social housing

Alternative Response in Seattle is Behind…Again

Seattle News

There’s a lot to catch up on, so let’s start off with the big news that the Social Housing Initiative 135 has passed! Next steps include bringing together a board of directors and seeking funding.

Mayor Harrell gave his State of the City speech last week. Apparently the white paper about a third public safety department that was supposed to be completed last year is still forthcoming. As this was supposed to be the main tangible step forward in 2022, the failure to deliver this white paper in a timely fashion is disappointing to say the least. But at least the new department has a name now, which obviously took many hours of painstaking work: CARE, the Civilian Assisted Response and Engagement Department. Apparently we’ll also be hearing more about police officer hiring this year, which is hardly a surprise, although given the difficulty police departments across the country are having hiring, these are conversations that seem unlikely to deliver the desired results.

Last week the Adley Shepherd case was dismissed by a U.S. District Court Judge. Adley Shepherd is a former SPD officer who was fired after punching a handcuffed woman in the back of a squad car. His case has been filtering through arbitration and courts ever since, most recently as a suit brought by him against the City of Seattle.

The City of Seattle settled the CHOP lawsuit for $3.65m, $600k of which was due to the missing texts of former Mayor Durkan, former SPD Chief Best, and others. This money, as well as additional costs of defending the lawsuit, comes from taxpayer dollars.

At this week’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting, the CSCC presented on their 911 Protocols Software that would enable them to dispatch calls to responders other than the police. Right now the plan is to implement dual dispatch including SPD, although CM Herbold was quick to remind us that dual dispatch doesn’t necessarily mean a police officer will be on the scene in every instance, but rather in some cases SPD would simply be situationally aware of the dispatch of a civilian responder. That being said, it was made clear at the meeting that the nature of the dual dispatch model has yet to be determined

Shocking no one, given we’ve been holding our breath for a particular white paper since December, all the work on alternative response appears to be behind schedule. None of the deliverables outlined on the term sheet regarding developing alternative response between the Mayor’s Office and Central Staff appear to be complete. Some of this delay was attributed to the hiring and on-boarding of the new interim Director of the CSCC, Rebecca Gonzales, although of course everyone already knew when deliverable dates were set that a new director would need to be found. CM Lewis was frustrated enough to say that if more progress isn’t forthcoming in future briefings, the Council might need to take a more assertive role in this work. Given Seattle has been waiting two and a half years for alternative response with nothing to show for it, this reaction seems quite measured.

The protocols and work flow of the new triaging dispatch system also won’t be complete until late this year. CM Herbold called out that we continue to be told of reasons why we can’t move forward on implementation of alternate response: SPD’s RMD analysis, the overdue white paper from the Mayor’s Office outlining the new third public safety department, and now this triage dispatch system. She expressed her hopes that launching an alternate response pilot for person down and wellness checks won’t depend on the dispatch system being complete. CM Lewis pointed out other cities with alternative response have triage systems that dispatch to fully civilian responses, not just dual dispatch. And so the slog to push alternative response continues sluggishly forward as Seattle continues to fall behind many other cities who have been able to do this work.

Due to objections from SPOG, SPD discontinued use of Truleo software that analyzed police body-cam footage to look for potential police misconduct. Unfortunately, SPD’s use of several other surveillance technologies was approved by the Seattle City Council earlier this week, including “cell phone and laptop extraction tools, a geospatial analysis technology called GeoTime, remotely operated vehicles, crash retrieval forensics and hidden GPS trackers and cameras.” Seattle has its own Surveillance Advisory Working Group, and the CMs failed to implement many of this work group’s recommendations relating to the use of these technologies.

A recent report shows that Seattle’s automated traffic cameras disproportionately target Communities of Color. In fact, 65% of automated traffic cameras are placed in neighborhoods with relatively more people of color and immigrants; Seattle’s most dangerous roads tend to be in these communities because of displacement. In 2022, Seattle’s automated cameras issued almost 200,000 traffic tickets, which is almost fifty times more than the number given by police. It’s also worth noting that these camera-generated tickets currently require review by police, meaning such a large volume requires additional resources given to SPD in order to review them; to do otherwise would require a law change. An op-ed in the South Seattle Emerald by Ethan C. Campbell and Nura Ahmed outlines several ways to address issues of equity surrounding traffic cameras in Seattle. 

