Rahr

License Plate Reader Expansion Moves Forward in Seattle; if Approved, Will Represent the Largest Deployment of the Technology in Washington State

Seattle News:

At the public safety meeting on Tuesday, councilmembers voted to pass the legislation to greatly expand license plate readers (ALPRs) out of committee, with Councilmember Moore abstaining. In a blast from the past, I live tweeted much of that agenda item of the meeting

The legislation will now head to full Council for a final vote. CM Moore indicated she would be putting forward separate legislation that would limit the license plate data storage to 48 hours. As the legislation currently stands, SPD would retain the data for 90 days, which would be a reasonable timeframe for outside entities to subpoena for the data from Axon, who will be storing the data. It is unclear how much support this legislation will garner from her colleagues.

One of the more bizarre moments of the meeting was when Chair Bob Kettle stated that if there were going to be any privacy problems with the license plate data, mainstream media such as the LA Times, Seattle Times, New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN would have reported on it. Data provided by the ACLU and UW appeared to be unacceptable. This seems to indicate a fundamental misunderstanding about how the mainstream media and university research operate. 

He also stated Seattle has the best accountability system in the country, which is a bold thing to say given this very system has been crippled since its founding by the SPOG contract.

Andrew Engelson of PubliCola conducted an interview with new interim Chief of SPD Sue Rahr last week. Some key points:

  • Rahr said it breaks her heart that SPD officers don’t feel they’re being embraced by the community: “The officers were—I don’t know how to describe it. I don’t want to say hurt, that sounds a little bit melodramatic. But they want to work with the community and they feel like the community is rejecting them.”
  • She said she wasn’t making command staff changes right now, but would make them if she felt it necessary. She didn’t appear to hold much credence for accusations that command staff were retaliating against officers or weaponizing OPA complaints.
  • She said that because we live in a sexist society, of course our police department is sexist, but didn’t acknowledge any particular issues that might make police departments more susceptible to misogyny than any other institution. She said she wants to focus on the staffing crisis.
  • She doesn’t know what her decisions regarding Officers Auderer and Dave will be, and she said she hasn’t read the reports yet.
  • She said she would support a city contract with another jail (besides King County Jail) if that’s what’s needed to allow for booking of minor misdemeanors that officers feel are necessary.

The death of the student shot at Garfield High School last week, Amarr Murphy-Paine, has rocked the community. There will be a Unity Walk this Thursday at 6pm starting at Jimi Hendrix Park and ending at Garfield High, organized by Pastor Lemuel Charleston and Apostle James Sears. Sears is the Murphy-Paine family’s pastor. 

Other News:

In King County Executive Dow Constantine’s State of the County address yesterday, he proposed “100 Days of Action” to prevent gun violence. The relatively new King County Regional Office of Gun Violence Prevention will be coordinating this work. He said Mayor Bruce Harrell is in agreement and will be making an announcement later this week to advance the collaboration, which would include supporting youth mental health. As always, I am interested in how many resources will be allocated by the county and city to this initiative, as more investment in gun violence prevention is urgently needed.

In a large Washington Post investigation, journalists identified at least 1,800 law enforcement officers who were charged with crimes involving child sexual abuse between 2005 and 2022. “​​When pressed by The Post, some police officials, prosecutors and judges admitted that they could have done more to hold officers accountable in the cases they handled. But nationwide, there has been little reckoning over child abusers within the ranks of law enforcement.”

Nearly 40% of convicted officers avoid prison sentences, and many used threats of arrest or physical harm to make their victims comply. A national tracking system for officers accused of child sexual abuse does not currently exist.

Recent Headlines:

License Plate Reader Expansion Moves Forward in Seattle; if Approved, Will Represent the Largest Deployment of the Technology in Washington State Read More »

Seattle Breaks Its Sweeps Record in 2023

Seattle News:

This week Real Change reported that the city of Seattle’s Unified Care Team performed 2,827 sweeps in 2023. Compared to 922 sweeps in 2022, this represents about a 207% increase in the number of sweeps performed, with an average of 7.75 sweeps performed per day. This is the highest number of sweeps conducted in a single year in Seattle since the numbers began being recorded in 2016. 

The Unified Care Team has a budget of $26.6 million in 2024. $2.2 million of this covers police wages for staffing sweeps.

Complaints about unhoused people also increased to 41,536 in 2023, while the city received 29,304 complaints in 2022. 

