police union contract

SPD Responsible for 1 out of 10 Killings in Seattle, Data Scientist Says

Seattle News

First up, I wrote an article for The Urbanist about the proposed drug legislation being voted on in Seattle next week. If you’d like to email your councilmembers and/or give public comment at the City Council meeting next Tuesday June 5, you can find a quick email submission here, and scripts here and here. It looks like the vote will be a close one.

Late last week, City Attorney Davison informed the Seattle Municipal Court she will no longer be participating in their community court, effectively shutting it down. Those people on the High Utilizers Initiative list were already barred from using community court, which was a court for people who had committed certain low-level crimes. This step is likely to significantly add to the caseload of the City Attorney’s prosecutors. It will be interesting to see how the office’s case clearance rate, rate of dismissals, and attrition rate will be impacted by this change in the months to come. CM Lewis has been vocal in defense of community court, tweeting, “Misinformation about Seattle Community Court success rates is circling in the media, so let’s get a few things straight. Approximately 75% of people who enter Community Court complete the program, and 80% of them go on to commit no new criminal law violations.” 

It has come to light that during the 2020 George Floyd protests, SPD called for help from at least 23 different law enforcement agencies. Officers from these agencies were not ruled by SPD policy relating to use of force, reporting, and accountability, and used weapons such as “Stinger” rubber pellet blast grenades, 12-gauge beanbag “shotgun” rounds, military style SAF smoke, HC smoke, and Aerial Flash-Bang devices. As Glen Stellmacher reports:

If SPD holds a backdoor policy that allows for the use of these weapons, that policy is not available to the public, nor are the conditions for the use of these specific weapons. If SPD solely relied on communication with these agencies to prevent the use of certain types of weapons, that dialogue appeared chaotic and indecisive.”

There were at least 547 uses of force by these other agencies during the 2020 protests, and it doesn’t look like any of them were investigated by the OPA. The OIG is performing an audit about SPD use of “mutual aid,” but no results of this audit have yet been made available to the public. It also appears that SPD orchestrated their infamous Proud Boy “ruse” because they didn’t know how to deal with crowd control without their mutual aid partners.

Meanwhile, Seattle has spent a whopping $20.1 million on outside legal fees for four lawsuits related to the 2020 protests.

The 2020 protests are also haunting Bob Ferguson, who launched an exploratory campaign for governor at the beginning of May. He announced the endorsement of former SPD Chief Carmen Best on Twitter this week. His base in Seattle didn’t take kindly to this news, as Best admitted to deleting text messages and was in charge of SPD during the tear gassing of Seattle neighborhoods during the 2020 protests. 

On the Consent Decree

This week, Judge Robart held a hearing in response to the DOJ and City of Seattle’s request for reduced oversight and an imminent end to the consent decree that has been in place for over eleven years. While it is unclear when the judge will issue a ruling, he signaled he will be rewriting parts of the proposed order but that overall he is proud of the work SPD has done under the consent decree. Not everyone agrees with this assessment:

“Ultimately, Seattle’s experience shows consent decrees to be a trap — one that results in more expensive police departments, but which leaves untouched the violence at the heart of policing. Consent decrees first offer communities validation for the harm police have caused them, along with a promise of someone else coming in and “fixing” the police. In practice, they cut off community voices, inflate police budgets at the expense of everything else, and legitimize the very police force that continues to harm the community.” 

Meanwhile, data scientist Dr. Sherry Towers wrote to the judge before the hearing to share some alarming findings, saying, “During my examination of police shooting and homicide data from 2015 to 2021[*] in my research, I found that the rates of police killings per homicide in Seattle were significantly higher than in other areas of the US (nationwide around 3% to 4% of all homicides were due to police killings, whereas in Seattle during that time period that number was 11%, well over twice the national average – to put this in perspective, one out of ten people killed in Seattle since 2015 was killed by a police officer).” 

She went on to say, “I found that by all measures I examined, fatal police violence and racial disparities in police shootings became worse after the consent decree, both in total number and per homicide.  In addition, significantly more police officers were involved in each shooting incident after the consent decree (2.5 on average), compared to before (1.5 on average), and police shootings became significantly more likely to be fatal.” 

Finally, a particular wrinkle of police union contract bargaining was discussed at the hearing. In general, if the negotiations between the City and the police union reach an impasse, the next step is to go to interest arbitration. However, the only issues that are allowed to go to interest arbitration are those that were included in the list of contract issues to be bargained that is created at the start of negotiations. So if a new issue comes up in the middle of negotiation, that can’t be forced into interest arbitration. This had huge implications for the 2017 police accountability ordinance, which hadn’t been included on the list of contract issues for the SPOG contract that was approved in 2018. 

