SPD culture

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:

Court Ruling Yet Another Example of SPD’s Racial Bias in Action

Personal News:

We’ll dive into the news of the week in just a moment, but I did want to take the opportunity to mention I had a book come out last week! I was supposed to write about it in last week’s newsletter, but I was so distracted by learning that the new drug criminalization legislation was almost exactly the same as the previous version that I forgot to include it.

Book cover of TO TRAVEL THE STARS with a couple dancing in close embrace with a starry space background

TO TRAVEL THE STARS is a Young Adult science fiction novel that is a retelling of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE in space. If that sounds appealing either to yourself or a teenager in your life, I hope you’ll consider picking up a copy.

Seattle News:

The Seattle Times reports: “A federal judge has found evidence Seattle police stopped and detained a Black delivery driver at gunpoint because of his race, then illegally searched his trunk in a 2020 incident detailed in a civil rights lawsuit now headed for trial.” Incidentally, SPD doesn’t have a policy for what is known as a “high-risk vehicle stop” as took place in this incident, and when the OPA suggested SPD develop one, Chief Diaz refused. This ruling means the City has been found liable for the illegal search, and the trial would determine the amount of damages owed.

Captain Brown, one of the officers named in the case and the new acting commander of the South Precinct, recently wrote a letter of his expectations to his officers and supervisors. Erica C. Barnett at Publicola reported that this letter “included an exhortation to “take care of our own” by handling “minor misconduct” internally, rather than reporting it to the Office of Police Accountability. The letter also said officers should view themselves as forces of “good” whose job is to “intervene and stop evil” in the world.” When questioned about the letter, Brown said he didn’t intend to disparage the OPA. 

Brown has been the subject of 14 complaints since 2015. The OPA investigated the case involving the Black delivery driver detailed above and dismissed the racial bias complaint against Brown as unfounded, a decision the federal judge obviously disagreed with. This discrepancy between the OPA’s findings and the Judge’s ruling is another blow to the legitimacy of Seattle’s accountability system.

Seattle’s three accountability bodies all sent representatives to the joint Public Safety and Human Services committee and the Labor Relations Policy Committee (LRPC) public hearing on Tuesday night about expectations around a new Seattle Police Management Association (SPMA) contract. The purpose of the meeting is for the LRPC to consider the public’s input before establishing bargaining parameters. The old SPMA contract expires at the end of this year, and a public hearing must be held at least 90 days before the City and the SPMA enter negotiations.

The public meeting was sparsely attended, with many commenters noting the insufficient amount of notice they received that the meeting was taking place and one commenter suggesting the hearing was “performative and pointless.” The Community Police Commission (CPC) had a few requests for the Council to consider, including details around the 180-day clock for OPA investigations, how long and in what situations personnel files should be preserved, and reform to secondary employment of officers, while also noting their concern about the biased culture prevalent within SPD. 

Still centered in conversation was the 2017 police accountability ordinance that has never been fully implemented due to conflicts with the SPMA and SPOG contracts. Unfortunately this failure has sometimes meant a continued focus over the past several years on trying to implement this ordinance instead of pushing for greater gains or other ways in which public safety in Seattle might become more equitable.

There will be a special meeting of the Public Safety and Human Services committee on Monday, August 14th at 2pm to discuss the new drug criminalization legislation. Now is the perfect time to email your councilmembers or plan to give public comment. I’ve already written at length about some of the problems with this legislation the last time it was introduced in early June. BJ Last has a new op-ed in The Stranger about some of the budgetary concerns with this bill.

The bill won’t be voted on in Full Council until sometime in September after the City Council’s two-week summer recess from August 21 to September 4.

The Revenue Stabilization Workgroup has issued a final report on options for further City revenue and will be delivering a presentation on Thursday, August 10th to the Finance and Housing committee. Among the options identified for revenue are increasing the Jumpstart payroll tax, instituting a city-level capital gains tax, and instituting a high CEO pay ratio tax. 

I particularly recommend you check out the Transit Riders Union’s Revenue Options Report, which outlines 26 different revenue options and how to make them more progressive. For example, the City could institute a flat 1% income tax, which would not be inherently progressive, but by pairing this tax with tax credits, rebates, or a basic income program, it could be made more progressive.

The mid-year supplemental budget passed out of Full Council yesterday. The package includes $1 million to expand opioid addiction treatment in Pioneer Square and $1.6 million to the Community Safety and Communications Center (CSCC) to hire new staff for their dual dispatch pilot.

A state appeals court issued a stay that will allow Seattle to continue its practice of no-notice sweeps–for now.

