SPOG

Tacoma Pays $3 Million to the 3 Cops who Killed Manuel Ellis

Seattle News:

First off, I have a new piece in The Urbanist all about what to look for in the new SPOG contract we’re expecting to see sometime this year. New information about the Executive’s bargaining priorities was recently made public in a report from the Court Monitor, and I discuss that as well as explaining the various accountability provisions that are currently missing from the contract and referencing other considerations to take into account when analyzing and understanding the contract.

We now know the new CM members of the Labor Relations Policy Committee: CMs Nelson, Rivera, Kettle, Moore, and Strauss. These CMs will be able to potentially set new bargaining parameters with SPOG. If they decide to set new parameters that are more favorable to SPOG, this could expedite the negotiation process and cause us to see a new potential contract sooner. More favorable parameters could include increased compensation of various kinds and/or decreased accountability measures. 

Meanwhile, the process to select the vacant CM seat on the City Council continues. The Council selected 8 finalists on Friday. The leading contender is Tanya Woo, who ran for the D2 seat in the most recent election. Insiders were saying at one point she had six of the eight votes for the seat. 

However, Vivan Song, a current member of the Seattle School Board, was selected by CM Strauss and is also in the running. She was just endorsed by the MLK Labor Council. 

Business interests and the Mayor’s Office seem to be aligning behind Tanya Woo. As Publicola reported, Tim Ceis, an insider at City Hall, emailed supporters of the independent expenditure campaigns that funded the moderate slate that had so much election success last November, telling them that said election success entitles them to a say about the vacant seat, saying, “I don’t believe all of you worked so hard and gave so much to let unions and the left decide who gets this seat.”

Much speculation abounds about who will run for the seat this November. You can read more analysis on the current politics at play here.

A public forum for the 8 candidates will be held on Thursday, January 18 from 5:30-7:30pm at City Hall and also streaming on the Seattle Channel. The City Council chose the Seattle CityClub to host the event, passing over the Transit Riders Union. The final vote on the appointment will be on Tuesday, January 23.

January 23 is also the anniversary of the death of Jaahnavi Kandula. The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has still not publicly stated whether they will be filing criminal charges against the officer who hit and killed Kandula with his vehicle. The complaint against Daniel Auderer, the SPOG vice president and SPD officer who was recorded laughing about Kandula’s death, is also still pending

PROTEC-17, which has over 2,700 members in the City of Seattle, has reached a tentative agreement with the City that will cover 2023-2026. They will receive a 5% cost of living adjustment (COLA) for 2023, a 4.5% COLA for 2024, and for 2025 and 2026 they’ll receive a COLA tied to the local consumer price index between 2-4%. 

Tacoma News:

The news broke this week that in an internal Tacoma Police Department (TPD) investigation, the three Tacoma police officers involved in the killing of Manuel Ellis were cleared of violating rules and using excessive force, with the exception of one officer failing to be courteous. The officers will be paid $500k each to leave their employment with TPD voluntarily. They were also paid a cumulative $1.5 million in pay (and accrued a lot of vacation days to boot) while being on leave since June 2020. This means they each received around $1 million for the last three and a half years while doing no work. And because they were cleared of violating any rules, they could theoretically be hired elsewhere as police officers.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office is opening a federal review of the legal case against the three officers. As The Seattle Times reports: “It’s not clear from the U.S. attorney’s limited statement about the review whether it will be confined to the actions of the three officers, or more broadly examine the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department’s initial investigation of Ellis’ death, or possibly the court case.”

At the Tacoma City Council meeting on Tuesday evening, councilmembers discussed a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the Tacoma Police Union Local #6. Wages are being increased 6.5% in 2024, 7% in 2025, and in 2026 they will be increased 100% of the local consumer price index to fall between 1-5%, with an additional guarantee of remaining the current first place ranking in the market. 

The Body Worn Camera (BWC) and In-Car Video policy is being removed from the CBA and placed in the police manual. Language has been removed from the CBA that required the City to delay compelled statements until after criminal investigations and charges are complete.

One of the most interesting changes is that officers charged with crimes that, if sustained, would cause them to lose their commission, will be placed on an investigative suspension without pay. This includes felonies, gross misdemeanor domestic violence charges, or an offense with sexual motivation. 

Advocates are criticizing the new CBA, saying it doesn’t contain anything having to do with police oversight or conditions for firing police. 

WA State News:

The state legislative session continues!
You can watch the hearing for SHB 1045, the bill to establish a basic income pilot program, here. Its companion bill, SB 6196, has been introduced in the Senate, and a hearing is expected sometime around the end of the month. 

You can sign in PRO for SB 5975, a bill that would allow the Housing Trust Fund to provide loans and grants to social housing. The deadline is 9:30am on Friday, 1/19.

You can sign in PRO for HB 2065, a bill that would make last year’s legislation to cease using juvenile points in sentencing retroactive.

Three accountability bills are currently moving through the House:

  • HB 1445 would give the attorney general the right to investigate and sue law enforcement departments for systemic discriminatory practices.
  • HB 1579 would establish an independent prosecutor for pursuing police misconduct cases who is free from the conflict of interest inherent for County Prosecutors, who work closely with law enforcement.
  • HB 2027 would close a loophole to make sure all law enforcement personnel are subject to the same certification, background checks, and training requirements. 

Five gun control laws are currently being discussed in session. You can read more about each of the five proposed bills in the second half of this newsletter.

The Washington Observer also discusses HB 1479 at length, which deals with student confinement and isolation. I highly recommend reading this piece to learn more about this issue.

