police staffing

Does SPD Staffing Impact Crime Rates? Looks Like Not So Much.

Seattle News:

My piece on police hiring bonuses and incentives was published in The Urbanist this week. Of particular note are the following:

  • The Council is discussing several potential incentives and perks for SPD officers, including housing subsidies. In spite of the backdrop of the $230 million budget deficit for 2025,they do not seem concerned by how much this might all cost. I’ll be interested to see how much SPD’s total percentage share of the General Fund grows in the next proposed budget.
  • The Councilmembers do not seem to want to explicitly say they’re looking into lowering standards for becoming a police officer, but they are discussing measures that have the potential to do exactly that, even before the consent decree is entirely closed out.
  • Chief Diaz said the robustness of Seattle’s accountability system is having a negative impact on officer morale, and he wants to move more minor offenses away from the OPA.
  • Last week’s public safety forum poll showed community most wants expanded addiction treatment and gun violence reduction. The latter of these would require further investment in gun violence prevention programs. 
  • Both SPD and most of the Council seem happy to ignore the report on the poor and discriminatory treatment of women officers that came out last year. In further updates, Publicola reported that SPD has lost its sole female command staff member to retirement. The article includes this interesting tidbit: “Last year, Cordner reportedly left SPD’s Before the Badge program, where she was one of the program leaders, because of one of the instructors’ views on what he called the LGBTQ “lifestyle,” including his opposition to same-sex marriage.”
  • You can read the Stranger’s take on this issue here.

While both Seattle City Council and governor candidate Bob Ferguson want more cops (more on the latter in a moment), Guy Oron of Real Change ran some numbers and found that SPD staffing and crime rates don’t correlate at all. This is critical information to understand given how many other programs Seattle may defund at the end of the year in a desperate attempt to hire more officers.

The deadline for folks to turn in their comments about the three new surveillance technologies being considered in Seattle is today at 5pm. Marcus Harrison Green wrote an op-ed for the Seattle Times entitled: ShotSpotter: Why waste money we don’t have on technology that doesn’t work? 

He says, “Demanding a technology proves its effectiveness before we purchase it does not mean we are any less outraged about the gun violence in our city. It means we very rationally would rather allocate funds toward something with demonstrable efficacy.”

On Tuesday, City Council un-did 20 out of the 36 budget statements of legislative intent (SLIs) passed with the 2024 budget. As Publicola says, “For the council to reverse most of the accountability and transparency measures imposed by a previous council is an extreme move that may be unprecedented.”

Next Tuesday’s Public Safety committee meeting will feature introductory reports from Seattle Municipal Court and the City Attorney’s Office. 

The Urbanist published a new review of protest-related events from 2020, with new footage showing SPD kettling protesters. SPD’s commander in the field was later promoted and also served on the OIG’s sentinel event review of the 2020 protests, which meant he had influence over the report’s findings. Per the article:

Only four out of 133, or 3%, of investigations completed by the Seattle Office of Police Accountability (OPA) into SPD’s 2020 protest conduct have resulted in officer suspensions without pay, according to a review of OPA files.”

WA State News:

Bob Ferguson, who is running for WA governor, unveiled his public safety plan this week. It includes boosting funding to hire more WA State Patrol troopers and give $100 million in grants for city and counties to increase police staffing. He wants to achieve universal adoption of body-worn cameras for police and improve and expand access to law enforcement data, although he doesn’t say if he’d consider using real-time crime centers to achieve the latter. You can read more about concerns about real-time crime centers here

From his website: “As Governor, Bob will build upon his work within the Criminal Justice Training Commission to expand and improve training for community-based policing, expanding co-response and non-armed responders rooted in de-escalation and behavioral health training, and improve data collection and reporting to improve public trust. He will also use the bully pulpit of his office to highlight good works by law enforcement across the state.”

He also wants to implement a crisis response plan to the fentanyl epidemic.

The Washington Observer says Ferguson’s biggest vulnerability in the governor’s race is public safety, hence this plan.

 Recent Headlines:

 

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The Debate over ShotSpotter in Seattle Continues, While King County Takes Up Juvenile Solitary Confinement

Seattle News:
Budget

A new op-ed critical of ShotSpotter being in Seattle’s 2024 budget was published this week. There will also be a webinar about ShotSpotter next Wednesday, November 8 at 5:30pm; it will live stream on YouTube and has a Facebook event page.

