surveillance technology

License Plate Reader Expansion Moves Forward in Seattle; if Approved, Will Represent the Largest Deployment of the Technology in Washington State

Seattle News:

At the public safety meeting on Tuesday, councilmembers voted to pass the legislation to greatly expand license plate readers (ALPRs) out of committee, with Councilmember Moore abstaining. In a blast from the past, I live tweeted much of that agenda item of the meeting

The legislation will now head to full Council for a final vote. CM Moore indicated she would be putting forward separate legislation that would limit the license plate data storage to 48 hours. As the legislation currently stands, SPD would retain the data for 90 days, which would be a reasonable timeframe for outside entities to subpoena for the data from Axon, who will be storing the data. It is unclear how much support this legislation will garner from her colleagues.

One of the more bizarre moments of the meeting was when Chair Bob Kettle stated that if there were going to be any privacy problems with the license plate data, mainstream media such as the LA Times, Seattle Times, New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN would have reported on it. Data provided by the ACLU and UW appeared to be unacceptable. This seems to indicate a fundamental misunderstanding about how the mainstream media and university research operate. 

He also stated Seattle has the best accountability system in the country, which is a bold thing to say given this very system has been crippled since its founding by the SPOG contract.

Andrew Engelson of PubliCola conducted an interview with new interim Chief of SPD Sue Rahr last week. Some key points:

  • Rahr said it breaks her heart that SPD officers don’t feel they’re being embraced by the community: “The officers were—I don’t know how to describe it. I don’t want to say hurt, that sounds a little bit melodramatic. But they want to work with the community and they feel like the community is rejecting them.”
  • She said she wasn’t making command staff changes right now, but would make them if she felt it necessary. She didn’t appear to hold much credence for accusations that command staff were retaliating against officers or weaponizing OPA complaints.
  • She said that because we live in a sexist society, of course our police department is sexist, but didn’t acknowledge any particular issues that might make police departments more susceptible to misogyny than any other institution. She said she wants to focus on the staffing crisis.
  • She doesn’t know what her decisions regarding Officers Auderer and Dave will be, and she said she hasn’t read the reports yet.
  • She said she would support a city contract with another jail (besides King County Jail) if that’s what’s needed to allow for booking of minor misdemeanors that officers feel are necessary.

The death of the student shot at Garfield High School last week, Amarr Murphy-Paine, has rocked the community. There will be a Unity Walk this Thursday at 6pm starting at Jimi Hendrix Park and ending at Garfield High, organized by Pastor Lemuel Charleston and Apostle James Sears. Sears is the Murphy-Paine family’s pastor. 

Other News:

In King County Executive Dow Constantine’s State of the County address yesterday, he proposed “100 Days of Action” to prevent gun violence. The relatively new King County Regional Office of Gun Violence Prevention will be coordinating this work. He said Mayor Bruce Harrell is in agreement and will be making an announcement later this week to advance the collaboration, which would include supporting youth mental health. As always, I am interested in how many resources will be allocated by the county and city to this initiative, as more investment in gun violence prevention is urgently needed.

In a large Washington Post investigation, journalists identified at least 1,800 law enforcement officers who were charged with crimes involving child sexual abuse between 2005 and 2022. “​​When pressed by The Post, some police officials, prosecutors and judges admitted that they could have done more to hold officers accountable in the cases they handled. But nationwide, there has been little reckoning over child abusers within the ranks of law enforcement.”

Nearly 40% of convicted officers avoid prison sentences, and many used threats of arrest or physical harm to make their victims comply. A national tracking system for officers accused of child sexual abuse does not currently exist.

Recent Headlines:

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Seattle Breaks Its Sweeps Record in 2023

Seattle News:

This week Real Change reported that the city of Seattle’s Unified Care Team performed 2,827 sweeps in 2023. Compared to 922 sweeps in 2022, this represents about a 207% increase in the number of sweeps performed, with an average of 7.75 sweeps performed per day. This is the highest number of sweeps conducted in a single year in Seattle since the numbers began being recorded in 2016. 