In the article, Real Change referenced “a growing body of research that suggests encampment sweeps and other policies of continual displacement directly contribute to increased rates of death and illness.” Critics say that sweeps are not only deadly but also ineffective, failing to address the root causes of homelessness.

My latest piece at The Urbanist covers the recent announcement that Seattle will not be using ShotSpotter technology this year, as well as the surveillance technology expansion going forward, including license plate readers that have some serious data security concerns. This expansion could impact people seeking abortions and gender-affirming healthcare, immigrants, domestic violence victims, and those practicing their constitutional right to protest, among others. The public safety committee will be discussing the license plate readers again at their meeting on Tuesday, June 11 at 9:30am. 

Interim SPD Chief Rahr has been in her new job for about a week, and so far she has not chosen to shake up SPD management. John O’Neill will continue to head up SPD’s public affairs office, in spite of being accused of sexual harassment and retaliation by female subordinates. And Rahr reinstated Assistant Chief Tyrone Davis to full duties just 8 days after former Chief Adrian Diaz put him on administrative leave. She said her decision was based on newly available information.

Mike Solan, the president of SPOG, has said he’s open to flexible scheduling and part-time officers on the force. He said he isn’t concerned about losing a lot of officers once the backpay authorized by the new SPOG contract is processed. But he implied the city will not be able to hire as many officers as it wants until accountability measures for police officers are changed. “The pay is very nice. We thank Mayor Harrell and the city council for recognizing that this needed to be fixed,” he told KOMO. “But until the accountability piece gets rectified to a reasonable point. You’re not going to entice more people to come here. It needs to be addressed immediately.”

The Seattle Times’ editorial board said SPD’s response to the tort claim filed by 4 women officers several weeks ago was “breathtaking in its defensiveness” and quoted Mayor Harrell citing that in his decision to demote Diaz: 

“The quotes in the newspaper on the people making claims was completely inconsistent with how I want the department to respond to allegations,” Harrell told the editorial board after his May 29 announcement seeking a new chief. “And yes, that always factors into strategic decisions that I make — that words do matter, and how you respond to allegations matters.””

Nevertheless, the editorial board thinks the now vacant position of SPD Chief is “one of the best law enforcement jobs in the country.”

Meanwhile, PubliCola reported that the City Attorney’s Office wants to begin using Stay Out of Drug Area (SODA) orders, which prevent people from entering certain areas of the city with “continuous drug activity.” As PubliCola explains:

Studies of SODA areas in Seattle have found that they can exacerbate biased policing when police target people of color, as well as people who appear to be homeless, for exclusions from large swaths of the city, including the areas where most social services are located.”

The Stranger reported on Court Monitor Antonio Oftelie, who seems to have a cozy relationship with SPD and doesn’t appear to take accountability particularly seriously. A text conversation about “Cookie” Bouldin’s lawsuit against the city between him and two members of SPD leadership seemed dismissive:

“Boatright responded at length, saying Bouldin’s lawsuit involved “decades old” claims and adding that the department “has bent over backwards to accommodate Cookie.” Oftelie then asked about Bouldin’s motivation for the suit.

“Cynically? She’s ready to retire and wants to get paid on way out, [sic]” Maxey said. 

Maxey went on to claim that if Bouldin really wanted change, she would have filed an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint. Bouldin ultimately filed a lawsuit in November, in which she called parts of the EEO complaint process “patronizing and harassing.””

Another text message chat between the three above shows Oftelie saying he is interested in seeing “systemic learning” instead of the accountability the community wanted.

A new incident of potentially excessive force used by two SPD officers was recorded last Friday. The officers were arresting a man for felony arson. The video shows the two officers punching and kneeing the man as well as hitting him several times with a baton. It is unclear whether one of the officers was also kneeling on the person’s neck, which would be against SPD policy.

DivestSPD reported on an incident that occurred last June, when SPD officers decided to socialize for 49 minutes at a Starbucks instead of responding to a domestic violence call.

Councilmember Martiza Rivera walked back her amendment freezing 2024 EDI funds, instead introducing an amendment that will require a report from the Office of Planning and Community Development by September 24. The amendment passed 8-1, with only Councilmember Tammy Morales voting against. Rivera and her fellow council member Bob Kettle argued that the 2024 EDI funds were never at risk, in spite of all the analysis saying the opposite. Proponents of the EDI program are worried this may be a signal that the program could be on the chopping block come budget season.

