SCORE

All Kinds of Power Struggles in Seattle This Week

Seattle News:

This week there are some interesting follow-ups on developing stories we’ve discussed in the past.

First, Publicola reported that CM Nelson plans to propose legislation that would require the Public Safety Civil Service Commission (PSCSC) to switch police officer tests to the Public Safety test. The current National Testing Network test is more rigorous and was developed with the City of Seattle’s consent decree in mind. The Public Safety test, on the other hand, has a 90% pass rate on the first try. Contrary to what Nelson said in the previous public safety committee meeting on the topic, this seems likely to in fact compromise the standards for police officers in Seattle.

But the plot thickens! The PSCSC has sole authority over developing and holding testing, and changing this would require a law change. From the Publicola article: “Courts have upheld the PSCSC’s authority in the past, Scheele notes. “The last time the Council passed an ordinance undercutting the commission’s independence it had to be repealed,” she said, after a state appeals court ruled that the city council acted outside its authority when it passed a law moving many of the PSCSC’s “substantive” duties, including officer testing, to the city’s Human Resources Department.” So a court case regarding this issue may be in our future. 

Meanwhile, hiring new officers has become difficult across the country and is much more likely to be related to the fact that perceptions of being a police officer have shifted and people aren’t as interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement. 

Relatedly, SPD issued a tepid and disingenuous defense of their treatment of female officers. On the same day, KUOW published an investigative report on sexism and harassment within the department that emphasized how scared these female officers were to even speak to the press: “These women started talking with each other and agreed to speak with KUOW on condition of anonymity, because they feared retaliation. Floyd was the only one to let KUOW identify her. The women said that if found out, they could be investigated for speaking to the press without permission. One woman shook through her interview with KUOW. Five women declined to speak with KUOW, saying through intermediaries that they were scared of retaliation.”

In other news, City Attorney Ann Davison charged the six protesters at a City Council meeting in February with gross misdemeanors for trespassing. And we also got some more information about why Davison might have made the decision to disqualify Judge Pooja Vaddadi from all criminal cases at Seattle Municipal Court. The Stranger reported that Davison asked a higher court to review Vaddadi’s decision to disqualify an assistant city attorney from prosecuting a case. The day after this decision of Vaddadi’s was the day then-Criminal Division Chief Natalie Walton-Anderson sent out the infamous memo that I covered here, announcing the new policy of disqualifying the judge from all future criminal cases.

The Stranger published an in-depth piece on the problems currently faced by Seattle’s dual dispatch program, aka the “alternative” emergency response program that doesn’t follow the best practices of such programs run elsewhere. Ashley Nerbovig reports that the program is currently underutilized and mostly getting referrals from SPD instead of from 911 dispatch. Here is a particularly pertinent quote from the article:

Right now, Smith acknowledges the City is watching whether this program can exist without pissing off either the police or fire union. Police union president Mike Solan has expressed a distaste for police alternatives, appearing to view them as an insult to SPD officers. The City’s contract with SPOG prevents it from shifting any work from sworn-officers to civilians without negotiations. Given how much leverage the City has already given away in the MOU, and given the repeated emphasis from the Mayor and the council on hiring more police officers as the only solution to public safety concerns, it seems unlikely that they’ll push hard to take lower-priority work off the plates of officers who constantly complain about having all this low-priority work on their plates. The other lingering question is whether the City plans to actually fund the program long-term.” 

Finally, Publicola reported on two smaller stories. First, the City Council are having embarrassing budget conversations in which they call out problems of efficiency with the budget that do not in fact exist. And second, CM Bob Kettle exposed City Hall to COVID when he knew he’d been exposed but did not choose to work from home until he got a positive test. For those who are unaware, it is in fact possible to spread COVID before you test positive. 

Jail News:

The Seattle Times reported about a 24-year-old who hung himself while in the Klickitat County Jail last year while withdrawing from fentanyl, which highlights how underprepared many Washington jails find themselves for dealing with the current fentanyl crisis. The article says, “As of 2019, Washington’s county jails had among the highest death rates in the nation. Suicide has been the leading cause of death in the state’s jails and in jails nationally.”

And Publicola reported on the death of a woman in the SCORE jail last year. She died of dehydration, malnutrition, low electrolyte levels and renal failure. 4 people died in the SCORE jail last year, which is a very high number given its population. About the fatality report, Publicola had this to say: “The report said Majoor was well-known to staff at SCORE and implied that this may have led to inadequate care: “Over familiarity with the decedent and previous detox experiences were discussed as possible issues.””