Recent Headlines:

A Mixed Seattle Budget, While a $221 Million Deficit Still Looms

Seattle News:

This week the Seattle City Council voted on all the amendments for the 2024 budget. Votes of particular note are as follows:

  • The funding for ShotSpotter remains in the budget, with CMs Strauss, Lewis, Juarez, Pedersen, and Nelson voting in favor. (This is in spite of a press release from City Council PR talking about how bad ShotSpotter is.) This also means services for tiny house villages will be cut in 2024. The next step to implement ShotSpotter in Seattle will be a surveillance impact report (SIR), which includes a racial equity toolkit.
  • The Council increased the JumpStart tax a small amount to generate $20m in order to fund mental health supports for Seattle’s students. Voting in favor were Mosqueda, Sawant, Herbold, Morales, and Juarez. The Stranger covered this vote as well.
  • A proviso telling SPD to re-initiate a contract with Truleo was passed, in spite of objections from ACLU Washington.
  • Both amendments offering additional resources for domestic violence victims were passed.
  • The $4.5 million for SPD special events bonuses to support the MOU with SPOG was included in the budget, taken from planning reserves. The vote on the actual MOU will take place at Full Council sometime in December. 
  • All human service workers, including those working under Continuum of Care contracts, received their 2% raise.
  • Funds were added to increase food security and violence prevention programs, and a SLI was requested to evaluate current gun violence prevention programs.
  • Money was removed from SPD for the Affected Persons Program, and money was added to HSD ($100k) for the same, to be contracted out to a community-based organization.

You can also read a budget wrap-up at Publicola.

Some light was also shed on the new progressive revenue sources conversation. As previously mentioned, the JumpStart tax will be increased to generate an additional $20m. CM Pedersen would like to repeal a water fee and use a 2% city-wide capital gains tax (with a $250k standard deduction) to make up the lost revenue. Projections show such a capital gains tax might generate $38 million, although it comes from a small pool of taxpayers and has an unusually high degree of uncertainty, due to market volatility and the ability for taxpayers to potentially avoid the tax by declaring a permanent home outside Seattle. CM Pedersen’s hope is that the repeal of the water fee and passage of the capital gains tax would be revenue neutral. The Council could, however, choose to pass only the capital gains tax in order to try to begin to address the 2025 budget deficit.

As for the CEO high pay ratio tax that we’ve been hearing about, we learned bad news. The original plan was to build this tax as another level of the JumpStart tax, which would make it easier to implement. However, doing it in this fashion would only generate about $7.5 million annually, which is much lower than expected. There are potentially other ways to implement a tax like this that don’t use JumpStart as a vehicle and might collect significantly more revenue, but the work has not been done by the City to enable this at present.

If the Council’s budget passes next week without substantial changes, the revenue deficit the city will be facing in 2025 stands at $221 million. The Budget Committee will vote on the final budget package on Monday, November 20, with a Full Council final budget vote on Tuesday, November 21. There will be one additional budget meeting on Thursday, November 30 for CMs to vote on the capital gains tax and water fee as well as various budget processes and transparency legislation. These further budget-related matters will receive a Full Council vote in December.

We also learned a bit more about the MOU with SPOG. First, the special event bonuses will expire at the beginning of 2026 and will not be automatically included as a line item in the full SPOG contract currently being negotiated. Second, the MOU will allow SPD officers to clear the scene for the new CARE responders without being physically present if they so choose. And third, the $225 bonuses were calculated to basically provide SPD officers performing a special events shift with double time pay (normal overtime is time and a half) at their current pay rate. However, when their pay rate goes up in the next SPOG contract, the bonus will remain at the same amount. You can read more about this at The Stranger.

The plan is for this MOU to be voted on at Full Council on Tuesday, December 5 at 2pm. There will be an opportunity to give public comment at this meeting.

In other labor news, the office of Mayor Harrell sent a condescending email to city workers with tips about spending less money. The reason these workers are struggling financially? Because they are not being given raises commensurate with inflation. Classy move.

In election news, it looks like the Seattle City Council will move further towards the center, a movement that has been ongoing as is exemplified by votes this year for the drug criminalization bill and ShotSpotter, among others.

Housekeeping:

As I don’t expect much to change with Seattle’s budget at this point, and due to the Thanksgiving holiday, I’ll be taking the rest of November off. There’ll be another edition of the newsletter published the first week of December.

Recent Headlines:

Will Seattle Pay SPOG a Premium to Let Others Help SPD with its Staffing Woes?

Seattle News

Most of this week has been elections, elections, elections. As of this writing, a few Seattle councilmember races are still too close to call, but we’re seeing a definitive shift to the right.

It looks like CM Mosqueda will be moving over to the King County Council next year, and she has announced she intends to step down from Seattle City Council at the beginning of next year, when the new Council will be able to appoint a replacement. In the meantime, she’ll be busy getting the 2024 budget passed as well as finishing up other budget work.

SPD Detective Cookie Boudin has followed up her spring tort claim by suing the City. She is seeking an unspecified amount of damages, saying she’s spent her whole career dealing with a pattern of racist harrassment. The trial date has been set for November 4, 2024. 

KUOW reported that a cooking show/class at PCC hosted by SPD Chief Diaz and special guest former Chief Best cost the city $2000 in overtime this past Saturday, as five other SPD employees were paid to attend: two bodyguards, a community outreach officer, a patrol officer, and an executive assistant. Four more similar events have been scheduled and in total could cost more than $9000 in overtime. “Current numbers show the department will be between $1.5 to $4.6 million over budget by year end, Jamie Housen, spokesperson with the mayor’s office, wrote by email. He said overtime costs were mostly to blame.”