Recent Headlines:

 

Seattle Breaks Its Sweeps Record in 2023 Read More »

ShotSpotter and Diaz are out, Equitable Development funds for BIPOC communities are at risk

Surveillance Tech:

Hot off the presses: Seattle will not be adopting ShotSpotter or other acoustic gunshot location system (AGLS) technology at this time. 

A two-year pilot announced by the Mayor’s Office will adopt new real time crime center (RTCC) software as well as CCTV cameras in three neighborhoods: Aurora Avenue North, the downtown Third Avenue corridor, and the Chinatown-International District (CID). The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) will manage an evaluation plan for these new technologies to evaluate effectiveness. No mention was made as to whether potential disparate impacts will also be analyzed. 

The Public Safety committee is currently reviewing the expansion of automated license plate readers (ALPR). The City Council will also get a chance to weigh in on the new CCTV and RTCC technologies before they are purchased and implemented. 

More on this soon! 

Diaz Ouster:

SPD Chief Adrian Diaz is out and interim Chief Sue Rahr is in! This news was broken by Ashley Nerbovig late on Tuesday evening, followed by a press conference on Wednesday afternoon. 

It seemed clear from the press conference that it was Mayor Bruce Harrell and his executive team who made the call to oust Diaz and bring in Rahr. However, they are keeping Diaz on to do unspecified “special projects” at an unspecified salary. Harrell mentioned the multiple lawsuits and the independent investigation many times, as well as his concern that those remaining at SPD might be afraid of retaliation for coming forward with allegations of discrimination and harassment were Diaz to remain as Chief.

Rahr was the King County Sheriff for many years, followed by a stint as the Executive Director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission. She has come out of retirement to take on this job and stated she doesn’t wish to be considered as the next permanent Chief of Police. She is known for being good on accountability issues and for her work on the 30×30 Initiative encouraging women in policing.

Rahr has said she has no plans to make personnel moves, especially of command staff and her focus will be to increase SPD staffing.

The search for the next Chief will start right away, and Harrell said he expected it would take 4-6 months. Both Rahr and former SPD Chief Katherine O’Toole will be involved in the search, and Harrell strongly suggested he was most interested in an external candidate to change the culture of SPD. 

SPD Q1 Staffing Update:

Tuesday was also a busy day at City Hall. At the morning’s Public Safety committee meeting, councilmembers heard presentations on SPD’s Q1 staffing, overtime, and response times and the 30×30 Initiative.

For Quarter 1 of 2024, SPD’s staffing plan called for 31 new hires, but they only achieved 11 new hires. They had planned for 27 separations and only realized 22, a number that caused everyone real excitement as it was the first time since 2020 estimated separations came in fewer than projected. However, it’s important to remember it was common knowledge at the beginning of this year that the new SPOG contract would likely be completed soon, so it seems likely some officers contemplating leaving would have decided to hold on the extra few months to receive the lump sum of backpay the new contract was known to be coming with. SPD now projects hiring 100 officers and having 100 separations in total in 2024.

Council Central Staff member Greg Doss concluded from this data that SPD retention is completely shifting but hiring is still difficult. Out of the original goal of SPD hiring 120 new officers this year, he expects them to in reality hire fewer than 61.

70 officers are currently on long-term leave, which can be contrasted to the 140-180 officers on long-term leave in 2021. 

At the end of Q1, there were 1053 FTE (full time employees) as sworn members of SPD and 23 additional vacant FTE, creating salary savings of around $3 million for the year. It looks like SPD will probably run over their budget paying overtime. 

After the MOU signed last year giving special event pay bonuses to officers, the number of officers working events is up and the number of parking enforcement officers (PEOs) working events has fallen, which is more expensive for the city. 90 of the 105 PEO positions are currently filled. Citywide, event spending is up 23% over last year, probably because of the double time overtime pay given to officers with the new MOU. Council Central Staff member Greg Doss said if this trend continues, then overtime spending in this event category could be up a great deal by the end of the year. 

Priority 1 call times sit at a median of 7.9 minutes; SPD’s goal is 7 minutes. Council President Sara Nelson asked if the CARE team might reduce these response times, which seems unlikely due to the continuing dual dispatch nature of the pilot and how few responders the CARE team currently employs. 

Councilmember Cathy Moore called for expanding the Community Service Officers further since they can’t hire officers quickly enough. Councilmember Rob Saka wondered if the Chief of Police really requires his or her own security and also wanted hiring laterals to be more of a priority. Councilmember Bob Kettle pleaded with current SPD officers who might be thinking of retiring once they receive their backpay to stay longer. Councilmember Joy Hollingsworth critiqued SPD’s recruitment website. 