CM Herbold wrote the following about violent crime in Seattle in 2022:

Although, over the entire year, the data shows violent crime higher than it’s been for years, the SPD Crime Dashboard shows that there were 363 violent crimes reported in December 2022; this is the lowest number of violent crimes reported for a month since February 2021, when 329 violent crimes were reported. The December 2022 figure is lower than the 403 violent crimes reported in December 2019 (before COVID-19, before the murder of George Floyd, and before 500 officers left SPD).

A further review of the SPD dashboard shows that moving into 2023 (the report only covers 2022), 371 reported violent crimes in January, slightly lower than January 2020, with 373 reported violent crimes.

Shots fired, while higher overall in 2022, are also dramatically declining, according to the Chief.”

When discussing violent crime in 2022, it would be remiss not to reiterate the increasing violence experienced by unsheltered people.

The turmoil at the Seattle Human Rights Commission (SHRC) and the Community Police Commission (CPC) continues. Two more SHRC commissioners have recently resigned as commissioners continue to receive legal threats from the City Attorney’s Office about trying to seek amicus status in the consent decree, and the CPC Executive Director Brandy Grant resigned on February 10. Cali Ellis has been named as the interim director. After events at a CPC community engagement meeting on February 14 and the CPC’s regular meeting on February 15, both Castile Hightower and Howard Gale have filed complaints with the OPA about SPD Officer Mullens, who also sits on the CPC. 

King County News

The ACLU of Washington filed a lawsuit on Friday against King County and Executive Constantine arguing they are in breach of a settlement agreement regarding the King County Jail mandating certain staffing levels and inmate access to medical care and court hearings. Advocates held a press conference and rally outside the jail on Monday morning.

Election News

Becka Johnson Pope, who has spent the last three years managing King County’s budget, announced her run for the King County Council seat for District 4. Sarah Reyneveld has already announced her run for the same seat.

Seattle CM Dan Strauss has announced his intentions to run for re-election in District 6.

ChrisTiana Obeysumner has declared their candidacy in District 5. They are one of six filed candidates so far for the district.

WA State Legislature

Sadly, the bill banning solitary confinement has died again this year. The new drug possession bill also doesn’t look promising.

HB 1513 (traffic stops), HB 1025 (qualified immunity), HB 1579 (independent prosecutor), and HB 1445 (AG investigations & reform) are all headed for floor votes. March 8 is the cut-off date for bills to be voted out of their house of origin. 

Recent Headlines

Alternative Response in Seattle is Behind…Again Read More »

The Cycle of Police Violence Continues Unabated

National News

Front of mind is the recent video footage release of the Memphis police killing Tyre Nichols. 

I was particularly struck by something Courtney Milan, writer and lawyer, shared on Twitter:

“We’re threatened with random, stochastic crimes by faceless criminals to justify the senseless violence that is being dealt by officers of the state. It keeps happening, and we keep doing the same thing. It’s not just that we should defund the police and fund social services. It’s that funding social services—things that could house the unhoused, really treat addiction, etc etc—would remove the visible markets that are used to keep us in fear.

So many people have died in pain and the only thing that happened was that the backlash to people saying “we should not do this, let’s stop” meant that police got even more money.”

The cycle of police violence is very apparent, and it will continue unabated until enough people work together to stop it.

I will leave you with a quote from journalist Derecka Purnell in the Guardian:

“I immediately noticed that almost all of the reforms that liberals suggest will save Black lives were present in Tyre’s death. Diversity was not an issue: the five cops who killed him are all Black. The body cameras strapped to their chests did not deter their fists from delivering blow after blow. Memphis has about 2,000 cops, and if this were a “few bad apples” in the department issue, then maybe they all happened to be working on the same shift. Cops did not shoot Tyre; they opted for a less deadlier force: they beat him for three minutes, shocked him and pepper-sprayed him.