At the King County Law and Justice committee meeting this past week, councilmembers discussed the plan to close the County’s juvenile detention facility. In 2020 Executive Dow Constantine promised to close the facility by 2025, but that date has been recently pushed out until 2028, and judging by the committee discussion, is likely to be pushed out even further. Indeed, some councilmembers did not seem convinced that actual achievement of zero youth detention will ever be possible.  

The main points of contention appear to be whether the newly proposed respite and receiving centers for youth would feature locked doors and what the differences might be between security and safety. 

Councilmember Jorge Barón spoke eloquently about the problem, saying, “It strikes me as a failure of our society that we have people at a young age engaged in harm-causing behavior, including very serious criminal behavior. We need to really reflect on that. What kind of society are we creating and how do we change that?” He spoke about how the current system contributes to harm-causing behavior rather than reducing it. 

The County will start public engagement on the Care & Closure plan soon, as well as releasing recommendations for improvements that can be made to the existing facility that can be included in Constantine’s budget proposal this fall. Meanwhile, the advisory committee will continue to meet to hash out the question of security vs. safety.

Recent Headlines:

All Kinds of Power Struggles in Seattle This Week Read More »

Seattle’s Dual Dispatch Pilot Doesn’t Sound Like a True Alternative Response to Behavioral Crisis

Seattle News:

Last week the City Council voted 6-3 to pass the drug ordinance that criminalizes simple drug possession and public drug use. CMs Morales, Mosqueda, and Sawant voted against.

The Stranger published a powerful op-ed on #JusticeforJaahnavi

The truth is, our communities have been creating safety with each other outside of policing for a very long time. Getting people housed, helping people into well-paying jobs, increasing access to child care, delivering healthy food and good schools–these are all ways that communities create safety. The “safest” communities are never the ones with the most police, they are the ones with the most resources.  

For those less familiar with the vagaries of police accountability, Ashley Nerbovig writes about how Officer Auderer is unlikely to be fired for laughing at Jaahnavi Kandula’s death.

Meanwhile, SPD is already embroiled in another scandal, with audio being uncovered of an SPD officer, Officer Burton Hill, using racist slurs and sexist language towards his neighbor, an Asian school bus driver. He also threatened her with jail. Chief Diaz has put Officer Hill on paid administrative leave pending the investigation. This is yet another piece of evidence showing the racist and toxic culture of SPD. If you’re wondering why the officer gets paid while on leave, you need look no further than the SPOG contract.

Mayor Harrell had a press conference last Thursday on the CARE department, the new third public safety department replacing the CSCC, which will be led by Amy Smith. The new department will consist of three divisions: emergency call takers and dispatchers, behavioral health responders, and community violence intervention specialists. 

Mayor Harrell is proposing CARE’s budget increase by 30% in 2024’s budget, up to $26.5 million. 

The dual dispatch pilot will launch in October, and it will require officers to arrive at the scene at the same time as the behavioral health responder teams, which is very different than the programs in, say, Denver or Eugene, both of which the Mayor cited as models but which handle the vast majority of calls solely with behavioral health responders. Proponents of alternate 911 response who wanted to see reduced contact of communities with police will be sorely disappointed. 

It sounds as if the pilot will mainly be responding to person down calls and so-called “paper calls” that include things like parking issues and noise complaints. When asked why the behavioral health response teams weren’t going to be dispatched to behavioral health-related calls, Chief Diaz remarked that some person down calls do have a behavioral health component, skillfully dodging the question. But from all we’ve learned thus far, this pilot doesn’t sound like a true alternate mental health response. 

When Erica Barnett asked Mayor Harrell if he could give a preview of his proposed 2024 budget relating to diversion and drug treatment programs, given the recent passage of the drug criminalization law that he supported, he was either unable or unwilling to do so, in spite of the fact this new law and the lack of investment details around it have been front and center in the public discourse for weeks. His exact words? “I don’t have a great answer.”

But we’ll get an actual answer when he introduces his proposed 2024 budget tomorrow. That’s right, budget season is upon us! The Mayor will be giving his budget speech at 12:30pm tomorrow. The first opportunity for public comment will be at 9:30am this Wednesday, September 27, after which the Council will have their first meeting reviewing the proposed budget. After that, expect a slight lull as everyone scrambles to analyze the budget proposal and consider what changes to it they might want to see. 

King County News:

Last week the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) announced they were ending their contract with SCORE that the King County Council passed in a controversial vote this spring. The contract only began in June and has already been deemed a failure because the number of inmates eligible to transfer to SCORE wasn’t enough to make a dent in the crowding at the King County jail. There have also been four deaths at SCORE since the beginning of the year, an absurdly high number. 

Unfortunately the issues with the King County jail continue, and the failed SCORE contract has meant a delay in addressing them in other ways. The DAJD has now said they plan to reopen bookings at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent on October 2. One can only assume booking restrictions at the King County jail will need to remain strictly enforced, in spite of the new Seattle drug law on the books.

Recent Headlines:

Seattle’s Dual Dispatch Pilot Doesn’t Sound Like a True Alternative Response to Behavioral Crisis Read More »

Seattle’s Alternate Response Pilot a Far Cry from 2020 Demands

Seattle News:

Yours truly was quoted in a recent Urbanist article about the recent shakeup at the Mayor’s Office, which reports that Tim Burgess will be promoted to Deputy Mayor in Monisha Harrell’s wake. Former OPA Director Andrew Myerberg will also be receiving a promotion to Chief Innovation Officer, which will put him on the executive team. It appears that current Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell will be staying until the end of the summer.

Senior Deputy Mayor Harrell appeared at Tuesday’s Public Safety and Human Services Department committee meeting to deliver a presentation on the City’s much-delayed dual dispatch response. The City is hiring six mental health professionals and one clinical supervisor; the mental health professionals will be dispatched in three teams of two, with two teams working at a time. When the new program launches, theoretically in October, it will respond to calls such as welfare checks and person down calls, and it will not provide 24/7 response. Monisha Harrell spoke to the potential of alternate response programs to act as preventative measures that address situations before they become emergencies. 

However, this new program ultimately won’t deliver on the hope to have a new non-police emergency response in Seattle, which has been consistently blocked for the last three years by SPD, SPOG, and former Mayor Durkan. As Ashley Nerbovig at the Stranger succinctly summarizes: “A lot of questions about the direction of the program remain, and part of the pilot program includes collecting data to learn what types of calls don’t require police. That data basically already exists, though. The National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform’s 2021 analysis showed that 80% of SPD calls for service involved non-criminal matters. The report also found that about half of all calls did not require a sworn response.” 

She reports that the main difference between this pilot program and the already existing Crisis Response Team is that with the new program, police will be allowed to leave the scene if they decide their presence is unnecessary. This might reflect a recent change in the pilot design as in the past, the dual dispatch plan has been described as having police staged nearby in case backup was needed, which is a key difference as police being directly on the scene can have an escalating effect. In any case, it seems clear the new pilot deviates from the model proven by the successful CAHOOTS and STAR programs.

Meanwhile, the overdue white paper was not mentioned.

On Tuesday the Mayor held a press conference to discuss his downtown activation plan, but he was interrupted by a small group of protesters demanding a ban on sweeps during the winter and extreme weather events. According to The Stranger, he got “incredibly flustered” and stated that the press conference “had them outnumbered at least.” Expect local groups to take notice of the Mayor’s discomfort with protestors and increase their direct actions in response.

Publicola reported on the substance of the proposal, which is mostly a repeat of what the Mayor has announced before: “And, of course, it assumes a heavier police presence downtown—a mostly unspoken, but bedrock, element of the proposal. “Make Downtown Safe and Welcoming” is actually number one on the plan’s list of seven priorities, starting with arrests of people “distributing and selling illegal drugs” (and, presumably, using them—Harrell mentioned that a bill criminalizing drug possession and public use will likely pass in July).”

Mayor Harrell’s office has released a memo on OPA findings about former SPD Chief Carmen Best. Because Best refused to participate in the investigation, the OPA said they were unable to find sufficient evidence to determine whether several of her statements in the summer of 2020 were “knowingly false.” The Mayor’s memo acts as a toothless rebuke, as Best will suffer no repercussions for her actions, even as the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog reports that “Best’s use of information and inaccurate statements fits into a pattern of disinformation and “improper ruses” used by SPD during the protests.”

SPD Officer Constantin, who was fired for his social media posts, had his appeal dismissed after he failed to appear. Former SPD Officer Adley Shepherd’s appeal (he was suing the City after being fired for punching a woman he’d arrested and handcuffed) has also been dismissed.

County, State, and National News:

The King County Sheriff’s Office has been ordered to reinstate a deputy they fired in 2021 for killing an unarmed man who was wanted for the theft of a vehicle and a poodle. (The poodle survived.) King County later settled with the man’s family for $2.5 million. Deputy George Alvarez, who already had five shootings under his belt at the time of the incident, will return to the department, although he will not be reinstated to the SWAT team. As Publicola reports, Tamer Abouzeid, the director of OLEO, hopes the outcome of this case could lead to changing the burden of proof of administrative investigations to a preponderance of the evidence, which is a lower burden of proof than the current standard used of clear and convincing standard. 

