Budget Decisions Come Home to Roost

 Seattle News

 

A recent article in My Northwest reported that money is not the reason SPD officers are leaving the department. In fact, in exit interviews 60% of departing officers stated their salary was competitive, and around another 20% stated their salary would have been sufficient if not for the “additional hurdles” of being a cop in Seattle. With 60% of the analyzed exit interviews being because of retirement as opposed to resignations, and given the trend of lower staffing in police departments across the country, it appears another factor in SPD’s current staffing trends might be demographic: there are simply a lot of officers who have reached retirement age.

In tragic news, an officer driving a patrol SUV struck and killed a twenty-three-year-old woman on Monday evening. SPD’s account of what took place is unclear, but it sounds like it’s possible the officer didn’t stop after hitting the woman, as the SPD Blotter states, “Just after 08:00 p.m., officers arrived and located the 23-year-old female victim with life-threatening injuries.” Erica C. Barnett reported on Twitter that the intersection where this fatal crash took place was the site of a long-planned protected intersection that the Mayor and SDOT put on hold last year.

I bring up that last point because it’s important to remember that budget decisions have real-world consequences. It’s easy to get caught up in the weeds of process and politics and forget to link the process to its later impacts. But the reality is, the 2023 budget prioritizes items like hiring incentives for police officers and sweeping those who are houseless while defunding pedestrian and biker safety projects and food assistance programs. 

Meanwhile, Seattle city election news continues apace as more candidates for City Council announce their runs. We have more new candidates running in D3 along with Joy Hollingsworth, who is shaping up to be the business candidate: first-time candidate Ry Armstrong and Andrew Ashifou, a Black immigrant with experience being homeless who intends to run from a renter’s perspective. On Ashifou’s views on public safety, The Stranger reports:

Ashiofu envisions a public safety system that offloads police responsibilities to unarmed responders. To fund those programs, he’d funnel money out of the Seattle Police Department (SPD) budget and into alternatives such as REACH and other social worker nonprofits. 

Meanwhile, there’s talk of a potential socialist slate to run for the seven open City Council seats, but it’s still early days in this election season, and it’s too soon to say how the various races will shape up.

WA State Legislature News

HB 1025, a bill concerning civil liability for police and HB 1445, a bill that would give the state’s Attorney General powers of investigation & reform both received their first public hearings today. HB 1024, which would enact a minimum wage for prison labor, has been sent to appropriations. HB 1513, the traffic stops bill, hasn’t had its public hearing yet, but the ACLU WA has already written in its support

HB 1363, the high speed vehicular pursuit bill, will have its first public hearing on Tuesday, January 31. 

Currently enjoying bipartisan support, SB 5361 has been making some waves this week. This bill would allow municipalities to enact a sales and use tax of 0.10% to be used to fund law enforcement and public safety. If the jurisdiction in question does not meet a certain per capita officer rate that is tied to national rates, the proceeds from this tax would be required to go to hiring officers. If it does meet the specified rate, then the proceeds could be used for a few additional uses such as domestic violence programs. 

This bill is using a regressive sales tax that disproportionately impacts those with lower incomes to fund further investments in law enforcement, even though evidence suggests more officers do not tend to meaningfully reduce crime rates. Further, because crime rates are directly reported by police departments, they are open to manipulation, and many crimes aren’t counted, either because of low reporting rates or because officers choose not to pursue them. And as previously discussed, money doesn’t appear to be the main barrier in hiring more officers in any case. Meanwhile, we are struggling with a housing crisis, fentanyl overdose numbers continue to rise, our public education system continues to suffer from underfunding, and people are unable to access health care. None of these problems would be meaningfully addressed by hiring more police.

There will be a vote in the Senate about this bill tomorrow morning, January 26. If you want to email key legislators on the Senate Law & Justice committee to let them know your thoughts on this bill, there are instructions on how to do so, as well as a suggested script, here.

The Washington Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments about the capital gains tax tomorrow. The Court’s final ruling on this legislation, likely to be delivered sometime this spring, will have huge impacts on Washington State’s tax policy in the future.

King County News

Both King County Councilmember Joe McDermott and Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles have announced they do not intend to run for re-election this year, meaning there will be a few more interesting elections to watch this fall.

Meanwhile, King County’s new prosecutor Leesa Manion has announced a new gun violence prevention unit and a new division focused on gender-based violence. As the Seattle Times reports:Manion said the office plans to expand the efforts of a Harborview Medical Center pilot program that offers services to people who have been harmed by proximity to gun violence.” Canny readers will remember this program is partially funded by the City of Seattle; CM Herbold asked for additional funding in the 2023 budget to start a new pilot program to expand its age range and received about half of what she requested.

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