In fact, Memphis police department boasts that they have met all of the features of Campaign Zero’s #8CantWait campaign, which includes a requirement for officers to intervene when other officers are using excessive force and a requirement to de-escalate encounters with civilians. The department has been under a consent decree for decades. MPD hired its first Black woman police chief in 2021 and holds Black History Knowledge bowls and basketball programs to “build trust” and relationships with local teenagers.”

Other relevant articles:

Seattle News

The officer who killed Jaahnavi Kundala, a graduate student who was in a crosswalk when hit by his SUV, has been identified as one Kevin Austin Dave. The watchdog group DivestSPD was the first to release this name, which was later corroborated by SPD. There are still many unknowns outstanding about this incident, including how fast Dave was driving and whether he stopped after hitting Kundala.

My colleague at People Power Washington, Dr. Shannon Cheng, appeared on Hacks & Wonks this week to discuss the SPOG contract: why it’s important, bargaining challenges past and present, and what to look for in the next contract.

Carolyn Bick at the South Seattle Emerald has uncovered evidence suggesting former Mayor Durkan and her office were interfering in Seattle’s police accountability process by trying to either delay or prevent the OPA from investigating then-Chief of Police Carmen Best for her role in handling the 2020 protests.

Will Casey, who has been doing an excellent job covering the “Criminal Justice” beat at The Stranger, has unfortunately left the paper. While I look forward to the work of his replacement, whoever that may be, this is another loss for local news coverage in the Puget Sound area. While the importance of media coverage is widely understood, journalists often receive relatively low pay and work long hours, making it difficult to retain them and provide quality local news coverage. Consider this your regular reminder to contribute to local publications the South Seattle Emerald and Publicola if you are able.

Election News

We’ve made it to February, and there’s so much election news!

CM Morales has announced she will be seeking re-election in Seattle’s District 2. She is only the second Seattle CM to decide to run again, and now we’re waiting for CM Strauss to have a complete picture of which seats are open.

In District 1, Maren Costa has announced her candidacy, meaning there are now three declared candidates. District 3 has five announced candidates thus far, and in District 4, in addition to early announcer Matthew Mitnick we now have Kenneth Wilson, who ran against Teresa Mosqueda for a city-wide seat last year, and urbanist Ron Davis, who comes into the race with a slate of endorsements and after publishing several op-eds over the last few months.

Meanwhile, in the King County Council races, Assistant Attorney General Sarah Reyneveld has declared her candidacy for District 4, and there are rumors CM Mosqueda is considering a run for the District 8 spot. If she were to be elected to the King County Council, the two years remaining in her Seattle City Council term would be served by someone appointed by the Council, a body that will be largely reshaped by the elections this November.

The King County Council voted to put the new crisis center levy on the ballot, and residents will vote on this initiative this April (April 25, to be precise). This property tax levy would go into effect in 2024, and over a nine year period it could raise as much as $1.25b to fund the construction of five much-needed walk-in crisis centers that would be open twenty-four hours.

And don’t forget Initiative 135 for social housing! The ballots have been mailed, and the deadline for voting is February 14.

WA State Legislature News

HB 1579 to establish an independent prosecutor had its first hearing in the House on Tuesday, and HB 1513 regarding traffic stops had its first hearing in the House on Monday. HB 1024 regarding minimum wage for prison labor had a hearing in the Appropriations Committee on Monday afternoon. HB 1045, the basic income bill, was referred to Appropriations. SB 5383 regarding jaywalking still hasn’t had its first committee hearing. 

HB 1087 to end solitary confinement has a hearing in the Appropriations Committee tomorrow afternoon. You can sign in PRO here or find a script to email the committee members here.

As for a new bill to address the Blake decision on drug possession, while a bill has been introduced by Senator Dhingra based on the recommendations of SURSAC that would decriminalize most “personal amounts” of drugs, she has said she doesn’t have the votes to pass it. Instead what is likely to pass is a bill re-criminalizing drug possession but encouraging diversion programs.

Recent Headlines

The Cycle of Police Violence Continues Unabated Read More »