In the last three or so months, nearly 400 inmates in the King County Jail have been moved to the Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC) in Kent. MRJC  now houses about 40% of the average daily jail population, up from around 25%, while the population of the downtown jail has been decreased by about a third. Right now, SCORE is housing 30 jail residents for King County. 

Meanwhile, Larch Corrections Center in Clark County will be closing this fall. It is one of twelve prisons in Washington State. Apparently the Department of Corrections is also finally developing a plan to reduce the use of solitary confinement in Washington prisons, after strong grassroots advocacy for legislation that would ban such use entirely, given that solitary confinement that lasts more than 15 days is recognized as torture by the United Nations and various human rights organizations.

Scott Greenstone at KNKX recently published an excellent piece outlining the lack of drug treatment facilities in Washington state and consequences of the new Blake fix drug law. While legislators and the governor insist the new law is meant to help people get more treatment more than it is to increase incarceration rates, there is a serious lack of treatment facilities in the state, and the existing facilities often have wait times of several months. We don’t know the full extent of the problem because “it’s unclear how many beds are actually sitting empty right now in Washington: The system is so complicated and poorly tracked, neither the governor’s office, nor the Washington Department of Health, nor the Healthcare Authority could provide those numbers.” And the urgency of the problem is increasing: while the number of people getting treated for substance use disorder has stayed relatively flat, the number of overdoses has skyrocketed in recent years.

The article also features noted addiction expert Caleb Banta-Green, who spoke to his feelings of discouragement after the new law was passed, as well as his worries that it will “make it easier to shut down clean-needle exchanges, and force people into an ineffective treatment system.”

Nationwide, we’re seeing a drop in the murder rate, as reported by Radley Balko: “If trends continue, 2023 will see the largest percentage drop in murders in U.S. history. The drop will be driven primarily by large declines in big cities. This would seem to undermine the argument that the 2-year rise in homicides during the pandemic was driven by criminal justice reform, George Soros’s favored prosecutors, or policing shortages.”

Housekeeping:

I’ve received a few pledge requests through Substack, so I just wanted to give you a reminder that if you want to support Notes from the Emerald City via subscription, you can do so through my Patreon.

Recent Headlines:

Seattle’s Alternate Response Pilot a Far Cry from 2020 Demands Read More »

“We Can’t Just Keep Doing What We’ve Been Doing”

King County Jail News

CM Kohl-Welles said the the headline quote at Tuesday’s King County Council meeting, where the Council voted to approve the SCORE contract to transfer up to 60 men from the King County Jail. This decision was made in spite of County staff noting that moving 60 inmates would not make much difference to address the conditions and insufficient staffing at the jail. CMs Zahilay and Kohl-Welles voted no. CM Zahilay said he didn’t feel he’d done his due diligence in exploring all their options, and CM Kohl-Welles specifically said she didn’t find the short-term solutions being presented (namely, this SCORE contract) to be very compelling. Several CMs called out the need to do the work to find better long-term solutions, including closing the King County Jail. 

Unfortunately, the danger now is that Executive Constantine might come back to the Council sometime in the next year or so asking to expand the number of inmates being transferred to SCORE. In the meantime, the County will be spending $3.5m in a stop-gap measure that isn’t a meaningful long-term solution. You can read more detail about this week’s meeting and some of the issues at play, many of which we have discussed here in previous weeks, in Ashley Nerbovig’s excellent article in The Stranger.

Recent Headlines

 

“We Can’t Just Keep Doing What We’ve Been Doing” Read More »

“Stealth Jail Expansion”: The Fight Over the SCORE Jail Contract Continues

Let’s take a moment to celebrate that the Washington State Supreme Court upheld the capital gains tax!

Seattle News

On Tuesday the City of Seattle and the Department of Justice filed a request to replace the 2012 Consent Decree with a new “Agreement on Sustained Compliance” that would focus on SPD’s use of force particularly related to crowd control and accountability. Among other measures, SPD would need to adopt a revised crowd management policy, and the City would need to hire a consultant to make recommendations about the accountability system. In addition, Mike Carter reports the city also acknowledges that it must address racial disparities that have shown up in reviews of both police use of force and investigative stops.” 

Mayor Harrell’s office has calculated the consent decree, lasting 11 years thus far, has cost the city $200m. The motion asks Judge Robart to find the SPD has reached “substantial compliance” with most of the original consent decree requirements. As Erica C. Barnett reports, ongoing labor negotiations with SPOG, including whether important accountability advances agreed upon in the recent SPMA contract are included in the next SPOG contract, play an important role as to whether the city will be able to be found in compliance with the accountability piece of either the original consent decree or any new agreement.