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Mike McGinn has thoughts to share on the upcoming police contract, mayoral election, and reform roadblocks

Today really feels like spring!

First up, I want to recommend an excellent interview on Crystal Fincher’s podcast Hacks and Wonks with former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn. It is worth listening to the whole thing or reading the transcription, but interesting topics covered include:

  • When the police union contract is being negotiated, if the parties cannot reach agreement then the process is brought to arbitration. In arbitration, the arbitrator is supposed to look at peer cities to determine the appropriate result. But if Seattle wants to be at the cutting edge of accountability reform, for example, then being held to other cities’ standards is a severe constraint upon what is possible. The main way out of this bind seems to be legislation at the state level that takes discipline and accountability provisions out of the providence of bargaining (like dead bill SB5134 was trying to do).
  • What the police contract DOES allow the City to do is reduce the total number of police officers because that is a budget question. However, Judge Robart saying the City cannot reduce the number of officers and remain in compliance with the consent decree largely ties the City’s hands in this way as well.
  • City Attorney Pete Holmes, who is up for election again this November, is in a unique position as an independently elected city attorney. McGinn: “Pete is now in a position to unilaterally decide what is or is not the City’s position on litigation – that’s what his position was. So it’s weird, you know? ‘Cause he represents himself as – his client is the public. Well, how does he know what the public wants? And so therefore he finds himself without a client, essentially, ’cause he can just divine it from within his own head.” Examples of some questionable decisions made in the last year by our city attorney are discussed.
  • The power about how to reform and whether reform is working now largely rests with the Judge, the City Attorney, the Mayor, the US Attorney for the Western District of Washington, the SPOG President, etc.: all older, white people. Meanwhile, BIPOC people have largely been silenced in this matter. Because “important people” told us police reform was on track, most people believed them when in fact the last year has shown us the system is still definitively broken: McGinn: “And I guess, you know, if we’re looking at the next mayor, it’s going to be who’s going to have the guts to just say, Look, this process – the process we were in, was broken and we’ve got to try to figure out how to fix it. And the contract’s an important piece of it, but it’s a lot deeper than that.”
  • McGinn discusses the mayoral election landscape in Seattle: Everyone’s a Democrat, and two candidates usually come out of the primary (in August), one endorsed by the Seattle Times and the Chamber of Commerce, one endorsed by the Stranger. Labor/unions are in the middle, with some falling on each side. A candidate needs to choose which of the two lanes they are going for while trying to fall somewhere in the middle. His assessment right now? Bruce Harrell and Jessyn Farrell are going for the right lane, and Lorena González, Andrew Grant Houston, and Colleen Echohawk are going for the left lane. He goes into a lot more detail in the interview. He also mentions Jessyn Farrell, while she might be aiming for the right lane, would still be a more progressive mayor than Mayor Durkan.

The Mayor’s office has released two recommendations for the participatory budgeting process here in Seattle. One hews fairly closely to the Black Brilliance Project’s recommendations by hiring an outside administrator who would hire the 25-person steering committee. This option would take 11-18 months and would use $7.475m in overhead to administer the process. The other option would be mostly run by the Department of Neighbors, involving the hiring of a 15-person steering committee, and would take 9-14 months and use $2.630m in overhead to administer the process. The letter also raises various logistical and legal issues that need to be settled in order for the Council to release the proviso on the $30m and get the process started. You can read the recommendation letter here. Kevin Schofield has written a detailed breakdown of the letter and points that need to be addressed.

Meanwhile, the Mayor’s Equitable Taskforce looks to be aiming to make its draft recommendations on investments for its $30m by mid-April. The minutes of its latest meeting are available to view online.


In state legislative news, EHB 1090 was voted out of the Senate this week and is being sent to the Governor for his signature. This bill bans private, for-profit prison companies that contract with local, state, and federal agencies such as ICE. One effect, should the bill be signed and survive legal challenges, would be that the ICE detention center in Tacoma would shut down in 2025 once its current contract expires.

State legislators are still grappling with how to address the Washington State Supreme Court ruling decriminalizing drug possession. There are several rival bills currently being considered, including HB 1558 and SB 5475, both introduced by Republicans, and SB 5476, introduced by a Democrat. HB 1558 and SB 5476 are both discussed further here, but there is clearly still work to be done to get the votes necessary to pass anything at all.

And that’s what I have for you today! As always, thanks for reading.

 

Mike McGinn has thoughts to share on the upcoming police contract, mayoral election, and reform roadblocks Read More »