sweeps

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:

 

Seattle Breaks Its Sweeps Record in 2023 Read More »

SPD Breaks the Law about Kids’ Rights 96% of the Time

Housekeeping:

Happy New Year! I hope you have all had a great beginning to your 2024. 

Thanks to your generosity, I’m pleased to let you know that the hosting costs for Notes from the Emerald City have now been covered. Thank you so much for your continued support!

Seattle News:

First off, the OIG completed an audit on “SPD compliance with youth access to legal counsel requirements” and released it in a particularly egregious news dump the Friday before Christmas. The audit found that SPD is in compliance with the law requiring them to provide youths with access to a lawyer before interviewing them only 4% of the time

As former CM Herbold told the Seattle Times: ““This is one of the most straightforward civil rights protections we’ve enacted — police should not be able to question children until they have talked to a lawyer,” said Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who requested the audit. “That Seattle police officers were only following this law 4% of the time is very disappointing. We know it’s possible to comply with this law — nearly every law enforcement agency in Washington state appears to have done so.””

Just another example of the exceptionalism of SPD–that they are above the law as it suits them. But given this is an issue of the civil rights of CHILDREN, you’d think there would be a greater outcry.

First in her newsletter and then during the City Council’s first meeting of 2024, CM Morales stated that in 2024, the Council would be voting on a new SPOG contract. You can read more about the background of the SPOG contract, how these negotiations work, and recent developments in my article over at The Urbanist.

All the new Seattle council members have been sworn in, Sara Nelson has been elected as Council President, and committee assignments have been discussed. CM Kettle of D7 will be heading the new Public Safety committee. As Fox 13 reported, CM Kettle “has strong feelings about Seattle Police, saying he believes that it’s the best force in the entire country.” 

Guess he didn’t get the memo about children’s civil rights being violated.

Human Services has been broken away from Public Safety, being moved to the Housing and Human Services Committee, which will be chaired by CM Moore of D5. CM Strauss is going to try filling CM Mosqueda’s shoes as Finance (and Budget) Committee Chair. 

CM Morales, the most progressive CM left on this new Council, will be chairing the Land Use committee, which is crucial as Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan is due to be updated this year. This only happens once per decade, and as The Urbanist reported, acts as an “overhaul to Seattle’s overarching strategy for growth and infrastructure needs, ultimately defining the city’s land use and zoning map and laying out a 20-year growth strategy.”

We don’t yet know which council members will be serving on the LRPC. Whoever is selected will have the opportunity to change the bargaining parameters before what could be the closing stretch in the contract negotiations with SPOG.

As CM Mosqueda is leaving to serve on the King County Council, her replacement needs to be chosen. Candidates can apply through next Tuesday, after which there will be a public forum. The Council expects to vote on the replacement on Tuesday, January 23. This person will serve until a new council member is elected in November to complete CM Mosqueda’s term. CP Nelson announced that until the replacement is chosen, there will be no regular committee meetings, which basically scratches out the first three weeks of January. Not the most auspicious start for a new Council eager to prove themselves.

The Unified Care Team, which is responsible for sweeps of the unhoused in Seattle, released their report covering sweeps between July and September of 2023, and it’s not looking good. As Publicola reports: “…almost nine in ten people the UCT contacted prior to encampment sweeps did not end up in any form of shelter—a decline from the UCT’s previous report, which showed a 15 percent shelter enrollment rate.”

In lawsuit news, demoted SPD commander Hirjak, who alleged his demotion after the Pink Umbrella incident of the 2020 protests was discriminatory, settled his lawsuit: “The settlement said Hirjak would receive back wages and damages (totaling $54,814, according to the Seattle City Attorney’s Office) and $250,000 in other compensation. It said his attorney’s firm would receive $300,000 in attorney’s fees and costs.”

Meanwhile, the trial regarding the lawsuit between 5 Black university police officers and the University of Washington in which the officers alleged years of discrimination and racist comments ended with the jury awarding the officers $16 million. UW is considering an appeal, and only one of the five officers remains with the department.

King County News:

In 2023, fentanyl overdose deaths topped 1,050, which is a new record and much higher than 2022. There were close to 1,300 fatal overdoses total during the year. 

Meanwhile, the jury acquitted the three Tacoma police officers of Manual Ellis’ death on December 21. You can read the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability’s statement on the verdict here, which says in part: “This verdict shows the stark contrast of our state’s statutory duty to protect and preserve all human life with the reality of systemic, wrongful use of force by police.” 

The officers in question still face a civil suit from Ellis’ family that may be heading to trial, as well as an internal affairs investigation to determine whether they can retain their jobs at the Tacoma Police Department.

WA State Legislative Session:

This year’s state legislative session begins next week! This will be the short session that happens every other year, which is generally more concerned with policy than with projects requiring new spending. 

This year’s Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) bill in the House, HB 1045, has a hearing in the Appropriations Committee (where it stalled out last session) on Thursday, January 11 at 4pm. You can sign in PRO for the bill here and the short link to share with your networks is: https://bit.ly/PROGBI

It is expected that there will be a companion bill for GBI in the Senate this session as well, which is encouraging progress. Because it is a short session, it is unlikely these bills will make it all the way to a floor vote this year, but they are still well worth supporting as part of building momentum to an eventual vote.