This new “agreement on sustained compliance” would be anticipated to be completed in about a year, and unlike the original consent decree, it wouldn’t require a two-year sustainment period before exit, which would give Mayor Harrell his coveted exit before the end of his term. The next step in this process is for Judge Robart to schedule a hearing.

Advocates in Seatle have often had mixed feelings about the consent decree in recent years. In the last three years in particular, it has often been seen as a barrier to more systemic change and a way to potentially apply a veneer of respectability to the SPD while maintaining the status quo. The SPD’s budget has grown substantially from when Seattle entered into the consent decree, from $252.2m in 2012 to its present size of $374.3m. 

Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting on Tuesday had a surprise addition to the agenda: a project update on SPD’s recruitment and retention. While the council members received a memo on March 14 detailing current progress with the hiring incentives passed last year, none of this information was presented at the meeting, with Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell saying “it’s too early to draw a definitive conclusion.” 

In 2021 SPD hired one officer for every 12 applicants; these figures aren’t yet available for 2022. In spite of all its new hiring, recruiting, and retention efforts, the department is still struggling to maintain its size: as of 3/16, SPD’s hiring numbers are at -6, a number that was amusingly omitted from the presentation. SPD has hired 19 officers and experienced 25 separations since the beginning of the year. 

No mention was made at the meeting of the difficulties of retention given the recent suit filed by Cookie Bouldin alleging racial and gender discrimination or last year’s lawsuit in which an SPD officer was awarded $1.325m in damages due to getting carbon monoxide poisoning on the job.

The team presenting to the CMs announced their goal of 30% of officers being female by 2030 with no mention of the Bouldin lawsuit. CM Nelson also stated the importance of “having a positive place to work at” without addressing the implications of these suits.

When considering SPD’s attrition rate, it’s important to remember some people leave the department because they’re under investigation for less than savory reasons. For example, the OPA released a report last week about the case of Officer Cleades Robinson. As DivestSPD reported: “OPA found there was more than enough evidence to show that Robinson committed at least two gross misdemeanors: patronizing a prostitute and communicating with a minor for immoral purposes.” Robinson resigned before final discipline was handed down in January. Another SPD Captain was arrested in November 2019 for trying to buy sex and retired before the investigation was completed. 

Once Mayor Harrell took the helm of the city at the beginning of 2022, sweeps of homeless people substantially increased, Guy Oron reports. The City of Seattle performed 943 sweeps in 2022, which means sweeps were happening on average twice or more every day. Of these sweeps, 771 sweeps–almost 82%–were obstruction sweeps, meaning the City wasn’t required to give notice to those being swept. To get an idea of how much sweeps have increased, there were 158 sweeps in 2022 where notice was given, whereas in 2021 there were 53 sweeps done with notice, meaning the rate of sweeps with notice has TRIPLED. Many locations were swept multiple times, including 66 sweeps in Occidental Park, 53 sweeps near the Ballard Library, and 18 sweeps at the Ballard Commons.

By comparison, there were 1,192 sweeps in 2019, meaning we’re seeing the return of an old status quo that was interrupted by the pandemic and a temporary acknowledgement due to the George Floyd protests that just maybe we should treat people more humanely.

Matthew Mitnick, currently running for Seattle CM for District 4, has been accused by former supporters of breaking child labor laws, wage theft, and creating a toxic work environment

King County News

The King County Council postponed their vote on the SCORE jail contract for the second time this Tuesday. They are working on a variety of amendments (discussed last week) that would limit the size and scope of the transfers from the King County Jail and require various reporting and Council approvals. Unfortunately, none of these amendments would stop the SCORE contract outright; this contract would cause what opponents are calling a stealth expansion of King County’s system of incarceration. 

The sense of urgency around this SCORE contract is interesting given it’s been almost three years since Executive Constantine said he wanted to eventually shut down the “decrepit” King County Jail. In the intervening time, the death and suicide rates in the jail have gone up and the staffing numbers have been in continuous decline, not to mention it was without potable water for a month last fall. However, it’s only since the ACLU of Washington filed a suit against the County due to the appalling conditions within the jail that the County’s message has shifted to sudden action without the necessary time to build a good plan that would not expand incarceration in the County.

To weigh in on the SCORE contract, you can email or call your King County CMs and/or give public comment at the next King County Council meeting on Tuesday, April 4 at 1:30pm. Talking points will be updated at tinyurl.com/TellKCC.

