Seattle Community Court

Seattle City Council Votes Against New War on Drugs

Seattle News

On Tuesday, the Seattle City Council voted against criminalizing simple drug possession and public drug use in a close 5-4 vote, with CMs Herbold, Lewis, Morales, Mosqueda, and Sawant voting no. The swing vote is widely understood to be CM Lewis, who said in his remarks he’d arrived at the meeting prepared to vote in favor of the bill but found that he simply couldn’t because the public deserved more discussion. He cited the recent unilateral decision by City Attorney Davison to end Seattle’s Community Court as a key factor in his decision, saying he felt the Council should figure out how they would do the diversion and treatment component as part of the package. He also mentioned how well the legislation was polling (one source says his district polled 60% in favor), but that this vote was more important than retaining his seat (CM Lewis is up for re-election in November.) For more details, you can read Ashley Nerbovig’s excellent write-up.

Council Central Staff had reported the City Attorney’s office hadn’t bothered to run a racial and equity analysis of this legislation, nor would they say how many new cases they anticipated pursuing or how much that would cost. Because the legislation skipped the normal committee step, councilmembers were not even able to ask the sponsors questions about the bill. It seems possible we’ll see a different version of this bill in the future, assumedly one with clearer information about its impacts and with diversion and treatment programs to go along with it—although where the money for such programs would come from is an open question, given current budget constraints. 

It is also important to note the effect of this legislation not passing is NOT legalizing drug use and possession. Seattle police officers can still arrest people for possessing and using drugs, as well as seize drugs as contraband. This bill determined the matter of jurisdiction, meaning where these cases would potentially be prosecuted. For now, they will continue to be prosecuted by the King County Prosecutor’s Office instead of by the City Attorney’s Office. The City Attorney’s Office can, however, still prosecute drug use on buses and bus stops as this was already part of municipal code.

King County News

Allen Nance, the director of King County’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD), has written to the state supreme court asking them to rescind a ruling barring local courts from issuing warrants against and jailing young people who fail to appear at their hearings or violate other court orders. This ruling was originally made in 2020 and made permanent in 2021. If it were to be rescinded, Anita Khandelwal, director of King County’s Department of Public Defense, says the result would be a spike in youth incarceration, especially for youth of color, who she says received 82-84% of warrants in 2019.

Recent Headlines

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Mayor Harrell Has Been Saying Some Interesting Things at SPD Roll Calls

The news didn’t slow down THAT much at the end of August, so let’s dive in and get caught up!

Seattle News

There will be a public Q&A session for the top three candidates for SPD police chief on the evening of Thursday, September 15. You can submit questions for the event here and you can watch it on the Seattle Channel.
Andrew Myerberg was removed from his position as Director of Public Safety for Seattle. He is now “Special Projects Director” and is apparently still working on “safety related legal work, police chief search, accountability issues, etc.” Publicola reports that “Harrell said removing Myerberg from his position was just part of a six-month evaluation that involved “moving people around,” but declined to say more about what Myerberg will do in his new role.” The Mayor’s Office appears to be searching for a replacement for the Public Safety Director position.
Social Housing Initiative 135 qualified to be on the ballot in February 2023.
In MyNorthwest.com, Jason Rantz wrote about how Mayor Harrell has been visiting police precinct roll calls and speaking candidly about his thoughts on Seattle: “I don’t think anyone has a right to sleep in a public space. I don’t think anyone has a right to sleep on a sidewalk and I don’t think anyone has the right to sleep in the park.” Now there’s a quote that gets people to sit up and take notice.
There’s a lot more going on in this article though. It confirms Mayor Harrell’s commitment to ending the consent decree, and it’s the first time I’ve heard the possibility floated that the new SPOG contract negotiations could be done by the end of the year. In addition, the Mayor seems to have indicated he’s getting involved with the City Council races next year, when 7 of the 9 council members will be up for election. Hannah Krieg at The Stranger did some digging and found that Seattle’s big business faction is recruiting candidates to challenge Lisa Herbold in District 1 and Tammy Morales in District 2. Lisa Herbold currently serves as the Chair of the Public Safety and Human Resources committee, and Tammy Morales is one of the most progressive members of the Council. The Mayor also seems to be taking shots at the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (to which Seattle provides a large amount of funding) and Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), which has been shown to reduce recidivism.
Lastly, Jason Rantz reports that, talking to SPD officers, “many question the mayor’s recruitment and retention plan. They do not think sign-up bonuses will make a difference and they believe the only thing to retain officers would be a fair contract.” It seems not even SPD officers agree with the Mayor’s recruitment bonus plan, legislation for which passed in August.
In other news, now’s your chance to become more informed about an important race that Seattle residents will vote on in November, for Seattle Municipal Court Judge. There are two judicial positions coming to the ballot this year, and The Stranger ran profiles last week on the race between incumbent Adam Eisenberg and challenger Pooja Vaddadi:
It’s Eisenberg’s day-to-day administration of his courtroom and perceived friendliness towards prosecutors, not his work on diversion programs, that attracted an unusually well-funded opponent in this November’s general election.
In a recent survey, Eisenberg was rated lowest for impartiality amongst all his judicial colleagues. He is known for leading the development of the Domestic Violence Intervention Project, which takes a less court-focused and more rehabilitative approach to those accused of domestic violence.
Pooja Vaddadi has her own plans when it comes to supporting diversion programs from the bench:
If she does prevail in November, Vaddadi says she wants to use the relationships she’s built with elected officials on the campaign trail to advocate for more funding for diversion programs so that more low-income people can access them. She also plans to push for expanding diversion programs that prove successful at the King County Superior Court level so that people in Seattle Municipal Court can benefit from them as well.
For Vaddadi, her focus on diversion programs stems from her belief that no one is beyond help, and from a recognition that the criminal legal system creates much of the harm its proponents say they want it to prevent.
Meanwhile, cases at Seattle Community Court are surging as a result of City Attorney Davison’s policy to prosecute more cases than Pete Holmes. Low-level misdemeanors that are eligible for community court are automatically sent there, and in Q2 2022 cases sent to community court have doubled compared to Q2 of 2021. As Josh Cohen in Crosscut writes:
Though court reformers see community court as a more humane alternative to booking people into jail, they don’t necessarily see the increase in community court referrals as positive. Instead, many want to see more cases diverted into alternatives that provide social services and support before they enter the court system. According to city attorney office data, pre-filing diversions and pre-trial diversions are both down significantly compared to years before the pandemic and prior to the creation of Seattle Community Court.