Speaking of ShotSpotter, at last Friday’s budget meeting, an amendment was proposed to cut $1.5 million from the Crime Prevention Pilot proposed in the Mayor’s budget (this would cut all funding associated with ShotSpotter and CCTV cameras, while leaving money for license plate readers) and instead use these funds to pay for behavioral health services at tiny home villages that have been partially defunded in the 2024 budget. These services allow tiny home villages to house folks with higher acuity needs than they’d otherwise be able to take. 

CM Herbold said she was disappointed that it didn’t appear any additional community engagement has happened over the use of ShotSpotter since last year. Apparently about a month after her request to Senior Deputy Mayor Tim Burgess for the studies he said existed to back up his claim that uniting the ShotSpotter technology with CCTV cameras improved its accuracy rate and its admissibility as evidence in court, he finally sent her some studies. Six of these studies only spoke to the potential benefits of CCTV cameras, with no mention at all of ShotSpotter acoustic gun detection technology. One final document sent was a suggestion found in a guide that one might pair the two technologies, but this didn’t include any study nor reference to a study.

CM Pedersen said we needed to fund ShotSpotter and CCTV cameras because of SPD’s low staffing levels. Perhaps he is not familiar with this study, which found: “Although the study is limited to one city, results indicate AGDS may be of little benefit to police agencies with a pre-existing high call volume. Our results indicate no reductions in serious violent crimes, yet AGDS increases demands on police resources.”

CM Nelson said, “I think there is probably evidence on both sides of the argument depending on which study you’re looking at.” She then failed to present a single study supporting the use of ShotSpotter. 

There was a marathon budget meeting to discuss all the councilmembers’ proposed amendments last Friday. Besides the one using ShotSpotter funding for behavioral health services for tiny home villages, here are some of particular note:

  • Two amendments add funding for domestic violence survivors, including one for mobile community-based survivor supports.
  • Two amendments add funding for inflationary adjustments and a 2% provider pay equity increase for ALL human services worker contracts (some of them were excluded from this in the initial proposal), although one of the sources of funding has raised some questions.
  • A State of Legislative Intent (SLI) requesting HSD and CSCC/CARE perform a gap analysis of the City’s current and priority investments in gun violence prevention as compared to the recommendations in the King County Regional Community Safety and Wellbeing (RCSWB) Plan, and identify complementary, duplicative, or gaps in services provided by the City and King County. 
  • Additional dollars for both the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) ($50k) and the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) ($222k)
  • A proviso asking SPD to resume their contract with Truleo, which provides technology to review body worn camera footage. There is a long storied history behind this one, but it seems worth mentioning ACLU WA has historically been against the use of this technology for privacy and civil rights reasons. 

CM Mosqueda also laid out her plan for discussing new progressive revenue options, as well as other budget-related legislation that isn’t required to balance the 2024 budget. Initial proposals will be discussed on Wednesday, November 15. There will be an additional budget committee meeting after the budget is passed by Full Council (theoretically on November 21) to discuss and vote on these progressive revenue proposals. That extra meeting will be on Thursday, November 30, and should any legislation pass that day, it will then move to a Full Council vote on Tuesday, December 5.

It is pressing for the Council to discuss new progressive revenue options due to the forthcoming budget deficit, which for 2025 currently sits at $251 million. Any new revenue that is passed by Council would need time to be implemented, so in order to have new revenue to fill that budget gap in 2025, legislation would need to be passed sooner rather than later.

New progressive revenue options you can expect to see include a proposal for a small city-wide capital gains tax and the potential repeal of an extant water fee/tax. Councilmember Sawant has proposed two amendments that would require small increases to the current JumpStart payroll tax; these amendments would fund mental health counselors for schools ($20 million) and pay increases for city workers ($40 million). CMs Herbold and Mosqueda co-sponsored both these amendments.

In addition, there has been some talk of a CEO pay ratio tax. This could be instituted as another layer of the JumpStart payroll tax, to be levied on total payroll and applying only to corporations that exceed the CEO pay ratio. It is unclear how much additional revenue this would generate.

The Affected Persons Program, originally funded in the 2023 budget, did not have its work group implemented by the OPA this year. In response, it has had its funding moved over to HSD to contract with a community-based organization to coordinate the workgroup.

SPD’s New Ruse Policy

SPD announced their new ruse policy to much fanfare this week. This policy was created in response to the infamous Proud Boy ruse during the 2020 protests, as well as another ruse by SPD in 2018 in which an officer lied to the friend of a suspect in a fender bender, saying a woman was in critical condition because of the crash. The suspect committed suicide about a month later.