In addition, sources say the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) is planning to move 50 additional people from the King County Jail to the Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC) in Kent this weekend (April 1-2). The DAJD already moved 50 people from the KJC the weekend of March 11-12, a move that has resulted in consequences: those 50 inmates are being double-bunked in cells in which the toilets can only be flushed twice an hour, resulting in unsanitary conditions. And Erica C. Barnett reports on another problem as well:

“Folk says the jail guards’ union has filed a demand to bargain over the decision to move 50 people to the RJC, noting that the 1:104 ratio of guards to inmates is far below the usual “direct supervision” standard of one guard for every residents. Haglund told PubliCola previously that although 1:104 isn’t ideal, the unit will be safe with just one guard because no more than 64 people will be out in the unit’s common area at one time. Folk disagrees, telling PubliCola, “The staffing ratio for this is just not safe.””

Meanwhile, King County reported that as of last week there have been 296 King County residents who have died due to drug or alcohol poisoning since the beginning of the year, a number that exceeds the total number of overdose deaths in 2012. 

Recent Headlines

“Stealth Jail Expansion”: The Fight Over the SCORE Jail Contract Continues Read More »

Community Outcry against King County’s Potential SCORE Jail Contract

King County Jail News:

On Tuesday morning, a 58-year-old woman died in the King County Jail. She had been booked into the jail on Friday with a charge of burglary. We don’t yet know her cause of death. 

On Tuesday afternoon, the King County Council met to discuss, amongst other things, the $3.5m SCORE contract that would allow them to transfer 50 people (to start) from the King County Jail to the SCORE facility in Des Moines. While this is being sold as a “short-term” solution to run until the end of 2024, there is already discussion of expanding the number of inmates transferred to SCORE. 33 people gave public comment asking the CMs to vote no on this new contract. There have been several lawsuits brought against SCORE by family members of people who died in the jail, alleging the facility failed to provide adequate medical care. Being transferred to SCORE might also impact the quality of inmates’ defenses. You can see my live tweets of the CMs’ discussion here

At the briefing, CM McDermott stated that booking restrictions haven’t changed and asked for the reason for the growth of the King County Jail population in 2022. Analyst Leah Krekel-Zoppi said that pre-pandemic, the average daily population of the jail was 1900, which dropped to 1300 due to the pandemic. The average daily population now is 1500-1600. She refused to answer the CM’s question about why it’s higher now.

One possible explanation for this increase is, as Erica C. Barnett suggests, the Seattle City Attorney’s High Utilizer program, which skirts the current jail booking restrictions for misdemeanors: “In January and February 2022, before the high utilizer initiative went into effect,  the average daily population at the downtown jail was 910; for the same period this year, it was 1,220. The increase is the result of a complex mix of factors, but jailing 142 people for low-level misdemeanors is undoubtedly among them.” She also found that on average, each one of these “high utilizers” served 117 days in jail in 2022, so they each spent significant time in the jail.

Another possible factor is people in the jail waiting for competency services. As Ashely Nervobig reports: “A February 7 report from the King County Prosecutor’s office showed about 80 people waiting for competency restoration services, with the state failing to provide treatment to some of the people in the jail for more than a year, according to Casey McNerthney, spokesperson for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.” 

Other possible factors for the difference in the jail population between 2021 and 2022 include an increase in SPD arrest reports–there were 10,601 such reports in 2022 versus 9165 in 2021–and the possibility the police are overcharging; that is, the practice of either adding charges or using a higher initial charge when such charges may not be able to be proven. This practice would be another way of getting around the King County Jail’s current booking restrictions. 

CM Zahilay asked two questions that remained outstanding and that the CMs resolved to discuss during their (confidential) executive session: 

  1. There is ambiguity over which type of booking restrictions can be mandated by a County Executive. Some say these restrictions can only apply to misdemeanor charges, but there are also some counties in Washington that may have restrictions relating to certain felonies.
  2. Is the County legally allowed to pay people’s bail? In the past (pre-pandemic) King County gave a $400k contract to the Northwest Bail Fund, but it’s not clear if any of this money was ever directly used to pay bail. It sounds like it was used to fund wraparound services that helped people qualify for bail. Data from that program showed the number of people able to post bail increased significantly during its adoption in 2019-2020. CMs were very interested to learn how many people are housed in King County’s jails because of being unable to pay bail.

If the CMs do not approve this new contract with SCORE, it would be incumbent upon them to decrease the population of the King County Jail in other ways, hence the importance of the above questions. The Shut Down King County Jail coalition is asking for the CMs to do exactly this and reduce the jail population by ceasing imprisonment of those experiencing mental health crises and stopping imposing bail, which has the impact of holding poor people in this facility while those with more resources are allowed to go free. However, some CMs signaled more interest in putting additional definitions and limitations around the SCORE contract as opposed to searching for ways to decrease the County’s jailed population in any meaningful way. 