The Firefighters have reached a tentative contract with the city that isn’t good news for workers. It gives minimum annual wage increases of 2-4%, as well as a 4.5% raise in 2022 and a 5.5% raise in 2023. Given these rates don’t keep up with the rates of inflation during those same years, this represents a wage cut in real terms. This could bode poorly for the Coalition of City Unions, who have currently been offered a 2.5% wage increase. As Erica C. Barnett writes:In contrast, Seattle police officers received a 17 percent pay increase after their last contract negotiation, with retroactive pay increases between 3 and 4 percent a year for the years they worked without a contract. The city council approved hiring bonuses of up to $30,000 for police last year.”

Seattle Budget and the SPOG MOU 

Seattle’s Budget Committee will be meeting on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday next week to discuss budget-related legislation and councilmember amendments. Votes on amendments are expected on Tuesday 11/14, with Wednesday’s meeting most likely to consist of discussion of budget proposals and progressive revenue options that aren’t needed to balance the 2024 budget.

There will be an opportunity to give public comment on Monday, November 13 at both 10am and at the public hearing at 5pm. Solidarity Budget will be hosting a budget rally outside City Hall on Monday starting at 4pm. Suggested talking points for public comment and emails are available here.

Solidarity Budget co-hosted a webinar on Wednesday with ACLU Washington on the problems with the ShotSpotter surveillance technology that is currently being given funding in the 2024 budget. You can watch the webinar here, look at the slides, and find more talking points about ShotSpotter here. One of the amendments slated to be voted on next week will require a racial equity toolkit be done on this technology whenever it is moved to a new neighborhood, as opposed to the original plans announced by Senior Deputy Mayor Burgess to only require an omnibus Surveillance Impact Report (SIR). Another amendment would take the $1.5 million currently allocated for this technology and instead spend it on mental health services for tiny house villages, which are currently funded at significantly lower levels in 2024 than they were in 2023.

This week the city also announced a proposal for a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG). You can read the Central Staff memorandum on the MOU on page 42 and the full text of the MOU on page 51 of this packet.

The MOU accomplishes three things:

  • It would allow the city flexibility to sometimes use parking enforcement officers to staff special events.
  • It would allow the city to implement its dual dispatch emergency alternative response program. In spite of all the hype around the launch of this pilot, it turns out that until and unless this MOU is agreed upon, police can actively request CARE members only after they’ve arrived at and secured a site for Wellness Check and Person Down Calls, meaning it’s not even a true dual dispatch yet.
  • It would allow the city to use park rangers at parks outside of the downtown area.

There are several problematic aspects of the MOU. Perhaps the biggest one is the agreement to give officers who volunteer to staff special events an additional $225 bonus for each shift worked (in addition to any relevant overtime pay). This bonus is projected to cost $8 million in additional funds through the end of 2025. So here we have a situation in which firefighters are taking a pay cut in real terms if they accept their proposed contract while police officers are getting further bonuses beyond overtime for working special events, increasing SPD’s budget bloat even further at the expense of other core city services.

The rationale behind this odd choice is that right now SPD can only staff these special events through mandatory overtime, which is putting a strain on their workforce. But SPOG is only willing to give these officers relief by allowing other people to do some of the special events work if their officers get paid an extra bonus. Meanwhile, SPD once again went significantly over their overtime budget this year and yet are still willing to spend $2000 in overtime for a cooking class, as mentioned above. 

I’ll also note that once a new section involving extra pay is added to police guild contracts, it tends to be very, very difficult to remove later. Not to mention that this doesn’t appear to show particularly good negotiating tactics on the part of the city, who are still working with SPOG to agree upon a new contract almost three years after its expiration.

Another problematic aspect of the MOU has to do with the new dual dispatch pilot. This MOU restricts the number of responders that can be hired by CARE to 24 FTEs, meaning SPOG gets to determine the size of the pilot. It restricts the call types to which they can respond to only Person Down and Welfare Check calls, hence the Director’s reluctance to suggest response to any other call types. In addition, according to the MOU, dispatching CARE responders is not to affect the number of police dispatched to any given call. And CARE responders will be required to write a report that is available to SPD officers, which could potentially dissuade people who are already wary of the police from being willing to use this new program.

The budget amendment funding this MOU will be voted on next week and provide $4.5 million of funding to cover SPD special event bonuses for October thru December of this year and 2024. It is unclear how this extra expenditure will be balanced in the budget. The legislation related to the MOU will be on the Introduction & Referral calendar on November 21 and is expected to be voted on at Full Council sometime during the first half of December.

Recent Headlines:

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:

Scandal Rocks SPD as City Council is Posed to Vote to Give Them More Power

Seattle News:

The new war on drugs legislation was voted out of the Public Safety and Human Services committee last week 4-1, with CM Mosqueda as the lone vote against. CM Herbold and CP Juarez agreed to expedite the legislation, which means it will receive its final Full Council vote tomorrow, Tuesday, September 19 at 2pm. There will be a chance to give public comment, and you can find scripts here and here.

I wrote more about a few of the amendments considered last week and the dangers of relying on SPD officer discretion while passing legislation that will criminalize substance abuse disorder and poverty in an op-ed at The Urbanist, and I hope you will go give it a read. 