Recent Headlines:

SPD Breaks the Law about Kids’ Rights 96% of the Time Read More »

Real Change Reporting Reveals Federal Monitor Oftelie Getting Cozy with SPD

Seattle News

In a fascinating piece of reporting in Real Change, Glen Stellmacher wrote about how SPD and the City of Seattle controlled the media narrative around the 2020 protests and the Defund Movement. I highly recommend reading the entire article, but here are some key points:

  • In a June 19, 2020 survey, SPD leadership recommended at least 12 areas of service within SPD that would be better with civilian employees.
  • In the face of defund demands, SPD claimed they would have to cut the SW precinct, SWAT, or traffic enforcement if cuts went too far. However, this narrative was shown to be false by both the June 19, 2020 and June 27, 2020 surveys of SPD leadership.
  • By August 2020, SPD and the City were aware that 45% of SPD patrol service hours didn’t require an officer. However, Mayor Durkan requested a second IDT; the results, not available until June 2021, also said nearly half of calls could be handled by a civilian response. At that point, you may remember SPD insisted on a risk managed demand report, which wasn’t completed until September 2022.
  • SPD played with the numbers to make the loss of diversity in the force, should there be layoffs, seem as bad as possible.
  • It appears then-SPD Chief Strategy Officer Chris Fischer may have ghost-written a Crosscut op-ed for Antonio Oftelie; Crosscut says they didn’t know SPD was involved and has since removed the op-ed from their site. Two days after publication, SPD’s Executive Director of Legal Affairs was pushing for Oftelie to be named the new Monitor of the consent decree. He was named the new Monitor the next month, beating out several qualified candidates. 

This Sunday, July 23 from 12-7pm in Othello Park, there will be a Participatory Budgeting cookout to launch the idea collection phase of participatory budgeting. You can also submit a proposal here.

In a court ruling this week, a judge ruled the City of Seattle has been using an overbroad definition of “obstruction” to justify its sweeps activity, writing that it constitutes “cruel punishment.” The definition was expanded in 2017, increasing obstruction removals in the City. The lawsuit is scheduled for trial in September.

On Tuesday, an SPD officer shot a man downtown. SPD is supposed to release video footage of what happened within 72 hours.

The Office of Police Accountability (OPA) is investigating the incident of the mock tombstone of a man killed by SPD police displayed in an SPD breakroom. Chief Diaz has ordered inspections of precinct HQs for other potential inappropriate displays. At a CPC meeting this week, Chief Diaz had very little information to share.

And finally, it’s supplemental budget time! The proposed supplemental budget includes around $815k in additional funding for SPD, including increasing overtime to pay for more downtown emphasis patrols, paying for additional online crime reporting, and hiring six civilian positions, including four new public disclosure officers. It also adds an additional $19 million for the City to pay for lawsuits, many of which are related to police misconduct. The City already added $11 million to the 2023 for lawsuits last year, but apparently that wasn’t enough.

In addition, the supplemental budget funds a graffiti clean-up team, and because the contracts have already been executed, the Mayor’s Office has potentially forced the Council’s hand into cutting other Seattle Public Utilities programs to pay for this. More money is also being requested for the CSCC for its dual dispatch pilot and updating its call center technology and for OIG to take over the consent decree’s Monitor duties. 

There is a vote scheduled on the supplemental budget on the morning of August 2. 

Recent Headlines

Real Change Reporting Reveals Federal Monitor Oftelie Getting Cozy with SPD Read More »

“Stealth Jail Expansion”: The Fight Over the SCORE Jail Contract Continues

Let’s take a moment to celebrate that the Washington State Supreme Court upheld the capital gains tax!

Seattle News

On Tuesday the City of Seattle and the Department of Justice filed a request to replace the 2012 Consent Decree with a new “Agreement on Sustained Compliance” that would focus on SPD’s use of force particularly related to crowd control and accountability. Among other measures, SPD would need to adopt a revised crowd management policy, and the City would need to hire a consultant to make recommendations about the accountability system. In addition, Mike Carter reports the city also acknowledges that it must address racial disparities that have shown up in reviews of both police use of force and investigative stops.” 

Mayor Harrell’s office has calculated the consent decree, lasting 11 years thus far, has cost the city $200m. The motion asks Judge Robart to find the SPD has reached “substantial compliance” with most of the original consent decree requirements. As Erica C. Barnett reports, ongoing labor negotiations with SPOG, including whether important accountability advances agreed upon in the recent SPMA contract are included in the next SPOG contract, play an important role as to whether the city will be able to be found in compliance with the accountability piece of either the original consent decree or any new agreement.

This new “agreement on sustained compliance” would be anticipated to be completed in about a year, and unlike the original consent decree, it wouldn’t require a two-year sustainment period before exit, which would give Mayor Harrell his coveted exit before the end of his term. The next step in this process is for Judge Robart to schedule a hearing.