The vote on this legislation was delayed until the next King County Council meeting on Tuesday, March 28. In the meantime, you may write or call your King County CMs and/or plan to give public comment on the 28th.

Seattle News:

SPD detective Cookie Bouldin has filed a $10m tort claim against SPD, claiming racial and gender discrimination and retaliation for whistleblowing. She says she has faced gender and racial discrimination for the entirety of her 40-year career, which began in 1980, when she was one of only two Black female officers in SPD. She is known for reaching out to communities of color and running a youth chess club, both of which she says have made her a target. The claim states: “​​She notes that the hostile work environment she has been subjected to has increased dramatically in recent years.”

In an analysis of Ann Davison’s first year as Seattle City Attorney, Guy Oron writes:

“​​The King County Department of Public Defense (DPD) has denounced the CAO’s approach to prosecution during Davison’s tenure, setting up a Twitter account at @CourtWatchSMC called “Seattle Municipal Court Watch” to monitor cases when the CAO has filed charges against poor residents and people experiencing mental health illnesses. Notable cases that the DPD has highlighted include prosecution of people for stealing paper towels, selling cigarettes without proper licensing, sleeping under a tarp in a business parking lot and staying in a building slated for demolition to stay warm. These selected anecdotes seem to align with the data, which shows that the vast majority of SMC defendants rely on public defense.”

Election News:

King County Executive Dow Constantine has announced he will not be running for governor in 2024. This was after the Northwest Progressive Institute released poll results showing Attorney General Bob Ferguson as the leading Democratic candidate in a potential 2024 governor’s race, assuming current Governor Inslee chooses not to run for a fourth term. Bob Ferguson polled at 21%, whereas another possible Democratic candidate, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, polled at 7%.

Recent Headlines:

Community Outcry against King County’s Potential SCORE Jail Contract Read More »

The Exodus of Inmates from the King County Jail Continues

We’ll start off this week by looking at Chloe Cockburn’s recent reporting on the current landscape of policing in the United States. Police have already killed hundreds of people in 2023 (220 to be precise, and keep in mind we’re only two and a half months into the year). That figure is up 6% since 2021. 

She also reminds us of a Gallup poll conducted at the end of April-early May of 2022, saying:

If you were just going by media commentators you would have thought that support for reforms had completely collapsed in the face of rising concerns about crime. On the contrary:  45% of Americans in 2022 supported eliminating police enforcement of nonviolent crimes, and 44% supported eliminating police unions. Moreover, 15% of Americans support eliminating police departments entirely, while Black Americans support this at the rate of 21%.”

I bring this up because I know some of you are disheartened by recent developments in the Washington state legislature. It is important to remember in spite of what the media might be saying, there is still an appetite in the United States for taking a different avenue to public safety that is more equitable and less harmful. The work being done in this space matters.

Seattle News:

This past Tuesday Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee discussed the Seattle City Attorney’s Q4 2022 report. In Q4, the City Attorney’s Office received 2,740 referrals from SPD. For pre-pandemic comparison, the SPD gave 3,529 referrals in Q4 of 2018 and 3,724 referrals in Q4 of 2019. These referrals were all misdemeanors, as the City Attorney’s Office doesn’t deal with felony charges. 

The Seattle City Attorney’s Office also announced a 50% decrease in their case backlog over the course of 2022. The office filed 1,323 cases and declined 3,336 cases in Q4. Many of those declined cases were part of the aforementioned backlog. The office also took the opportunity during their presentation to discuss the difficulties recruiting and retaining prosecuting attorneys given their relatively low salaries compared to salaries of prosecutors in other cities.

At the State of Downtown event on Tuesday, Mayor Harrell said he wants to change significant laws to improve public safety, but he declined to give any details on what those laws might be. Stay tuned!

King County News:

Erica C. Barnett reports that this past weekend 50 inmates were moved from the King County Jail to the Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC)  in Kent. The MRJC is also suffering from insufficient staffing. According to the Department of Adult & Juvenile Detention, most of the people who were moved are facing misdemeanor or non-violent felony charges.

If you remember the plan discussed by the King County Law & Justice committee last week to move 50 additional inmates to SCORE in Des Moines, the Public Defenders’ Union is now trying to get an amendment added to that legislation that would codify the Department of Public Defense’s visitation needs and require some reporting. This legislation is due to be voted on by the full King County Council next week. 

Meanwhile, the Bellevue City Council approved funding for teams to provide public safety on public transit including the light rail. I’ve heard this new transit unit will consist of 7 armed officers who will patrol light rail stations and transit hubs. A community forum to discuss this new, already funded unit was held this past Tuesday evening.