Last week the news broke about SPD officer and SPOG vice president Daniel Auderer minimizing and laughing at the death of student Jaahvani Kandula, who was killed by SPD Officer Kevin Dave when he hit her driving 74mph in a 25mph zone without consistent use of his flashing lights and siren. Erica C. Barnett describes the body cam footage here:

“I don’t think she was thrown 40 feet either,” Auderer told Solan. “I think she went up on the hood, hit the windshield, then when he hit the brakes, she flew off the car. But she is dead.” Then Auderer laughed loudly at something Solan said. “No, it’s a regular person. Yeah.”

We have asked SPOG via email what Solan asked that made Auderer clarify that Kandula was a “regular” person, as opposed to another type of person Dave might have hit.

“Yeah, just write a check,” Auderer continued. Then he laughed again for several seconds. “Yeah, $11,000. She was 26 anyway, she had limited value.” At this point, Auderer turned off his body camera and the recording stops.

Auderer has been investigated for dozens of allegations by OPA during his twelve years at SPD.

Many local electeds have responded to the incident, and it made international news. As Naomi Ishikawa wrote in the Seattle Times: “It was bitterly ironic the recording emerged less than a week after a U.S. district judge ruled the Seattle Police Department had achieved “full, sustained and lasting compliance” with most of the requirements of a federal consent decree intended to improve biased policing and police accountability.”

Over at the Urbanist, Doug Trumm wrote a piece linking this shocking body cam footage to the many failures of public safety in Seattle, including failures of accountability.

Danny Westneat wrote about the problem posed by SPOG’s contempt for those they serve and the lack of trust of SPD. Unfortunately, he doesn’t make clear (or perhaps is unaware of) the differences between regular unions and police guilds, including the historic use of police forces for union busting. You can read more about problems with police guilds and their historic opposition to labor here, here, and here

Gennette Cordova wrote an excellent piece in the South Seattle Emerald busting the myth of police defunding here in Seattle. I suggest going to read the entire piece; here’s a teaser: “To shield police against valid criticism, their proponents often say that police have an impossible job. And, in a sense, they’re right. Data shows that police don’t solve most serious crimes, including murder, rape, burglary, and robbery — and they never have. Furthermore, they certainly aren’t addressing the root causes of crime, so how could a reliance on them ever deliver us a safe society?”

Last week the King County Prosecutor’s Office announced they would not be pursuing criminal charges against former Mayor Durkan, former SPD Chief Best, and other officials who deleted their text messages in 2020, finally closing that embarrassing chapter in Seattle history. None of these officials will be held accountable for their missing text messages.

King and Pierce Counties:

Jury selection was scheduled to begin today for the trial of the Tacoma police officers who have been charged with the murder of Manuel Ellis.

Anita Khandelwal, the director of the King County Department of Public Defense, and King County CM Girmay Zahilay wrote a piece for the Seattle Times about the impossible caseloads and severe understaffing of King County public defenders:

“Public defenders are the latest justice system employees to test their breaking points. Newly published research spotlights the unsustainable caseloads King County public defenders have been working to manage. These caseloads grow even worse daily as experienced defenders qualified to handle the most serious cases quit, leaving a smaller and smaller number of attorneys to handle those most serious cases.     

As this system teeters on the edge of collapse, there is only one path to public safety rooted in reality: focusing King County’s limited legal system capacity on the gravest allegations of illegal behavior. The current volume of prosecutions (over 40% of which are not these most serious offenses) cannot continue without a massive influx of defense attorneys who simply don’t exist in today’s labor market.”  

Recent Headlines:

The End of the Consent Decree is Tied to the Next SPOG Contract

Seattle News:

The push for a new war on drugs continues. Publicola reports that DESC will be running the new overdose recovery center from its Morrison hotel building on Third Avenue. King County has committed $2 million to renovating the second floor of this building for this purpose, and Seattle will spend $2 million on construction (out of the $7 million total the Mayor said he’d be using on capital projects related to the fentanyl crisis). What the remaining $5 million will be spent on is currently unclear. The slightly more than $1 million Mayor Harrell has been talking about investing every year for services would not be able to fund operations at this overdose recovery center 24-7. This response seems inadequate given King County is about to surpass 2022’s number of overdose fatalities with four months remaining in the year. 

The Public Safety and Human Services committee is scheduled to discuss and vote on the new drug war legislation at 9:30am next Tuesday 9/12, and there will be an opportunity for the public to give public comment at that time (one script is here). If the legislation passes out of committee, it could be voted on by the Full Council as soon as September 19. If, however, the legislation were to stall in committee, the upcoming budget season could potentially delay a final vote until after Thanksgiving.

Speaking of, budget season is coming up fast, with Mayor Harrell’s proposed budget expected on Tuesday, September 26. Solidarity Budget is having their launch event this Saturday from 1-3pm at Rainier Playfield in Columbia City, where attendees can enjoy food, music, a photo booth and more while learning about the city’s budget process and Solidarity Budget’s demands for nine guarantees. For those who wish to volunteer with Solidarity Budget, there will be a volunteer orientation on Thursday, September 14 from 6-7:30pm over Zoom. 

One of the hot topics we can expect to be discussed during budget season is the upcoming gap in Seattle’s General Fund and how and whether the city should pursue additional progressive revenue to fill this gap. Real Change offers a few different opinions on this issue here and here.

A hearing for the consent decree was held on Wednesday, with a written ruling released on Thursday morning. Judge Robart opted to terminate many sections of the consent decree, but not all; he wrote: “As a result, the court finds and concludes that the City and SPD must meet additional milestones to demonstrate sustained full and effective compliance with the use of force and accountability requirements of the Consent Decree and to achieve final resolution of this matter.” He is specifically concerned with use of force as it pertains to crowd control after SPD’s actions in 2020. 