King County News

There will be a forum on Thursday, September 8 at 7pm discussing the role of the King County prosecutor in the criminal punishment system and particularly, how much discretion prosecutors have. This is timely given King County will be electing a new prosecutor in November’s election. You can register for the forum here or watch it live on the League of Women Voters Youtube page.
Speaking of the King County Prosecutor, current prosecutor Dan Satterberg has asked King County Sheriff Cole-Tindall to investigate the deletion of text messages of Seattle city leaders in 2020, including then-Mayor Durkan, then-SPD Chief Best, and SFD Chief Scoggins. While this response seems a bit delayed, to say the least, it is possible Satterberg felt more able to act given his term as prosecutor will be ending shortly. You can read more about it at Axios.
Sydney Brownstone over at The Seattle Times reports that the Seattle jail (run by King County) has had an extreme suicide rate over the past year.
“It’s astronomical,” said Frances Abderhalden, an expert on jail suicides and an assistant professor of criminal justice at California State University, Los Angeles. “It begs the question to me: Why this facility? That’s a lot of death in general in one facility per year.”
In July of 2020, Executive Constantine promised to close this jail, but it is unclear what the timeline of such a closure would be, or if the promise will be kept now that the narrative around the criminal legal system has shifted due to a backlash that, if allowed to prevail, handily protects the status quo.

National News

President Biden has a new crime plan called the “Safer America” plan. Ah, does he finally intend to crack down on gun control, a problem that we know how to solve given the large number of countries that have in fact solved it? No, no, why do the obvious thing to make the US safer when you can hire more police officers instead? The plan consists of hiring 100,000 more police officers and allocating at least an additional $13 billion to America’s police budgets, which are already the largest in the world by far.
Here is Alex Vitale, author of The End of Policing, on the plan:

And as Eric Reinhart starts out his piece in Time Magazine:

The “war on crime” is the highest-casualty, most expensive, and longest-lasting war in American history. This coordinated assault on the nation’s poorest communities has led to tens of millions of individuals locked up in cages with deadly long-term health consequences, at least 31,000 people killed directly by police, and trillions of dollars spent on pointless punishment. For over 50 years, repeated increases to public spending on police and prisons have continually bankrolled this war while failing to ensure safety, leaving the U.S. one of the least safe countries among all wealthy nations.

Recent Headlines

What's in a Movement? Understanding Resistance, Justice & Allies

Texas Bail Reform Reduced Jail Time and Crime, New Study Says - Bloomberg

We Probably Do Not Need Cops Directing Traffic at Sports Games - The Stranger

Seattle Fire Department staff shortage forces extreme hours, $37.7M of OT | The Seattle Times

Seattle police has big backlog of open requests for public records; slow responses persist - Axios Seattle

For some, community court reduces jail bookings by 87% | Crosscut

The role WA courts play in mental health care when someone is in crisis | The Seattle Times

'We are the alternative': A growing movement aims to disrupt violence by connecting incarcerated youth with mentors | CNN

5 agencies create task force to target violent, gun-related crimes in Snohomish County

NYC's Rise of Low-Level Arrests Worry Critics of 'Broken Windows' Era - Bloomberg

Mayor Harrell Has Been Saying Some Interesting Things at SPD Roll Calls Read More »