Washington State News:

Taija PerryCook had a very informative article on the new 988 system in Crosscut. My takeaways:

  • Crisis Connections, which answers King County’s 988 calls, has experienced a 25-30% increase in calls since 988 launched last July. 
  • Before 988, Crisis Connection answered around 40% of calls within 30 seconds. Now they are able to answer 90% or more within 30 seconds.
  • 95% of calls are resolved over the phone. Fewer than 2% of 988 calls end up involving the police or EMS. 
  • For the 5% of calls not able to be resolved over the phone, speed of that response is critical. There is currently a bill in the state legislature that would increase funding for rapid-response teams. This bill was passed in the House and is now being considered in the Senate.

Recent Headlines:

 

The Exodus of Inmates from the King County Jail Continues Read More »

Innocent Bystanders are the Losers in this Week’s WA Senate Shenanigans

Seattle News:

Erica C. Barnett has uncovered additional information about the call to which Officer Dave was allegedly responding when he hit and killed student Jaahnavi Kandula. The call was not an opiate overdose as has been implied; instead it was a “suspected overdose” responded to by a single aid car as the caller was lucid at the time of the call, and was finished within 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, this incident appears to have reignited a dispute between SPD and SFD about who should respond to medical emergencies. An SFD union leader wrote to Mayor Harrell objecting to SPD officers being trained as EMTs and then being deployed to medical emergencies, while former SFD assistant chief A.D. Vickery “said he’s heard alarming reports about police officers “racing to the scene, putting everybody at risk, so they can be the first one to the patient.””

Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee has released their 2023 work plan.

King County News:

At this week’s Law, Justice, Health, and Human Services committee meeting, King County council members agreed to move up to 150 male inmates from the King County Jail to the regionally owned SCORE jail in Des Moines. The council plans to work out the details to adopt this plan by the end of March, with the goal of moving 50 male inmates beginning in April. This move would require defense attorneys to visit a third jail to see their clients, and SCORE only has one booth where attorneys can pass documents and the like back and forth with their clients. SCORE also doesn’t allow in-person visitation of inmates except with their attorneys.

A new report about JustCARE, completed in January of this year, shows the program has markedly increased its effectiveness: 

“The dramatic increase in the share of JustCARE participants who secured permanent housing at the time of exit appears to reflect three main developments: The shift to longer-term funding for JustCARE from the KCRHA and City of Seattle, which made longer term arrangements possible; The increased availability of affordable, low-barrier permanent housing resources in King County, and Effective coordination by the Public Defender Association and the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) that ensures that JustCARE participants are able to access those resources.”

Executive Constantine gave his State of the County address this week, in which he said there will be cuts to essential services as soon as this fall without help from state lawmakers, as property taxes, one of the County’s main sources of revenue, are capped at a 1% increase per year, which is being far outpaced by the current rate of inflation. He also spoke about the King County Jail, as reported by Kate Stone:

“Constantine did emphasize the need to address the behavioral health system with regards to the jail. State law says when a person charged with a crime is deemed not competent to stand trial, the state has seven days to transfer them out of jail and provide the person with mental health services until they are found competent. According to Constantine, that’s not happening in King County.

“Through a lack of funding, a lack of capacity, or a lack of political will, the backlog has left hundreds of people around our state waiting in a jail cell for the help they need. For King County, there are around 100 people languishing in our custody on any given day … some for up to 10 months,” he told the county council. He said only action from the state would be sufficient to address that problem.” 

WA State Legislature News:

This past Wednesday was the cutoff for bills to be passed out of their house of origin, leading to a flood of bill deaths. The following bills are no longer active for this session:

  • HB 1513 regarding traffic stops
  • HB 1024 regarding minimum wage for inmates
  • SB 5383 regarding decriminalizing jaywalking
  • HB 1025, regarding civil liability for police
  • HB 1445, regarding giving the state’s Attorney General powers of investigation & reform 

HB 1579 for an independent prosecutor passed the House and is now being considered in the Senate. The middle housing bill also passed the House. 

The Senate passed a drug possession bill requiring coercive treatment as well as failing to decriminalize drug possession. This will now be considered in the House.

In alarming news, the Senate passed a bill rolling back limitations on high-speed vehicular pursuits, even though the new limitations have been shown to be saving lives, including those of innocent bystanders. Senator Dhingra had refused to give this bill a hearing during committee meetings earlier in the session, but the Senate suspended the rules in order to push this bill to the floor on the last possible day for its consideration. It would lower the standard for police to begin a chase from probable cause to reasonable suspicion. Disappointingly, several Democrats voted in favor of this rollback. 

Recent Headlines:

Innocent Bystanders are the Losers in this Week’s WA Senate Shenanigans Read More »