The ruling goes on to lay out a timeline of various tasks that must be completed in order for the consent decree to be fully and finally terminated. Several of the deadlines fall in December 2023, with additional deadlines in the first few months of next year, culminating in a report from the Monitor due March 29, 2024. 

Pivotally, it sounds as though Judge Robart’s willingness to end the consent decree rests on the contents of the next SPOG contract, how it deals with issues of accountability, and specifically whether it enables the 2017 Accountability Ordinance to finally go into full effect. This is an interesting twist, as both Mayor Harrell and SPD are highly incentivized to close out the consent decree, so this warning on the Judge’s part could have ramifications at the bargaining table. In his comments on Wednesday, Judge Robart mentioned that he doesn’t believe issues of discipline and accountability should be a part of bargaining in the first place.

Judge Robart also took another shot at the defund movement, blaming it for Seattle’s struggles to recruit more police, even though police departments across the country are having the same problem. As The Stranger’s Ashley Nerbovig reports, “Defend the Defund organizer BJ Last called it “extremely disingenuous” for the judge to blame the defund movement as the reason why people don’t want to join a profession that increases a person’s likelihood of suicide by 54%.” She also mentioned the Judge’s comments that cop TV shows are “the worst enemy of good police work.” 

For more analysis on how the consent decree has failed in its promise, you can read my op-ed at The Urbanist, where I discuss the high cost of the decree, its removal of community agency, and its failure to address biased policing, including a reminder of Dr. Sherry Towers’s analysis that 1 out of 10 killings in Seattle are committed by a police officer.

King County and Washington State News:

The Seattle Times published a positive piece on the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO)’s director Tamar Abouzeid, calling him “an unapologetic reformer who thinks America’s criminal legal system is racist and broken, and needs to be radically changed or scrapped.” OLEO recently released its 2022 annual report. There was a 22% drop in complaints for the year, with the bulk of the drop being for complaints initiated by Sheriff’s Office employees. The number of investigations OLEO declined to certify more than doubled from 2021 to 13% (OLEO certified 101 investigations and declined to certify 15). Deputies with three or more allegations account for approximately 5% of the sworn force, but approximately 40% of all allegations. The number of allegations of excessive force rose from 58 in 2021 to 73 in 2022, but none of the allegations that were closed were sustained.

Meanwhile, over at King County’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD), the staffing issues are so bad that sometimes corrections officers must work up to 16 hours a day for multiple days, with one officer registering 1000 hours of overtime last year. 60% of officers have doctor’s notes that protect them from having to work overtime, up from 15% in 2018. As Ashley Nerbovig reports, “The jails have what amounts to a 29% job vacancy rate due to the number of actual open positions combined with the number of officers restricted to “light duty.””

In state redistricting news, a federal judge ruled Washington must redraw one of its legislative districts in Yakima Valley and set a progress report deadline of January 8. This deadline means the state legislature would have to convene a special session in order to vote to reconvene the state redistricting commission; if they do not, the court can decide on a new legislative map instead. At present it is not even certain whether the legislature would have the necessary votes to reconvene the commission, even if they were to hold a special session. Therefore, a court decision on a new map seems likely.

Recent Headlines:

 

The Seattle War on Drugs Redux

Seattle News:

Everyone is talking about the primary results, with some commentators claiming a progressive victory and other publications saying November looks dire for progressives. As always, a strong push to turn out the vote is likely to favor progressives, who will also need to keep fundraising to match the big business dollars pouring into their moderate opponents’ coffers.

Mayor Harrell has announced new “War on Drugs” legislation. As Erica C. Barnett in Publicola reports (bold-faced mine):

So what does the bill actually do? Exactly what an earlier version of the bill, which the council rejected 5-4, would have done: Empower City Attorney Ann Davison to prosecute people for simple drug possession or for using drugs, except alcohol and marijuana, in public. The substantive portion of the bill, which comes after nearly six pages of nonbinding whereas clauses and statements of fact, is identical to the previous proposal.”

CM Lewis, who voted against the earlier, very similar bill back in June, has said he now plans to co-sponsor it. You can’t make stuff like this up.

He told The Stranger “his time on the Mayor’s workgroup assured him the City intends to front-load treatment rather than send people to jail.” However, the new legislation would not require front-loading treatment, and much of how the system would work in practice would be up to the discretion of the City Attorney–the same City Attorney who unilaterally shut down Community Court only a few short months ago. As The Stranger reported:

“King County Public Defenders Union President Molly Gilbert wanted to empower Seattle Municipal Court judges to divert cases when cops arrest someone, but instead the bill leaves all the power to dismiss charges in the hands of the City Attorney.”

Much of the reporting on this legislation has emphasized the Mayor’s $27 million dollar plan. Not only are none of these new dollars, it is critical to emphasize $20 million of this amount is expected from an opioid lawsuit settlement that will be paid over the next 18 years, a detail that demands scrutiny. Calling this a $27 million plan seems to be a rhetorical hat trick bordering dangerously close to dishonesty, given it will only result in an additional investment of $1.15 million per year for programming.

According to the press release, the remaining $7 million will go “toward capital investments in facilities to provide services such as post-overdose care, opioid medication delivery, health hub services, long-term care management, and drop-in support.”

CM Herbold has said she will hear this legislation in the Public Safety and Human Services committee before the summer recess (August 21 – September 4), which would mean it would have to be on the agenda next Tuesday, August 8.

Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee and the Select Labor Committee is having a special hearing at 5:30 pm on Tuesday, August 8 to hear an introduction to collective bargaining with the Seattle Police Management Association (SPMA), followed by a period of public comment. The SPMA represents fewer than 100 SPD lieutenants and captains, making it much smaller than the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG). The latest SPMA contract was approved last June and lasts through the end of 2023. The City is required to provide a public hearing at least 90 days before opening negotiations with the SPMA to allow the public to weigh in on what should be included in the new contract. 

The SPMA contract is often considered to set the stage for what is possible in the SPOG contract, as SPOG tends to take a more hardline approach to contract negotiations. One unfortunate aspect of both of these contracts is that they tend to linger for years after their expiration before a new contract is agreed upon, creating the necessity for a large dollar amount going towards back pay. While most labor unions do negotiate for back pay should their negotiations run long, this would normally only be for a relatively short period of time (for example, six months). Compare this to the more than two and half years of back pay in play within the SPOG contract currently being negotiated, a number that could easily grow to three or even three and a half years. The evergreen nature of these police guild contracts doesn’t incentivize the guilds to come to an agreement with the City.

On the morning of Thursday, August 10 at the Finance and Housing committee meeting, the Progressive Revenue Stabilization Workgroup will issue its recommendations. Given the $200 million gap between 2025’s projected revenue and expenditures, it behooves the City to consider any options presented very seriously indeed.

King County News:

A fight involving eight kids broke out at King County’s youth jail last week, leading to more room time for kids in the jail this past weekend. Executive Constantine has committed to closing this jail by 2025, but while the daily average population had dropped to 15 in 2021, that number started to creep back up in 2022 and is now up to 34.7. The population the day of the fight was 41. The average length of stay per kid has also increased. The King County Executive Spokesperson Chase Gallagher says the plan to close the jail remains on schedule.

Recent Headlines:

Seattle’s Alternate Response Pilot a Far Cry from 2020 Demands

Seattle News:

Yours truly was quoted in a recent Urbanist article about the recent shakeup at the Mayor’s Office, which reports that Tim Burgess will be promoted to Deputy Mayor in Monisha Harrell’s wake. Former OPA Director Andrew Myerberg will also be receiving a promotion to Chief Innovation Officer, which will put him on the executive team. It appears that current Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell will be staying until the end of the summer.

Senior Deputy Mayor Harrell appeared at Tuesday’s Public Safety and Human Services Department committee meeting to deliver a presentation on the City’s much-delayed dual dispatch response. The City is hiring six mental health professionals and one clinical supervisor; the mental health professionals will be dispatched in three teams of two, with two teams working at a time. When the new program launches, theoretically in October, it will respond to calls such as welfare checks and person down calls, and it will not provide 24/7 response. Monisha Harrell spoke to the potential of alternate response programs to act as preventative measures that address situations before they become emergencies. 

However, this new program ultimately won’t deliver on the hope to have a new non-police emergency response in Seattle, which has been consistently blocked for the last three years by SPD, SPOG, and former Mayor Durkan. As Ashley Nerbovig at the Stranger succinctly summarizes: “A lot of questions about the direction of the program remain, and part of the pilot program includes collecting data to learn what types of calls don’t require police. That data basically already exists, though. The National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform’s 2021 analysis showed that 80% of SPD calls for service involved non-criminal matters. The report also found that about half of all calls did not require a sworn response.” 

She reports that the main difference between this pilot program and the already existing Crisis Response Team is that with the new program, police will be allowed to leave the scene if they decide their presence is unnecessary. This might reflect a recent change in the pilot design as in the past, the dual dispatch plan has been described as having police staged nearby in case backup was needed, which is a key difference as police being directly on the scene can have an escalating effect. In any case, it seems clear the new pilot deviates from the model proven by the successful CAHOOTS and STAR programs.

Meanwhile, the overdue white paper was not mentioned.

On Tuesday the Mayor held a press conference to discuss his downtown activation plan, but he was interrupted by a small group of protesters demanding a ban on sweeps during the winter and extreme weather events. According to The Stranger, he got “incredibly flustered” and stated that the press conference “had them outnumbered at least.” Expect local groups to take notice of the Mayor’s discomfort with protestors and increase their direct actions in response.

Publicola reported on the substance of the proposal, which is mostly a repeat of what the Mayor has announced before: “And, of course, it assumes a heavier police presence downtown—a mostly unspoken, but bedrock, element of the proposal. “Make Downtown Safe and Welcoming” is actually number one on the plan’s list of seven priorities, starting with arrests of people “distributing and selling illegal drugs” (and, presumably, using them—Harrell mentioned that a bill criminalizing drug possession and public use will likely pass in July).”

Mayor Harrell’s office has released a memo on OPA findings about former SPD Chief Carmen Best. Because Best refused to participate in the investigation, the OPA said they were unable to find sufficient evidence to determine whether several of her statements in the summer of 2020 were “knowingly false.” The Mayor’s memo acts as a toothless rebuke, as Best will suffer no repercussions for her actions, even as the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog reports that “Best’s use of information and inaccurate statements fits into a pattern of disinformation and “improper ruses” used by SPD during the protests.”

SPD Officer Constantin, who was fired for his social media posts, had his appeal dismissed after he failed to appear. Former SPD Officer Adley Shepherd’s appeal (he was suing the City after being fired for punching a woman he’d arrested and handcuffed) has also been dismissed.

