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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 “The last time the Council passed an ordinance undercutting the commission’s independence it had to be repealed,” she said, after a state appeals court ruled that the city council acted outside its authority when it passed a law moving many of the PSCSC’s “substantive”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 »

Are $230 Million in Seattle Budget Cuts Even Possible? Budget Director Says No.

Seattle News:

This week at Seattle’s Public Safety committee meeting, the committee discussed SPD testing, recruiting, and retention. Then on Thursday night, Mayor Harrell hosted a public safety forum at the Seattle Public Library. He plans to hold more informal public safety forums by precinct in the month of April.

Fascinating things were said at both of these meetings, and I’m currently working on a longer piece analyzing them more thoroughly. More on this, hopefully next week! 

City Council is teed up to vote on a resolution at next week’s 3/19 meeting that appear to eliminate several Statements of Legislative Intent (SLI) passed by last year’s Council. One of the SLIs not appearing on the new list is the request for an evaluation of Seattle’s current gun violence prevention programs. More specifically, the SLI requested that “HSD and CSCC/CARE perform a gap analysis of the City’s current and priority investments in gun violence prevention as compared to the recommendations in the King County Regional Community Safety and Wellbeing (RCSWB) Plan, and identify complementary, duplicative, or gaps in services provided by the City and King County.” 

It is ironic that at a time when the city is trying to pressure through three concerning surveillance technologies with the justification that the city is struggling with gun violence, they are not willing to even finish a basic evaluation of already existing investments that won’t cost a penny.

Following up on the news about the City Attorney trying to disqualify Judge Vaddadi from hearing cases, the Seattle Times reports that certain defense attorneys are independently trying to find a way to fight back by having Vaddadi sign subpoenas and then arguing her signature on these documents means she shouldn’t be unilaterally removed from hearing the cases:

In an interview, Vaddadi confirmed attorneys had sent her “fewer than a hundred” subpoenas to sign, which she did, but said she was unaware of any strategy by attorneys to get her back on the calendar. She, and at least some of her colleagues, interpret the court’s rules to mean that any judge can sign any subpoena sent to them.

“I would never strategize with one party or another, that would be incredibly unethical,” she said.”

Regarding Seattle’s upcoming enormous budget deficit, Crosscut recently reported that Julie Dingley, the city’s budget director, had said they will not be able to make $230 million worth of cuts by the beginning of 2025, and has suggested they will have to come up with one-time strategies to stagger implementation of such a large amount of cuts. It’s worth noting that Seattle is required by law to have a balanced budget. 

The same article reports that Councilmember Kettle supports having JumpStart tax funds go directly to the general fund to help balance it instead of honoring the spending plan for the tax that is currently in city statute. The JumpStart tax is currently the top source of funding for affordable housing in the city, so redirecting it in such a way would have consequences to the already meager store of affordable housing. 

Election News:

Tanya Woo has officially declared her candidacy for the Seattle City Council seat that she currently holds as an interim appointee. No other candidates for the seat have yet filed.

Perennial state lawmaker Frank Chopp has announced his retirement, and Shaun Scott has announced his candidacy to take over the 43rd Legislative District seat. And he is coming out swinging! Here is the first paragraph of his press release announcing his candidacy:

“The past four years have dealt a lifetime of challenges to residents of the 43rd Legislative District. The working class has seen costs of living increase, while major corporations dominate local elections and evade taxes. Renters can’t afford rent. For young people, the reality of a permanently altered climate lingers like smoke. Students are punished for attending state universities with a life sentence of debt. Disabled and immunocompromised Washingtonians enjoy few public accommodations, and Long COVID looms as a public health emergency. While Washingtonians hope a Democrat-controlled State Legislature and Governor’s office will support staple programs such as special education funding and the resumption of free meals in public schools, MAGA Republicans in cahoots with the billionaire class have launched initiatives to rollback recent state-level wins on climate sustainability and fair taxes.”

Scott is the Policy Lead at the Statewide Poverty Action Network, which is the advocacy arm of Solid Ground, which was founded by his predecessor Chopp. He is known for his run for City Council for D4 in 2019, a race he lost to Alex Pedersen by 4 points while being wildly outspent. Scott also authored the state-level guaranteed basic income (GBI) pilot in 2022.

King County News:

The Washington State Bar Association recently passed new standards for public defenders that will reduce their caseloads. While these standards will affect the entire state, they particularly impact King County because attorneys in King County are required to follow standards that the WSBA adopts.

Publicola reported that Executive Constantine was “alarmed enough” about this possibility that he had his general counsel send a letter to the WSBA asking them not to adopt these new standards. It is likely he is concerned about how this will impact funding for public defense, given the County is currently facing a two-year $100 million budget deficit. 

Publicola said: “According to DPD director Anita Khandelwal, that means the county must either hire enough attorneys—along with support staff like paralegals, social workers, and investigators—to meet the new standards or invest in alternatives to prosecution and incarceration, reducing caseloads by reducing the number of cases.” But Khandelwal argues it doesn’t have to be a budget question, as the County has three years to potentially ramp up alternative programming that would reduce their dependence on the traditional criminal legal system.

Recent Headlines:

 

Are $230 Million in Seattle Budget Cuts Even Possible? Budget Director Says No. Read More »