During the 30×30 Initiative presentation, SPD General Counsel and Executive Director of Analytics and Research Rebecca Boatwright said SPD had been receiving 5.3 applications per day, which had increased to. 9-10 per day in the run-up to the new SPOG contract being signed. She said in the two weeks since the contract was approved, there had been 15.29 applications per day. In his comments at the press conference announcing the departure of Diaz, Harrell agreed that last year the department had been receiving 5-6 applications per day, but said since the signing of the SPOG contract (only two weeks prior) that number had been 17-19 applications per day. 

Tanya Meisenholder, a member of the 30×30 steering committee, said police department culture change comes from first understanding the culture you already have. Components of culture change she cited included messaging from the top, what the department allows to fester and be tolerated within the organization, how officers are held accountable for their actions, understanding and engaging with employees, and thinking about what you can do to make changes. She said when a new administrative team comes into a department (by hiring an external Chief of Police) there is more of an opportunity to make change.

Kettle said it was important for the city to acknowledge the 30×30 report and not try to explain it away. Hollingsworth gave a shout-out to Detective “Cookie” Boudin’s efforts in the community without mentioning that Boudin filed a lawsuit against the department last year alleging decades of gender and racial discrimination. Moore expressed a wish to change SPD’s culture from warrior to guardian mentality.

Rivera’s EDI Amendment:

Then on Tuesday afternoon, the full Council was set to vote on a technical budget bill, to which Councilmember Maritza Rivera had added a last minute amendment on Friday afternoon before the long weekend. This amendment would freeze around $25 million of 2024 funds for the Equitable Development Initiative (EDI), and unless certain impossible conditions were met by the end of September, it seemed likely the money would get rolled back into the city’s general balance. Although these funds are currently restricted by statute to go to only specific purposes, there is both a reasonable chance this statute could be changed by the Council this fall and even if not, the community would still lose out on the $25 million investment this year. You can read my op-ed on this issue for more details.

Between the attack on the EDI funds and a last minute deletion of the Pay Up ordinance from the agenda, the meeting’s public comment ran over three hours, with numerous community members speaking out against the surprise amendment and speaking in frank terms about their disappointment with Councilmember Rivera. As The Seattle Times reported, “Advocacy organizations and several of Rivera’s colleagues seized on the bill as a betrayal of the city’s promises to uplift communities facing displacement because of the high cost of living in the city.”

After Rivera left in the middle of public comment along with colleagues Councilmember Moore and Council President Nelson in what was clearly a move to figure out their response in private, Rivera moved for the entire budget bill to be removed from the agenda to be taken up again next week on June 4. 

The Council vote to delay this agenda item passed 6-3, with all but Councilmembers Tammy Morales, Dan Strauss, and Joy Hollingsworth voting in favor. 

Both at the meeting and in a statement, Rivera stated that she desired the delay in order to “have time to correct disinformation that was irresponsibly given to community about the proposed amendment.” 

This may prove difficult for Rivera to accomplish, however, given that there don’t appear to be any media reports that claim the EDI program would be cut in its totality, which is the disinformation she appears to be trying to correct. There was an email to constituents from Morales saying, On Friday afternoon, our office discovered that an amendment is being introduced to freeze funding for ongoing Equitable Development Initiative projects,” and it is perhaps this slightly vague statement that the Councilmember objected to. However, given she has provided no details, it is hard to say.

Rivera first complained that the Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) was taking too long in executing EDI projects. When this objection was answered with examples of reasonable timelines for some of these capital projects and the explanation that many of these projects are deliberately being taken on by community organizations who are slower due to their small size and lack of expertise, she wanted to hear more from the OPCD about how they are helping community get the expertise and assistance they need for these types of EDI projects. How freezing all 2024 funds would help community get more assistance with their projects is a mystery that has not been adequately answered.

We also know from the public login sheet that Rivera met with the OPCD on May 8, May 17, and May 20.

Councilmember Cathy Moore added from the dais that there had been misinformation and fearmongering spread about this amendment. There were reports that those who had come to speak felt gaslit by the response of Councilmembers to their heartfelt comments.

Recent Headlines:

ShotSpotter and Diaz are out, Equitable Development funds for BIPOC communities are at risk Read More »