police unions

We’re Back to Discussing a Less Lethal Weapons Bill in Seattle

On Police Unions

I’d like to start by sharing a few key quotations from an article from The Atlantic, The Authoritarian Instincts of Police Unions:
Americans are presently engaged in a debate about how to reform police departments to prevent the unlawful killing of civilians by officers, as well as other, nonlethal abuses of power. Reining in police unions may not seem like the most urgent response to this crisis. But no reform effort can hope to succeed given their power today. As long as they exist in anything like their current form, police unions will condition their members to see themselves as soldiers at war with the public they are meant to serve, and above the laws they are meant to enforce.
This is not a system ruined by a few bad apples. This is a system that creates and protects bad apples by design. Most people who become police officers enter the profession because it is held in high esteem and because they wish to provide a public service. But individual good intentions cannot overcome a system intended to render them meaningless. Being a good cop can get you in trouble with your superiors, your fellow officers, and the union that represents you. Being a bad one can get you elected as a union rep.

This Week’s Seattle City Council Meetings

Amy Sundberg
Good morning, and welcome to the Seattle Council Briefing! This morning it sounds like we’ll be talking some more about less lethal weapons and all the ways we’re supposed to be okay with tear gas.

At the King County Board of Health meeting last week, there was a discussion about the mandatory bike helmet law, which is disproportionately enforced, primarily against homeless and BIPOC individuals, and doesn’t actually lead to more helmet use. There is a push to have this law reconfigured or eliminated, as well as to distribute free helmets and provide more public education on their use.

Amy Sundberg
Good morning, and welcome to the Seattle Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting. So far we’ve had opening remarks, public comment, and now we’re talking about a potential appointment to the Seattle Municipal Court administrator.
At today’s Public Safety and Human Services meeting, we heard a presentation from HSD on council investments in health and crisis response, which covered the expansion of Health One (one van was added this spring and another is slated to be added this fall), the SPD crisis response team, and the mobile crisis team, including its new pilot project the Behavioral Health Response Team (costing $450k), which consists of teams of a mental health professional and two peer navigators who have lived experience.
In regards to the SPD crisis response team, CM Herbold noted that many of the police officers on this team have left or been transferred, and asked if there aren’t as many pairing opportunities because of SPD staffing issues, was this an opportunity for HSD to look at other ways to expand this important function? She clarified that she sees HSD as having a programmatic role as well as a funding role for this project, but unfortunately she received no reply from HSD. She also stated that she’s interested in a Seattle-specific designated crisis responder serving on the mobile crisis teams.
The committee also discussed their newly revised bill on SPD usage of less lethal weapons, following its review by the DoJ and Court Monitor. The basics of the bill are outlined in a Central Staff memo and an article at SCC Insight, as well as in this helpful diagram. As you can see, blast balls and flash bangs are completely banned at demonstrations, while pepperballs (using launchers), pepper spray, and tear gas do have some allowed uses during demonstrations.
Provisions of the new less lethal weapons bill
Provisions of the new less lethal weapons bill

CM Herbold said changes from the February version of this bill were due to input given by the Department of Justice and Police Monitor, and Kevin Schofield reports that the DoJ did have a verbal conversation with her about their concerns about the potential that restricting the use of certain less-lethal tools in crowd management circumstances could actually lead to officers using higher levels of force and about whether police officers would have enough time to train on any new policies. He also reports that Court Monitor Oftelie declined to offer feedback on the bill, saying: “My hope in all of this is that SC would work more directly with the Mayor’s office, SPD, and the accountability partners (OIG, OPA, CPC) to draft a comprehensive, evidence-based, and pragmatic new policy. But so far SC has chosen to work on this on their own which is disappointing.” This is interesting because CM Herbold did ask all three accountability bodies for their feedback last year and had all three as well as SPD participate in a roundtable on the subject at a public safety meeting in December. We can only assume the Court Monitor wasn’t satisfied with this effort.

Other News

The news broke that Casey Sixkiller, a candidate for Seattle Mayor, has worked as a lobbyist for such clients as private prison companies, oil and gas firms, and weapons makers. Meanwhile, the Seattle Times ran an article about what mayoral candidates are looking for in the City’s next Police Chief. And Erica Barnett reports on where the money is coming from for upcoming city-wide elections.
A community report on Choose 180, a nonprofit offering restorative justice diversion options to teenagers and young adults, was released this week. Choose 180 has a partnership with the City Attorney’s office for a diversion program for 16-24-year olds that “offers young people the opportunity to participate in a 4-hour CHOOSE 180 Young Adult Workshop instead of being processed through the traditional criminal legal system.” I highly recommend reading the report to see one example of a currently working diversion program.
At the latest CPC (Community Police Commission) meeting, members were divided as to whether to go forward with plans to host a general election forum in partnership with a community organization such as Choose 180 or Community Passageways. Some members believe that hosting such a forum is beyond the scope of the CPC’s responsibilities or mission, while others think holding a candidate forum will help inform the community about the candidates’ different viewpoints on police accountability. It is unclear if the forum will proceed as planned, although we can expect updates on this at tomorrow morning’s CPC meeting. Also on the meeting agenda is an update from the OIG on the Sentinel Event Review of last summer’s protests.

