions not being funded for 2023 are not being permanently cut (abrogated) but rather underfunded for now.
There was also a discussion of the gunfire detection system (which will probably be ShotSpotter). Interestingly, CM Nelson brought up a study by Edgeworth Analytics that found a high accuracy rate for ShotSpotter, but didn’t disclose that this study had in fact been funded BY ShotSpotter. Luckily CM Mosqueda brought up that point. CM Nelson also stated that if even one life were to be saved by a gunfire detection system, then the financial investment would be worth it, even though it had been emphasized earlier in the presentation that these detection systems are not intended to reduce gun violence in any way, but rather to help capture evidence about gun-related crimes after they happen. Regardless, the city surveillance ordinance would require the completion of a surveillance impact report (SIR), which Central Staff thinks would take more than 12 months to complete, meaning this budget item may well be premature.

Seattle Budget: CSCC

During this meeting, Ann Gorman of Central Staff presented the results thus far of the collaboration between the Mayor’s Office and Central Staff over alternative response as memorialized in a term sheet. There is agreement that the $1.9m for a near-term pilot of alternative response in Seattle could be spent in 2023 on some combination of the following:
  1. Direct dispatch of SFD Health One units
  2. Intelligent non-emergency reporting: this is instant reporting that doesn’t require an SPD officer to come to the scene. In practice, this would be improvement of online reporting or reporting by phone, for example, by providing better support of other languages.
  3. Expansion of CSO duties: currently the CSOs serve as liaisons between SPD and community and don’t have law enforcement authority. It may be possible to expand their role in a way that lessens the workload of SPD officers.
  4. Dual (SPD/civilian) dispatch to augment current mental/behavioral health response: This means that two separate units would be sent to the scene, one from SPD and one that is a city-staffed team with relevant clinical and procedural training. In other words, this response would still involve officers with a gun coming to the scene, although CM Herbold mentioned that perhaps the SPD officers could sometimes stage themselves nearby instead of arriving directly on the scene.
For proponents of a mental health crisis response alternative in Seattle, this list will doubtless be less than inspiring, as none of these options is what has been asked for, including the co-response detailed in option 4. However, both CM Herbold and CM Lewis, who have previously been strong proponents of a civilian alternative response such as STAR in Denver, were both effusive in their praise. CM Herbold went so far as to walk back some of her criticism of the Risk Management Demand report delivered by SPD a few weeks ago. (This is the system SPD has spent large amounts of time and money developing only to have to go in and manually correct more than 50% of call type classifications provided by their new system. The system was also meant to assess risk to responders but instead used risk to the subject as a proxy.)

King County Budget

The next opportunity for public comment on the biennial 2023-2024 King County budget is tomorrow, Wednesday, 10/19 at 6pm. More details and a script can be found here. If you can’t make the meeting, you can also email your King County council members.

Election News

People Power Washington’s voter guide is out! You can see questionnaires about public safety answered by candidates for state legislature, for King County prosecutor, and for Seattle Municipal Court Judge. Information about races for prosecutor and judge in particular can be hard to come by, so this is an excellent resource for helping you make an educated decision come Election Day.
There is a King County prosecutor candidate debate this Thursday, 10/20 from 6-8pm in Federal Way. More details and sign up can be found here.

Other Seattle News

Also in the budget: Mayor Harrell’s proposal to spend $38m on the Unified Care Team and the Clean City Initiative. As Erica C. Barnett reports:
memo accompanying that presentation adds that, legally speaking, there’s no guarantee that the new funding won’t be used to “accelerate encampment removals.”
In redistricting news, Seattle’s redistricting commission voted on a new map today. They passed a map that divides Magnolia along the west-east ridge and doesn’t divide Fremont into three(!) different districts. All but one commissioner voted in favor of this new map, and you can see it here. The exact dividing line in Magnolia might change, but other that that, Erica Barnett reports this will be the map, which represents a heartening victory for Redistricting Justice for Seattle and their bid for an equitable map.
You might remember that earlier this year, the Human Rights Commission tried to initiate a data collection project on behalf of those impacted by police violence, including wanting to file for amicus status with the court overseeing the consent decree process, only to be shot down by the City Attorney. Well, now four commissioners, including three co-chairs, have resigned in protest. You can read their passionate open letter here.
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released Wave 3 of their Sentinel Event Review report on the 2020 protests, which covers June 8 – July 1, 2020. And it is quite damning, showing that in addition to miscommunication and sloppy police work, the SPD indulged in flat-out lying in their infamous ruse in which they tried to make protesters believe armed Proud Boys were headed to CHOP. As Justin reports:
The Wave 3 report includes … SPD officials either mistakenly or intentionally making statements about unsubstantiated and not fully investigated allegations of armed checkpoints and shakedowns of area businesses in press conferences and statements to the media as evidence of bad decisions and a lack of leadership that hindered the city’s response — and set it on a permanently flawed course contributing to the growth of dangerous conditions in the CHOP zone.
It is worth reading the entire article, which also provides access to the full OIG report.
Finally, CM Dan Strauss held a community meeting about safety in Greenwood last night, at which he told attendees they weren’t allowed to record and barred journalists from entry until the end. Not exactly the best way to promote an environment of transparency and accountability.
Isolde Raftery
@CMDanStrauss are you seriously preventing the media from attending your PUBLIC meeting on safety in Greenwood???

Standing outside the @TaprootTheatre with @king5 …

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