County, State, and National News:

The King County Sheriff’s Office has been ordered to reinstate a deputy they fired in 2021 for killing an unarmed man who was wanted for the theft of a vehicle and a poodle. (The poodle survived.) King County later settled with the man’s family for $2.5 million. Deputy George Alvarez, who already had five shootings under his belt at the time of the incident, will return to the department, although he will not be reinstated to the SWAT team. As Publicola reports, Tamer Abouzeid, the director of OLEO, hopes the outcome of this case could lead to changing the burden of proof of administrative investigations to a preponderance of the evidence, which is a lower burden of proof than the current standard used of clear and convincing standard. 

In the last three or so months, nearly 400 inmates in the King County Jail have been moved to the Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC) in Kent. MRJC  now houses about 40% of the average daily jail population, up from around 25%, while the population of the downtown jail has been decreased by about a third. Right now, SCORE is housing 30 jail residents for King County. 

Meanwhile, Larch Corrections Center in Clark County will be closing this fall. It is one of twelve prisons in Washington State. Apparently the Department of Corrections is also finally developing a plan to reduce the use of solitary confinement in Washington prisons, after strong grassroots advocacy for legislation that would ban such use entirely, given that solitary confinement that lasts more than 15 days is recognized as torture by the United Nations and various human rights organizations.

Scott Greenstone at KNKX recently published an excellent piece outlining the lack of drug treatment facilities in Washington state and consequences of the new Blake fix drug law. While legislators and the governor insist the new law is meant to help people get more treatment more than it is to increase incarceration rates, there is a serious lack of treatment facilities in the state, and the existing facilities often have wait times of several months. We don’t know the full extent of the problem because “it’s unclear how many beds are actually sitting empty right now in Washington: The system is so complicated and poorly tracked, neither the governor’s office, nor the Washington Department of Health, nor the Healthcare Authority could provide those numbers.” And the urgency of the problem is increasing: while the number of people getting treated for substance use disorder has stayed relatively flat, the number of overdoses has skyrocketed in recent years.

The article also features noted addiction expert Caleb Banta-Green, who spoke to his feelings of discouragement after the new law was passed, as well as his worries that it will “make it easier to shut down clean-needle exchanges, and force people into an ineffective treatment system.”

Nationwide, we’re seeing a drop in the murder rate, as reported by Radley Balko: “If trends continue, 2023 will see the largest percentage drop in murders in U.S. history. The drop will be driven primarily by large declines in big cities. This would seem to undermine the argument that the 2-year rise in homicides during the pandemic was driven by criminal justice reform, George Soros’s favored prosecutors, or policing shortages.”

Housekeeping:

I’ve received a few pledge requests through Substack, so I just wanted to give you a reminder that if you want to support Notes from the Emerald City via subscription, you can do so through my Patreon.

Recent Headlines:

Recent Drop in Violent Crime Takes the Wind out of Fearmongers’ Sails

We’ve Moved!

As you know, I’ve been working on finding a new home for Notes from the Emerald City. And here’s what I’ve got for you!

Newsletter subscribers will continue to receive every issue emailed to them through Substack. Yes, I have feelings about Substack. Yes, this is the compromise I referenced having to make last week. But you as the readers should experience a seamless transition. 

But there’s more! There is now an official WEBSITE of Notes from the Emerald City. I am really excited about this because it provides a searchable archive of all the articles I’ve written. I’m also tagging posts with relevant topics, a process that I expect to become more fine-tuned over time. I hope this will make Notes from the Emerald City even more useful as a community resource. I used it just this weekend to quickly pull up recent SPD staffing numbers, and it worked beautifully.

For those of you who had paid subscriptions in the past, I have new options for you! You can set up a monthly subscription payment through either Patreon or Paypal. You can also give one-time donations through Paypal. (This same information can be found on the new website’s Donate page.)

If you have any trouble with the transition, please don’t hesitate to reach out and I’ll do my best to get you sorted.

Seattle News

Speaking of those SPD staffing numbers, let’s talk about Danny Westneat’s recent column in the Seattle Times: Seattle’s pandemic crime fever may finally be breaking. I’m glad it’s finally becoming mainstream to admit that the increase in certain types of violence we’ve seen over the past few years is very probably closely related to living through a historical and deadly global pandemic. Westneat reports that violent crime started dropping in October, and December saw the fewest number of violent crimes reported since March 2020. 

It is important to note that while violent crime is now dropping, SPD staffing of officers in service was significantly lower in October of 2022 than it was in 2019 before the pandemic, or even in 2020. This is a powerful argument against the story that “defunding the police” or even just run-of-the-mill staffing woes caused the spike in violence. 

graph of SPD staffing showing a drop from a bit over 1200 officers in service in 2019 to a bit under 1000 officers in service in 2022 YTD.
Slide from SPD budget presentation given in October of 2022

As for media’s incessant fear-mongering over crime throughout 2021 and 2022, which we’re already seeing being walked back by the likes of a Walmart executive saying they might have cried too much over retail theft last year, what reflections does Westneat offer? “Crime going up is a story that grabs you; crime going down will either be ho-hummed or outright disbelieved, especially by Seattle’s many national critics. It’s also one of the riskier stories one can do in the news business, as the next big shooting or killing, which is certainly coming, will make me look like an idiot.” Translation: don’t expect improvement in the quality of the media discourse any time soon. 

Today’s Public Safety and Human Resources committee meeting was unavailable to watch due to technical difficulties at the Seattle Channel, but you can read about OIG’s 2023 work plan here and here. They are gearing up to take over some of the SPD monitoring duties currently covered by the Court Monitor and his team as Mayor Harrell continues to try to maneuver the city out of a consent decree that has now lasted more than ten years. Given their staffing difficulties, it remains to be seen how taking over some of these duties will affect the organization as a whole.