Advocates in Seatle have often had mixed feelings about the consent decree in recent years. In the last three years in particular, it has often been seen as a barrier to more systemic change and a way to potentially apply a veneer of respectability to the SPD while maintaining the status quo. The SPD’s budget has grown substantially from when Seattle entered into the consent decree, from $252.2m in 2012 to its present size of $374.3m. 

Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting on Tuesday had a surprise addition to the agenda: a project update on SPD’s recruitment and retention. While the council members received a memo on March 14 detailing current progress with the hiring incentives passed last year, none of this information was presented at the meeting, with Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell saying “it’s too early to draw a definitive conclusion.” 

In 2021 SPD hired one officer for every 12 applicants; these figures aren’t yet available for 2022. In spite of all its new hiring, recruiting, and retention efforts, the department is still struggling to maintain its size: as of 3/16, SPD’s hiring numbers are at -6, a number that was amusingly omitted from the presentation. SPD has hired 19 officers and experienced 25 separations since the beginning of the year. 

No mention was made at the meeting of the difficulties of retention given the recent suit filed by Cookie Bouldin alleging racial and gender discrimination or last year’s lawsuit in which an SPD officer was awarded $1.325m in damages due to getting carbon monoxide poisoning on the job.

The team presenting to the CMs announced their goal of 30% of officers being female by 2030 with no mention of the Bouldin lawsuit. CM Nelson also stated the importance of “having a positive place to work at” without addressing the implications of these suits.

When considering SPD’s attrition rate, it’s important to remember some people leave the department because they’re under investigation for less than savory reasons. For example, the OPA released a report last week about the case of Officer Cleades Robinson. As DivestSPD reported: “OPA found there was more than enough evidence to show that Robinson committed at least two gross misdemeanors: patronizing a prostitute and communicating with a minor for immoral purposes.” Robinson resigned before final discipline was handed down in January. Another SPD Captain was arrested in November 2019 for trying to buy sex and retired before the investigation was completed. 

Once Mayor Harrell took the helm of the city at the beginning of 2022, sweeps of homeless people substantially increased, Guy Oron reports. The City of Seattle performed 943 sweeps in 2022, which means sweeps were happening on average twice or more every day. Of these sweeps, 771 sweeps–almost 82%–were obstruction sweeps, meaning the City wasn’t required to give notice to those being swept. To get an idea of how much sweeps have increased, there were 158 sweeps in 2022 where notice was given, whereas in 2021 there were 53 sweeps done with notice, meaning the rate of sweeps with notice has TRIPLED. Many locations were swept multiple times, including 66 sweeps in Occidental Park, 53 sweeps near the Ballard Library, and 18 sweeps at the Ballard Commons.

By comparison, there were 1,192 sweeps in 2019, meaning we’re seeing the return of an old status quo that was interrupted by the pandemic and a temporary acknowledgement due to the George Floyd protests that just maybe we should treat people more humanely.

Matthew Mitnick, currently running for Seattle CM for District 4, has been accused by former supporters of breaking child labor laws, wage theft, and creating a toxic work environment

King County News

The King County Council postponed their vote on the SCORE jail contract for the second time this Tuesday. They are working on a variety of amendments (discussed last week) that would limit the size and scope of the transfers from the King County Jail and require various reporting and Council approvals. Unfortunately, none of these amendments would stop the SCORE contract outright; this contract would cause what opponents are calling a stealth expansion of King County’s system of incarceration. 

The sense of urgency around this SCORE contract is interesting given it’s been almost three years since Executive Constantine said he wanted to eventually shut down the “decrepit” King County Jail. In the intervening time, the death and suicide rates in the jail have gone up and the staffing numbers have been in continuous decline, not to mention it was without potable water for a month last fall. However, it’s only since the ACLU of Washington filed a suit against the County due to the appalling conditions within the jail that the County’s message has shifted to sudden action without the necessary time to build a good plan that would not expand incarceration in the County.

To weigh in on the SCORE contract, you can email or call your King County CMs and/or give public comment at the next King County Council meeting on Tuesday, April 4 at 1:30pm. Talking points will be updated at tinyurl.com/TellKCC.

In addition, sources say the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) is planning to move 50 additional people from the King County Jail to the Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC) in Kent this weekend (April 1-2). The DAJD already moved 50 people from the KJC the weekend of March 11-12, a move that has resulted in consequences: those 50 inmates are being double-bunked in cells in which the toilets can only be flushed twice an hour, resulting in unsanitary conditions. And Erica C. Barnett reports on another problem as well:

“Folk says the jail guards’ union has filed a demand to bargain over the decision to move 50 people to the RJC, noting that the 1:104 ratio of guards to inmates is far below the usual “direct supervision” standard of one guard for every residents. Haglund told PubliCola previously that although 1:104 isn’t ideal, the unit will be safe with just one guard because no more than 64 people will be out in the unit’s common area at one time. Folk disagrees, telling PubliCola, “The staffing ratio for this is just not safe.””

Meanwhile, King County reported that as of last week there have been 296 King County residents who have died due to drug or alcohol poisoning since the beginning of the year, a number that exceeds the total number of overdose deaths in 2012. 

Recent Headlines

“Stealth Jail Expansion”: The Fight Over the SCORE Jail Contract Continues Read More »