The New War on Drugs Could Increase SPD’s Biased Policing Problem

Seattle News

This week at a special Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting, the Council once more took up drug criminalization, hearing from a panel about gaps in services for people using fentanyl and a presentation from Andrew Myerberg from the Mayor’s Office about the new proposed ordinance and planned executive order. It became clear listening to the presenters on the panel that Seattle has many gaps in the services it provides those suffering from substance abuse disorder, that it will take time to address this issue, and that this ordinance would, as Derrick Wheeler-Smith, the Director of the Office of Human Rights, said, “disproportionately impact BIPOC communities, overpoliced communities, and especially Black folks.”

Andrew Myerberg discussed the threat of harm standard described in the proposed ordinance, which differentiates between threat of harm to others and threat of harm to self, and gives officers discretion to decide whether or not to arrest someone. This allowance of discretion is troubling given SPD’s pattern of biased policing in stops, frisks, and use of force. SPD is currently working on a new policy regarding this ordinance that should be complete in mid-September and is supposed to be informed by an executive order from the Mayor’s Office that is not yet complete. Myerberg said that in an ideal world, very few of the arrests due to this ordinance would result in jail bookings, with the intent being they would instead be directed to various diversion services, most of which have not currently been scaled up to be able to address the level of need present in Seattle.

As for the widely touted $27 million in investments, the $7 million in capital investments are intended to be used for a new post-overdose stabilization center and expanded facilities for case-working. The $20 million, which it bears repeating will be paid out over the course of 18 years, will be put towards operational costs for the new stabilization center, Health One’s overdose response, and theoretically other existing programs (LEAD, co-LEAD, REACH, etc). However, it is hard to believe $1.4m per year will be able to cover all the gaps in service discussed during the panel or provide enough increased funding to all the relevant organizations. Even with sufficient investment, it will take time to open a new post-overdose stabilization center and scale up existing programs.

CM Lewis indicated his eagerness to circumvent the normal Council procedures, skip a regular committee meeting and vote, and take the proposed ordinance straight to Full Council for a vote on September 5, even after Central Staff said such a rushed timeline would force them to work over summer recess. At Tuesday’s Full Council meeting, however, this break in normal protocol was defeated by a 4-4 vote; CMs Lewis, Strauss, Pedersen, and Nelson voted in favor, and CM Sawant was not present. This means we can expect a committee hearing and possible vote on the ordinance on Tuesday, September 12, with a potential full Council vote on Tuesday, September 19, which would run right up to the beginning of budget season.

The new revenue forecast predicts a 4% upgrade in the JumpStart tax for 2023. 2023 revenues are predicted to be $31.7 million higher than the April prediction, and 2024 revenues are predicted to be $21.3 million higher than predicted in April. Thus, near-term revenues have increased a bit, but longer-term growth is still expected to slow down as the technology sector cools and work-from-home impacts to sectors such as construction are anticipated. 

Seattle City Council’s summer recess will be from August 21 – September 4, with many CMs asking to be excused from September 5th’s full council meeting as well. I anticipate budget season to begin the week of September 25, and Solidarity Budget will be having their launch event on Saturday September 9th from 1-4pm. I will also be taking summer recess off to recharge for the budget season, so you can expect to hear from me again after Labor Day!

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