A head’s up that SPOG President Mike Solan is almost finished serving his three-year term that began in March of 2020. Mike Solan ran against incumbent Kevin Stuckey and won in what Seattle Times referred to as a “landslide vote” of more than 500 out of 750 total votes. Mike Solan made the news in 2021 when he blamed the January 6th insurrection on Black Lives matter protesters, prompting 8 out of 9 city councilmembers (all but CP Juarez) to call for his resignation. 

Matthew Mitnick, a member of Seattle’s Human Rights Commission who is running for the open councilmember seat in District 4, announced that at their Feburary 2nd meeting, the HRC will be seeking amicus status with the federal court overseeing the consent decree. About this decision, he says on Twitter, “The only way to inform the court about what is actually happening here is by allowing those most impacted by police violence to speak out.” The HRC has been trying to take this step since last year, which ultimately resulted in several members resigning in protest in the fall. 

Meanwhile, the City of Seattle has been named in a lawsuit claiming its anti-graffiti statute is unconstitutional and that the SPD selectively enforce it against those creating anti-police graffiti. 

WA State News

The Washington State legislative session began yesterday, huzzah!

Legislators are attending a public hearing this afternoon on HB 1087, the bill that would ban long-term solitary confinement. It might be too late by the time you read this to do the quick bill signing on PRO that you may remember from prior years, but it is never too late to email the legislators on the appropriate committee to tell them you support it.

Kari Plog reports that the state’s new Office of Independent Investigations, which was supposed to start reviewing cases last July, has only filled 15 of its 80 positions. There is no timeline on when they will have enough staff to actually begin conducting investigations. 

National News

The Guardian reported that killings by US police reached a record high last year; at least 1,176 people were killed by police in 2022, which comes out to more than 3 people every day of the year. Only 31% of the incidents leading to the killing began with an alleged violent crime. Racial disparities in who is getting killed by police also remain, with Black people making up 24% of those killed by police while only being 13% of the general population. 

Recent Headlines

More Police, and Let’s Allow Them to Use More Force Too

WA State Legislature News

 

SB 5919 and HB 2037 both passed out of their respective chambers late last week. As those following along know, both of these bills roll back some of the accomplishments passed in the last legislative session through HB 1054 and HB 1310. You can read more about all of these bills in Rich Smith’s excellent overview.
This is a real setback for police accountability and reducing police violence in Washington State. In addition, the impacted families who have been advocating for these issues, often reliving their trauma repeatedly in order to do so, are feeling betrayed by their elected representatives. The fear-mongering around crime has once again resulted in government turning away from the very real harm that police violence causes, especially amongst more vulnerable populations.
What happens next? These two bills must now move through the opposite chamber in the legislature, where there will be another opportunity to add amendments that might limit the harm caused by these changes. But whether our lawmakers, many of whom are up for re-election this November, have the will to do so seems in doubt.
HB 1756 on solitary confinement needed to be called for a floor vote today in order to remain viable, and I’ve heard no reports that this happened. That probably means the bill is dead for this session.
HB 1630 passed out of the House yesterday and will now move to the Senate. This bill would prohibit firearms and other weapons from places like election-related offices and school board meetings, as well as forbid open carry at government buildings used for public meetings.

Seattle News

Mayor Harrell delivered his State of the City address this afternoon. He said he believes in going back to the basics and once again talked about his hot-spots policing strategy. He promised more details soon about his public safety plan, which will require more police officers and involves rolling out a new campaign to recruit the next generation of Seattle police. He mentioned his interest in a third kind of public system department staffed by “masters of de-escalation” and said he’s intrigued by the creation of the CSCC. He will share further steps when they get into the budget process (which doesn’t ramp up for several months).
Speaking of the budget, he also said there is a $150m predicted budget gap for 2023 and mentioned using the higher-than-expected Jumpstart revenue ($31m higher) to alleviate that gap. Sound familiar, anyone?
For more information about the speech, you can check out The Seattle Times’ coverage.
The report on the forensic analysis regarding those pesky missing text messages in Seattle was released late last week. The report determined that the setting on former Mayor Durkan’s phone would have defaulted to retaining her text messages forever and therefore must have been changed by someone to retain for only 30 days. Former Chief Best periodically deleted her texts in spite of originally saying she didn’t know how her texts had disappeared.
As the article states: “Under state law, anyone who willfully destroys a public record that’s supposed to be kept is guilty of a felony.” It seems that former Chief Best did just that, a fact that will hopefully quell the continuing talk of her being rehired as Police Chief in Seattle. The article continued by sharing Mayor Harrell’s response:
Spokesperson Jamie Housen added Harrell “believes any potential investigation should involve a neutral third-party investigator,” rather than Seattle police, “to prevent the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
Also last week, Seattle’s Economic Development committee met, chaired by CM Nelson, and hosted a roundtable of business representatives to discuss crime and homelessness in the city. It is worth noting that Seattle already has both a Public Safety committee and a Public Assets and Homelessness committee. No legislation was discussed. CP Juarez also took the opportunity to share how she feels unsafe in Pike Place Market except in broad daylight on a Saturday, which was confusing since the market closes at 6pm and is still reportedly well frequented by people, a condition that generally makes locations safer.
SPOG announced they are launching a new Seattle Public Safety Index, accompanied by the hashtag #RefundSPD. I was unable to locate the actual index on the internet thus far, but perhaps it is coming soon. Opponents of SPOG could perhaps be forgiven for suspecting such an index of being yet another way of fear mongering about crime in Seattle.

 Recent Headlines

OPINION: Is Increasing Voter Turnout the Key to Progressive Victories? | South Seattle Emerald