The Unified Care Team has a budget of $26.6 million in 2024. $2.2 million of this covers police wages for staffing sweeps.

Complaints about unhoused people also increased to 41,536 in 2023, while the city received 29,304 complaints in 2022. 

In the article, Real Change referenced “a growing body of research that suggests encampment sweeps and other policies of continual displacement directly contribute to increased rates of death and illness.” Critics say that sweeps are not only deadly but also ineffective, failing to address the root causes of homelessness.

My latest piece at The Urbanist covers the recent announcement that Seattle will not be using ShotSpotter technology this year, as well as the surveillance technology expansion going forward, including license plate readers that have some serious data security concerns. This expansion could impact people seeking abortions and gender-affirming healthcare, immigrants, domestic violence victims, and those practicing their constitutional right to protest, among others. The public safety committee will be discussing the license plate readers again at their meeting on Tuesday, June 11 at 9:30am. 

Interim SPD Chief Rahr has been in her new job for about a week, and so far she has not chosen to shake up SPD management. John O’Neill will continue to head up SPD’s public affairs office, in spite of being accused of sexual harassment and retaliation by female subordinates. And Rahr reinstated Assistant Chief Tyrone Davis to full duties just 8 days after former Chief Adrian Diaz put him on administrative leave. She said her decision was based on newly available information.

Mike Solan, the president of SPOG, has said he’s open to flexible scheduling and part-time officers on the force. He said he isn’t concerned about losing a lot of officers once the backpay authorized by the new SPOG contract is processed. But he implied the city will not be able to hire as many officers as it wants until accountability measures for police officers are changed. “The pay is very nice. We thank Mayor Harrell and the city council for recognizing that this needed to be fixed,” he told KOMO. “But until the accountability piece gets rectified to a reasonable point. You’re not going to entice more people to come here. It needs to be addressed immediately.”

The Seattle Times’ editorial board said SPD’s response to the tort claim filed by 4 women officers several weeks ago was “breathtaking in its defensiveness” and quoted Mayor Harrell citing that in his decision to demote Diaz: 

“The quotes in the newspaper on the people making claims was completely inconsistent with how I want the department to respond to allegations,” Harrell told the editorial board after his May 29 announcement seeking a new chief. “And yes, that always factors into strategic decisions that I make — that words do matter, and how you respond to allegations matters.””

Nevertheless, the editorial board thinks the now vacant position of SPD Chief is “one of the best law enforcement jobs in the country.”

Meanwhile, PubliCola reported that the City Attorney’s Office wants to begin using Stay Out of Drug Area (SODA) orders, which prevent people from entering certain areas of the city with “continuous drug activity.” As PubliCola explains:

Studies of SODA areas in Seattle have found that they can exacerbate biased policing when police target people of color, as well as people who appear to be homeless, for exclusions from large swaths of the city, including the areas where most social services are located.”

The Stranger reported on Court Monitor Antonio Oftelie, who seems to have a cozy relationship with SPD and doesn’t appear to take accountability particularly seriously. A text conversation about “Cookie” Bouldin’s lawsuit against the city between him and two members of SPD leadership seemed dismissive:

“Boatright responded at length, saying Bouldin’s lawsuit involved “decades old” claims and adding that the department “has bent over backwards to accommodate Cookie.” Oftelie then asked about Bouldin’s motivation for the suit.

“Cynically? She’s ready to retire and wants to get paid on way out, [sic]” Maxey said. 

Maxey went on to claim that if Bouldin really wanted change, she would have filed an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint. Bouldin ultimately filed a lawsuit in November, in which she called parts of the EEO complaint process “patronizing and harassing.””

Another text message chat between the three above shows Oftelie saying he is interested in seeing “systemic learning” instead of the accountability the community wanted.

A new incident of potentially excessive force used by two SPD officers was recorded last Friday. The officers were arresting a man for felony arson. The video shows the two officers punching and kneeing the man as well as hitting him several times with a baton. It is unclear whether one of the officers was also kneeling on the person’s neck, which would be against SPD policy.

DivestSPD reported on an incident that occurred last June, when SPD officers decided to socialize for 49 minutes at a Starbucks instead of responding to a domestic violence call.

Councilmember Martiza Rivera walked back her amendment freezing 2024 EDI funds, instead introducing an amendment that will require a report from the Office of Planning and Community Development by September 24. The amendment passed 8-1, with only Councilmember Tammy Morales voting against. Rivera and her fellow council member Bob Kettle argued that the 2024 EDI funds were never at risk, in spite of all the analysis saying the opposite. Proponents of the EDI program are worried this may be a signal that the program could be on the chopping block come budget season.

Recent Headlines:

 

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Does SPD Staffing Impact Crime Rates? Looks Like Not So Much.

Seattle News:

My piece on police hiring bonuses and incentives was published in The Urbanist this week. Of particular note are the following:

  • The Council is discussing several potential incentives and perks for SPD officers, including housing subsidies. In spite of the backdrop of the $230 million budget deficit for 2025,they do not seem concerned by how much this might all cost. I’ll be interested to see how much SPD’s total percentage share of the General Fund grows in the next proposed budget.
  • The Councilmembers do not seem to want to explicitly say they’re looking into lowering standards for becoming a police officer, but they are discussing measures that have the potential to do exactly that, even before the consent decree is entirely closed out.
  • Chief Diaz said the robustness of Seattle’s accountability system is having a negative impact on officer morale, and he wants to move more minor offenses away from the OPA.
  • Last week’s public safety forum poll showed community most wants expanded addiction treatment and gun violence reduction. The latter of these would require further investment in gun violence prevention programs. 
  • Both SPD and most of the Council seem happy to ignore the report on the poor and discriminatory treatment of women officers that came out last year. In further updates, Publicola reported that SPD has lost its sole female command staff member to retirement. The article includes this interesting tidbit: “Last year, Cordner reportedly left SPD’s Before the Badge program, where she was one of the program leaders, because of one of the instructors’ views on what he called the LGBTQ “lifestyle,” including his opposition to same-sex marriage.”
  • You can read the Stranger’s take on this issue here.

While both Seattle City Council and governor candidate Bob Ferguson want more cops (more on the latter in a moment), Guy Oron of Real Change ran some numbers and found that SPD staffing and crime rates don’t correlate at all. This is critical information to understand given how many other programs Seattle may defund at the end of the year in a desperate attempt to hire more officers.

The deadline for folks to turn in their comments about the three new surveillance technologies being considered in Seattle is today at 5pm. Marcus Harrison Green wrote an op-ed for the Seattle Times entitled: ShotSpotter: Why waste money we don’t have on technology that doesn’t work? 

He says, “Demanding a technology proves its effectiveness before we purchase it does not mean we are any less outraged about the gun violence in our city. It means we very rationally would rather allocate funds toward something with demonstrable efficacy.”

On Tuesday, City Council un-did 20 out of the 36 budget statements of legislative intent (SLIs) passed with the 2024 budget. As Publicola says, “For the council to reverse most of the accountability and transparency measures imposed by a previous council is an extreme move that may be unprecedented.”

Next Tuesday’s Public Safety committee meeting will feature introductory reports from Seattle Municipal Court and the City Attorney’s Office. 

The Urbanist published a new review of protest-related events from 2020, with new footage showing SPD kettling protesters. SPD’s commander in the field was later promoted and also served on the OIG’s sentinel event review of the 2020 protests, which meant he had influence over the report’s findings. Per the article:

Only four out of 133, or 3%, of investigations completed by the Seattle Office of Police Accountability (OPA) into SPD’s 2020 protest conduct have resulted in officer suspensions without pay, according to a review of OPA files.”

WA State News:

Bob Ferguson, who is running for WA governor, unveiled his public safety plan this week. It includes boosting funding to hire more WA State Patrol troopers and give $100 million in grants for city and counties to increase police staffing. He wants to achieve universal adoption of body-worn cameras for police and improve and expand access to law enforcement data, although he doesn’t say if he’d consider using real-time crime centers to achieve the latter. You can read more about concerns about real-time crime centers here

From his website: “As Governor, Bob will build upon his work within the Criminal Justice Training Commission to expand and improve training for community-based policing, expanding co-response and non-armed responders rooted in de-escalation and behavioral health training, and improve data collection and reporting to improve public trust. He will also use the bully pulpit of his office to highlight good works by law enforcement across the state.”

He also wants to implement a crisis response plan to the fentanyl epidemic.

The Washington Observer says Ferguson’s biggest vulnerability in the governor’s race is public safety, hence this plan.

 Recent Headlines:

 

Does SPD Staffing Impact Crime Rates? Looks Like Not So Much. Read More »

2024 Has Not Been Kind to Seattle Protesters Thus Far

Lots to cover from the last two weeks! Let’s get right into it. 

Seattle News:

First off, King County prosecutors declined to prosecute SPD Officer Kevin Dave, who ran over pedestrian Jaahnavi Kandula going 74 mph in a 25 mph zone last year, killing her. The case was referred by SPD as a felony traffic case last summer, and now the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has said they would be unable to prove felony charges beyond a reasonable doubt. The Stranger reported thatDave joined the department in 2019 and received a hiring bonus. He previously had his Arizona driver’s license suspended in 2018 for unpaid traffic fines and failure to appear in court, according to reporting from DivestSPD.” The OPA will now re-start their own investigation of Dave: “the formal complaint against Dave accuses him of behaving unprofessionally and violating the emergency driving policy, among other potential violations.”

This week, six protesters were arrested at the full City Council meeting on Tuesday. Council President Sara Nelson limited public comment to 20 minutes, in spite of there being many present to ask for help funding housing for asylum seekers currently camping outside a Tukwila church. CP Nelson called for security to clear the room, and then when protestors continued to bang on windows from outside, CM Cathy Moore asked for a police presence to arrest the individuals. You can read more about her remarks here.

As a result, six protesters were arrested and booked into the King County Jail, where they were each required to post $1000 for bail. Given the current booking restrictions at the jail, this is particularly noteworthy. This follows the case pursued by the Seattle City Attorney brought to trial about the Stop the Sweeps protester who tried to prevent an RV from being towed for a few minutes while its owner obtained a spare tire. 

Also taking place this week was the “final” hearing on the three new surveillance technologies being proposed for SPD: AGLS, CCTV, and RRTC software. Seattle Solidarity Budget submitted a letter opposed to these technologies signed by over 70 community organizations and 1,200 individuals. At the end of this hearing, it was announced the public comment period for these technologies was being extended until March 22. You can fill out feedback forms about these technologies here, and you can find talking points to help you here. You can also read more about the final public hearing here.

In accountability news, the two SPD officers who waited 20 minutes to respond to a shooting call, first reported on by DivestSPD, were given a day off without pay as a consequence. The SPD communications office has been experiencing turmoil lately; since its head, Lt. John O’Neil was appointed in August 2022, the division has experienced turnover of “more than 100 percent,” per Publicola, and an office that previously had 3 men and 3 women is now all men, with one of the women leaving SPD and the other two accepting demotions of rank and now working in patrol.

SPD Officer Mark Rawlins is being investigated by the OPA after throwing a handcuffed 58-year-old Black man onto the ground, an action that was reported by King County Jail supervisors. Rawlins has been investigated by the OPA in 8 different cases since he joined SPD in 2017.

Washington State News:

A bill might be passing the legislature this session that would allow DACA recipients to work as police officers and firefighters. Many supporters of this legislation say it would help hire more police officers.

This week the legislature is also looking into significantly reducing the rules around police pursuits, even though studies show these sorts of chases have been killing 2 people per day in the US the last few years. The new initiative would allow police to start a car chase if they had any reason to believe the person violated any law, which could include traffic infractions and other low-level, non-violent offenses (or no offense at all). This represents a significant rollback of reform initiated in previous sessions.

The Seattle Times ran an in-depth piece examining the current crisis of public defenders in Washington State. There aren’t enough public defenders, which causes a vicious cycle of absurd case loads, burnout, and long wait times to receive free legal advice. 

Recent Headlines:

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