Recent Headlines

Few Cops We Found Using Force on George Floyd Protesters Are Known to Have Faced Discipline — ProPublica

Stop police false narratives about officer-involved deaths | by Deborah Jacobs | Jun, 2021 | Medium

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And the wheel continues to turn slowly

Just a quick update to keep you apprised of current happenings in Seattle, starting with yesterday’s Council Briefing.

During the briefing, there was a second presentation on Seattle’s state legislative lobbying agenda. This agenda will be voted on at the full Council meeting on either December 7 (their goal) or December 14. You can read the current draft of the agenda.

Apparently there is still a chance of a short special state legislative session before the main one beginning in January. However, there’s not much time left to make this happen. There was also another state revenue forecast last week, with positive news that the projected state deficit has shrunk from $10b to $3.3b. The downside to this news is that it may reduce the urgency of lawmakers to pass more progressive taxation legislation this session. Also of note is a new section in Seattle’s lobbying agenda calling for the decriminalization of transportation activity:

We support the decriminalization of transportation activity to improve safety for travelers and the public. We support ending the use of weaponized enforcement for traffic violations and allowing non-uniformed officers, including those working for a local city department that is not a police department, to perform garage and event management activities. We support decriminalizing pedestrian activities such as loitering and jaywalking, which disproportionately impact BIPOC communities. We support setting traffic citation amounts based on income to avoid perpetuating cycles of poverty while ensuring enforcement remains an effective deterrent regardless of an individual’s income and providing additional mitigation for marginalized communities.

In other news, the next Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting will be next Tuesday, December 8 at 9:30am. On the agenda are a discussion about granting the OPA and OIG subpoena powers, a presentation from Co-LEAD, and a discussion about the principles behind CM Herbold’s previous proposal to create defenses for people committing certain misdemeanors when poverty, mental illness, or substance abuse is involved. I plan to live-tweet this one.

Other issues discussed at Council Briefing this week included a COVID relief package for restaurants and restaurant workers; a new project on permanent supportive housing and ways to adjust land use controls to make building it cheaper and faster, presented by CM Lewis (expect more discussion of this in future weeks); and the skyrocketing numbers of COVID-19 cases in our area.

Also yesterday was a legislative preview of police reforms from the Washington State House Public Safety Committee. Among the speakers were several family members of victims of police violence, a few proponents of police reform such as Tim Burgess and Anne Levinson, and representatives of various police groups and unions. The committee chair, Rep. Roger Goodman, said he expected there to be around a dozen proposals to discuss in January, and that they will dedicate entire two-hour hearings to individual bills as necessary. Among the issues under discussion are a state-wide use of force policy; a bill on police tactics that would include a ban on all chokeholds and neck restraints, more limitations on police dog duties, and cessation of no knock warrants; an independent state agency to investigate and prosecute police misconduct relating to deadly force; a statewide requirement for deescalation; a robust decertification system and reporting on officer misconduct by other officers; a publicly searchable database of officer misconduct and also potentially various effectiveness measures; arbitration reform; reforming collective bargaining so that accountability laws aren’t part of bargaining; etc. It’s going to be a busy session, although it’s also good to keep in mind that the legislative process is designed to cause the majority of bills to fail.

The representatives from police groups and unions spoke about the need for more education and training, including implicit bias training, as well as the importance of health, wellness, and resiliency programs for officers. While there are a few areas of overlap for support of reforms depending on the group, overall these groups are not in favor of many of the reforms discussed above.

A moment worth highlighting was when Rep. Lovick asked Tim Burgess why reforms up to this point have not worked. Mr. Burgess had a lengthy reply to this question, and among other things, he said, “The ability of police unions to build in obstacles to reform is extremely detrimental.”

Finally, San Francisco has launched a pilot program for a Street Crisis Response Team now responding to 911 calls related to mental health and addiction. We’ve talked about developing a similar response team in Seattle based on the CAHOOTS model, and it’s great to see other cities jumping on board with this idea.

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