The new policy outlines the circumstances in which a ruse is allowed to be conducted. They are no longer supposed to be used for the investigation of misdemeanor property crimes. Perhaps most strikingly, they are also not allowed to be broadcast over radio, social media, or any other mass media format, a rule that, had it been in place in 2020, might have prevented the Proud Boy ruse. Officers are also supposed to consult with a supervisor before instigating a ruse, although only when “reasonably practical,” which seems like a potentially large loophole.

There are also now new requirements for documenting patrol ruses, which has led to some speculation over how many ruses will actually be documented in the manner described in the policy, as well as how much extra time (and potentially overtime) this might require. The word “ruse” is required to be specifically used in these reports, which could potentially make public disclosure requests around these sorts of police actions a bit easier to implement. 

What this new policy doesn’t directly address is the lack of communication that may have led public officials such as Seattle Public Utilities’ Emergency Manager into believing and making decisions based on their belief in the Proud Boy ruse.

Black Officers Alleging Discrimination at UW Police Department

Back in 2021, five Black officers at the UW Police Department filed a claim alleging dozens of incidents of racial discrimination in their workplace. Jury selection for this trial, which involves claims of over $8 million, began last week. Apparently an outside review was done of the department in 2019, which found a “culture of fear.” And yet UW President Ana Mari Cauce expressed surprise at the lawsuit since the review didn’t mention racism as a concern. How it would have uncovered such a thing given the aforementioned culture of fear is an open question.

King County News:

Solitary Confinement for Juveniles

The King County Council is discussing a new ordinance to replace the ordinance they passed in 2017 banning solitary confinement for juveniles, with a possible vote planned for this coming Tuesday.

First, some scene setting: King County’s youth detention facility has been experiencing staffing shortages. Right now 73 detention officers are employed there, while they are funded for 91 officers. This year they have hired 20 new detention officers while 21 detention officers have left their positions, leaving the facility with a small net negative for the year in terms of staffing numbers. 

The Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention say they would like the juvenile solitary confinement ordinance changed in order to be able to provide one-on-one programming to juveniles at the facility. This would involve a change to the definition of solitary confinement.  But advocates, including ACLU Washington, the King County Department of Public Defense, and Team Child, have brought up a few concerns:

  • Due to the continued staffing shortage, advocates are worried staffing issues might become an exemption to the ban of solitary confinement for juveniles. While Councilmember Balducci’s proposed striker amendment does improve upon this, they desire to see stronger language clarifying that staffing issues won’t become an exemption to this regulation, especially in order to prevent solitary confinement being justified as needed due to a facility safety issue.
  • The ban on juvenile solitary confinement does not include any enforcement mechanism for violations. Without a means of enforcing the right to not be put into solitary confinement, the ban doesn’t necessarily protect juveniles in practice. Advocates are asking for a system that allows kids who have been illegally held in solitary confinement to be able to collect damages without having to file a lawsuit as a means of enforcement. 

If you would like to weigh in on this issue, you can email or call your King County councilmembers and/or give public comment in person or remotely at the committee meeting on Tuesday, November 7 at 9:30am.

Drugs in King County Jail

According to an indictment, a former King County Jail guard allegedly accepted bribes to bring methamphetamine and fentanyl into the King County Jail for two inmates. 

In response, Executive Constantine released the following statement

“The charges alleged in this indictment represent not just a breach of public safety, but a disdain for the trust placed in those we count on to serve and protect. I want to make clear – the charges against this former employee and his co-conspirators tarnish the work that our corrections officers do every day to serve their community with professionalism and the highest standards of care.

The public can count on King County to continue doing everything we can to stop fentanyl and other contraband from entering our correctional facilities.”

Once again, this calls into question the intentions behind Seattle’s drug criminalization bill passed earlier this fall, given some of the people arrested due to this bill will end up in a jail in which illegal drugs are potentially circulating.

WA State News:

Finally, a small tidbit of what is to come during the next state legislative session beginning in January 2024:

Meanwhile, more help will be sought to fill the ranks of law enforcement agencies. The Association of Washington Cities wants the Legislature to update the local Public Safety Sales Tax to allow councils to use the funds to boost officer pay and increase behavioral health resources. It’s also asking the state to offer more classes at the Basic Law Enforcement Academy and expand regional academies.”

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