The Public Safety and Human Services committee met this week and heard reports from the Seattle Community Safety Initiative (SCSI) and the King County Regional Approach to Gun Violence. The Regional Peacekeepers Collective (RPCK) is expanding into Skyway, as well as adding service hubs in Kent and Burien.

Recent Headlines:

Another Egregious Example of SPD Culture in Action

Seattle News:

Some shenanigans late last week in Seattle in preparation for All star week, as reported by Ashley Nerbovig:

“Meanwhile, the City so highly prioritized the removal of unhoused people around the stadium that on Friday morning SPD had two detectives from the department’s Special Victims Unit—one of whom investigates domestic violence cases—standing around waiting for one man to pack up his tent and move along. A police lieutenant with SPD’s Directed Outreach Unit, which typically works with the City’s Unified Care Team, stood around waiting as well.”

And what’s going on with Seattle’s drug criminalization task force? Well, it’s been broken into three different groups (court system issues, treatment, and enforcement), and only the court issues group has met so far. The group appears to have agreed that the best course forward involves expanding the Vital program and LEAD, since the Seattle Municipal Court has no additional capacity for more cases and the King County Jail would be unable to increase bookings. Erica C. Barnett with Publicola reports:

 “Lewis said that now that the work groups are meeting to discuss the best way to respond to public drug use, the legislation making public use a gross misdemeanor in Seattle is “almost a Macguffin”—a device that gets the plot going, but isn’t particularly significant in itself.”

On Wednesday, Mike Carter at the Seattle Times broke the story that in January of 2021, a breakroom in the SPD’s East Precinct featured a mock tombstone marking the death of Damarius Butts, who was killed by SPD officers on April 20, 2017. The breakroom was also decorated with a Trump 2020 flag and a protestor’s sign saying “Stop Killing Us.” SPD has so far refused to apologize to Damarius Butts’s family. As Mike Carter reports:

“Ann Butts, the young man’s mother, said his family misses him every day. “I can’t express how hurtful it was to learn that SPD endorsed joking about the killing of my son by displaying a fake tombstone with his name on it,” she said in a statement through her attorney, former King County public defender La Rond Baker. “I didn’t think SPD could take more from me,” she said. “I was wrong.””

At Tuesday’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting, the three accountability bodies–the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), and the Community Police Commission (CPC)–gave their mid-year accountability presentation. Of particular note, thus far in 2023 there has been a 46% increased in cases sustained by the OPA, from 13% sustained in 2022 to 19% sustained in 2023. Allegations of use of force have increased slightly in 2023. And if you were wondering what ever happened in response to the infamous Proud Boy ruse of 2020? OIG recommended a new SPD ruse policy in October of 2022, and the draft was submitted to SPOG for review in December 2022. Seven months later…nothing has moved forward. 

There was also a discussion about the CPC’s recent move to no longer allow public comment at its twice-a-month meetings. Co-chair Reverend Harriet Walden said this change was made because she feels threatened by the presence of public commenters, and she referenced their loud voices. She said the commenters are not interested in building the CPC, which seems to imply a resistance on the CPC’s part to hearing criticism from the community. She also said she will call SPD the next time the commenters come to a meeting if she feels threatened; one of the regular commenters is Castill Hightower, the sister of a man who was killed by an SPD officer during a mental health crisis, who could suffer additional trauma if forced to interact with the police in this way. 

CM Lewis said getting rid of public comment altogether goes further than what is generally expected of government practice and suggested the CPC instead develop new policies and procedures to protect commissioners as necessary.

The bill changing certain aspects of the governance of the CPC was also up for discussion and vote. It was confirmed that adding a new Deputy Director position would require an additional $191k to be allocated to the CPC beginning in 2024. Activists oppose passage of this bill without a public forum on its impacts and an audit of the CPC; they are also calling for the CPC to divest itself of involvement in the new Affected Persons Program. The bill passed out of committee with an unanimous vote, with CM Mosqueda being absent, and will be voted on in Full Council on July 18. 

Finally, People Power Washington has released their Voting Guide for the Seattle City Council primaries. Check it out!

King County News:

On Monday, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs released its annual crime report. As Amanda Zhou from the Seattle Times reports: “In King County, officials saw most violent crime slowly trend downward the first half of 2023, dropping from a high point during the height of the pandemic. But the county’s homicide rate was relatively steady through the first quarter of 2023, with a slight rise compared with the same period last year.”

Washington State

The Office of Independent Investigations, a new state agency, is now ready to begin reviewing past cases where police officers used deadly force. Members of the public can submit previous cases for review here. The office has not yet started investigating new incidents of deadly force.

Recent Headlines: