Vaddadi

Council President Nelson Pushes Back Against Experts’ Opinions

Seattle News:

At this week’s Governance, Accountability, and Economic Development Committee meeting, Council President Sara Nelson hosted a discussion on draft legislation of an “SPD Recruitment Ordinance.” The ordinance as currently drafted would do the following: 

  • make permanent an SPD recruitment and retention program, moving 3 positions created by a previous ordinance for a recruitment manager and two recruiters into SPD
  • encourage the Public Safety Civil Service Commission (PSCSC) to consider the use of the entry level police officer exam used by multiple other agencies in Puget Sound region (known as the PST test)
  • asks PSCSC to make personal contact with officer candidates within 48 hours
  • requests PSCSC increase frequency of eligibility rosters to every 2 weeks
  • add to police exams unit in HSDR a new position for more robust candidate support (a position that will be paid for in 2024 with vacancy savings in SPD recruitment and will cost $146k/year extra starting in 2025)

There appears to be a small amount of friction between city council members and the Mayor’s Office over the details of this bill, as the Mayor’s Office would like to move only 2 of the recruitment positions to SPD, with the third going to PSCSC. However, the Mayor’s Office is reportedly looking to see if they can accommodate the council members’ desire in their reorganization plans. 

Council President Nelson said that while PSCSC Director Andrea Scheele had expressed concern that switching entrance tests would lower standards, she doesn’t believe that would be the case. It is unclear why she believes this, given it is Director Scheele’s literal job to review and assess these exams.

She also said that only 5 jurisdictions within Washington State are using the test used for SPD officers-–the NTN test-–although Council Central Staff member Greg Doss later corrected her, saying 27 cities in Washington use the NTN test, as well as all the West Coast Seven cities. 

Councilmember Kettle suggested using both tests, and while Doss said three jurisdictions in Washington do use both tests, he suggested doing so would be complicated and have legal ramifications. All three jurisdictions who do so have developed a special pre-employment process to make sure using both tests remains fair. It seems likely SPD would likewise have to develop a new pre-employment process in order to use both tests.

Council President Nelson also discussed how this legislation was changed to use discretionary language when it came to the PSCSC after receiving input from the law department. However, she says she has been closely reading the City Municipal Code herself and thinks it is unclear who gets to select the test. 

There have been many stories about the new proposed SPOG contract, on which SPOG members are currently voting.

The headlines sum up the situation: the contract represents a huge raise for SPD officers (we don’t yet know the full fiscal impact on Seattle’s overall budget) and almost no accountability improvements.

Even The Seattle Times editorial board agrees the proposed contract would be a mistake, writing, “To strengthen bonds between cops and communities, Seattle leaders must ensure that any new labor agreement fully implements the city’s landmark 2017 Police Accountability Ordinance.”

An attached MOU to the proposed contract lists some duties that could, were this to be approved, be taken on by civilian employees. As The Stranger reports, “Instead of creating serious police alternatives that could save the City money and help alleviate staffing shortages at the department, the MOU outlines civilian roles that look more like personal assistants to cops and that protect cushy positions wholly unsuited for some of the City’s highest-paid employees.”

As I wrote at The Urbanist:

Noteworthy in this list is the item regarding wellness checks. The MOU with SPOG passed last year allowed the new Community Assisted Response and Engagement (CARE) team to respond to two call types: person down and wellness checks. This new MOU places additional restrictions on wellness check response, saying civilians can only respond to these calls “where the identified individual known to the caller does not have any history of or current suicidal ideations, significant health problems including mental health, history of or fighting addiction, history of or concerns of domestic abuse, or is living in one of the City’s ‘wet houses.’” Some advocates are concerned these additional parameters could mean wellness checks able to be performed by CARE civilian responders will be few and far between. Indeed, this definition appears to preclude the idea of an alternate civilian emergency response to mental health crises, a policy strongly supported by Seattleites.” 

This concerning news comes at the same time that U.S. Rep. Adam Smith has begun touting a new federal investment of $1.926 million into Seattle’s CARE program. He says, “This funding will help launch the CARE Department, which will support the Seattle Police Department and Seattle Fire Department by diverting health mental health, substance use disorders, and related wellness services calls to this new civilian-run department.” Apparently he hasn’t read the new SPOG proposal nor The Stranger’s reporting on how CARE’s dual dispatch is currently going.

Meanwhile, PubliCola reports that many city workers who just had a new contract approved, including retroactive pay raises for 2023 and 2024, won’t be receiving those payments until at least October, which would be six months after agreeing to the bargaining agreement. It is unclear whether a new contract with SPOG would face the same delay in payout.

At this week’s Public Safety committee meeting, councilmembers heard a report on the OIG’s latest use of force assessment for SPD. Some noteworthy points from the presentation:

  • The counts of force against Black, Hispanic/Latino, and other minorities increased. 
  • Unknown race for both subjects with complaints of pain and civilians subject to pointing of a firearm increased substantially in 2023.
  • 2022 and 2023 years had no Type III and no Type III use of force in response to behavioral crisis for the first time since 2015.

At the presentation, Chief Operating Officer of SPD Brian Maxey bemoaned that “the same communities that complain about over policing complain about under policing.” He said the goal is to police based on need rather than by demographics. The presenters stated that the data showing increased use of force against Black and Latino community members wasn’t enough to draw conclusions of bias in what came across as “thou doth protest too much.” The Inspector General of the OIG, Lisa Judge, said they want to do a deeper dive to better understand what is driving “that particular snapshot of use of force.” 

A female lieutenant at SPD, Lauren Truscott, has made a complaint against SPD’s Lt. John O’Neil, the head of public affairs. The OPA has opened an investigation around this complaint. 

As KUOW reported, Truscott believes SPD’s acceptance of sexual harassment and discrimination comes from the very top and has called for new leadership: ““Women are being marginalized and dismissed, and no one is listening,” Truscott said. “We should never be treating employees as though they’re disposable. They are our most valuable commodity, but especially during a staffing crisis.””

The Loudermill hearing for Officer Daniel Auderer, the SPOG VP who was caught on bodycam joking about Jaahnavi Kandula’s death, was supposed to be held on April 1, but it was delayed.

The City Attorney’s Office finally filed a complaint against Seattle Municipal Court Judge Pooja Vaddadi for a case in which an assistant city attorney was disqualified from a case. A Superior Court judge found that Judge Vaddadi had acted properly. Nevertheless, the City Attorney’s Office is still continuing to prevent Judge Vaddadi from presiding over criminal cases.

Lisa Daugaard, Co-Executive Chair at Purpose Dignity Action, tweeted that the program CoLEAD, which provides lodging for unhoused people with behavioral health issues, has “shrunk from 250 rooms to 130 and a year from now will likely be down to 60.”

PubliCola published an update on how things are going with the new Seattle drug ordinance criminalizing public drug use and possession, saying that it doesn’t seem to have made more than superficial changes to the level of drug use. And there are other problems: “According to municipal court records, the average time between an arrest under the new drug law and when the city attorney files charges is about 70 days; more than half of the people charged under the new law had to wait 90 days or more for Davison’s office to file charges. This is in sharp contrast to Davison’s promise, in 2022, to decide whether to file charges in all criminal cases within five business days after her office receives a referral from the police department.”

The entire article is well worth the read.

Other News:

The Renton City Council has increased the hiring bonus for lateral police hires for the Renton Police Department. Formerly lateral hires received $10k upon hire and $10k after completing a one-year probation period. Now they will receive $20k upon hire and $20k after completing a one-year probation period, for a total of $40k per lateral hire.

Gun sales in Washington, which increased last year as the legislature passed new gun control laws, have plummeted so far in 2024. As measured by background checks, gun sales in January and February were cut in half this year compared to last year, and March gun sales were down 70%. You can read more about gun sales in the state here.

King County officials are considering whether they can begin their own corrections officer training program, with Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion asking Attorney General Bob Ferguson whether counties have the legal authority to do so. The state Criminal Justice Training Center does not support this idea. 

A man who died at the ICE facility in Tacoma last month had been held in solitary confinement for nearly all of his 4-year internment there. He spent nearly a decade in solitary confinement in state prisons before being transferred, so all together he spent more than 13 years in solitary confinement. ICE said he was in solitary confinement for “disciplinary reasons.” The Department of Correction reports 8 people have been held for over 500 days in the most severe restrictive housing. 

The Seattle Times reports: “The agency’s disclosure about Daniel’s time in state custody calls attention to the broad use of solitary confinement, not just by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And it raises more questions about whether Daniel’s prolonged periods of solitary contributed to his March 7 death at the Northwest ICE Processing Center.”

Recent Headlines:

 

Council President Nelson Pushes Back Against Experts’ Opinions Read More »

All Kinds of Power Struggles in Seattle This Week

Seattle News:

This week there are some interesting follow-ups on developing stories we’ve discussed in the past.

First, Publicola reported that CM Nelson plans to propose legislation that would require the Public Safety Civil Service Commission (PSCSC) to switch police officer tests to the Public Safety test. The current National Testing Network test is more rigorous and was developed with the City of Seattle’s consent decree in mind. The Public Safety test, on the other hand, has a 90% pass rate on the first try. Contrary to what Nelson said in the previous public safety committee meeting on the topic, this seems likely to in fact compromise the standards for police officers in Seattle.

But the plot thickens! The PSCSC has sole authority over developing and holding testing, and changing this would require a law change. From the Publicola article: “Courts have upheld the PSCSC’s authority in the past, Scheele notes. “The last time the Council passed an ordinance undercutting the commission’s independence it had to be repealed,” she said, after a state appeals court ruled that the city council acted outside its authority when it passed a law moving many of the PSCSC’s “substantive” duties, including officer testing, to the city’s Human Resources Department.” So a court case regarding this issue may be in our future. 

Meanwhile, hiring new officers has become difficult across the country and is much more likely to be related to the fact that perceptions of being a police officer have shifted and people aren’t as interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement. 

Relatedly, SPD issued a tepid and disingenuous defense of their treatment of female officers. On the same day, KUOW published an investigative report on sexism and harassment within the department that emphasized how scared these female officers were to even speak to the press: “These women started talking with each other and agreed to speak with KUOW on condition of anonymity, because they feared retaliation. Floyd was the only one to let KUOW identify her. The women said that if found out, they could be investigated for speaking to the press without permission. One woman shook through her interview with KUOW. Five women declined to speak with KUOW, saying through intermediaries that they were scared of retaliation.”

In other news, City Attorney Ann Davison charged the six protesters at a City Council meeting in February with gross misdemeanors for trespassing. And we also got some more information about why Davison might have made the decision to disqualify Judge Pooja Vaddadi from all criminal cases at Seattle Municipal Court. The Stranger reported that Davison asked a higher court to review Vaddadi’s decision to disqualify an assistant city attorney from prosecuting a case. The day after this decision of Vaddadi’s was the day then-Criminal Division Chief Natalie Walton-Anderson sent out the infamous memo that I covered here, announcing the new policy of disqualifying the judge from all future criminal cases.

The Stranger published an in-depth piece on the problems currently faced by Seattle’s dual dispatch program, aka the “alternative” emergency response program that doesn’t follow the best practices of such programs run elsewhere. Ashley Nerbovig reports that the program is currently underutilized and mostly getting referrals from SPD instead of from 911 dispatch. Here is a particularly pertinent quote from the article:

Right now, Smith acknowledges the City is watching whether this program can exist without pissing off either the police or fire union. Police union president Mike Solan has expressed a distaste for police alternatives, appearing to view them as an insult to SPD officers. The City’s contract with SPOG prevents it from shifting any work from sworn-officers to civilians without negotiations. Given how much leverage the City has already given away in the MOU, and given the repeated emphasis from the Mayor and the council on hiring more police officers as the only solution to public safety concerns, it seems unlikely that they’ll push hard to take lower-priority work off the plates of officers who constantly complain about having all this low-priority work on their plates. The other lingering question is whether the City plans to actually fund the program long-term.” 

Finally, Publicola reported on two smaller stories. First, the City Council are having embarrassing budget conversations in which they call out problems of efficiency with the budget that do not in fact exist. And second, CM Bob Kettle exposed City Hall to COVID when he knew he’d been exposed but did not choose to work from home until he got a positive test. For those who are unaware, it is in fact possible to spread COVID before you test positive. 

Jail News:

The Seattle Times reported about a 24-year-old who hung himself while in the Klickitat County Jail last year while withdrawing from fentanyl, which highlights how underprepared many Washington jails find themselves for dealing with the current fentanyl crisis. The article says, “As of 2019, Washington’s county jails had among the highest death rates in the nation. Suicide has been the leading cause of death in the state’s jails and in jails nationally.”

And Publicola reported on the death of a woman in the SCORE jail last year. She died of dehydration, malnutrition, low electrolyte levels and renal failure. 4 people died in the SCORE jail last year, which is a very high number given its population. About the fatality report, Publicola had this to say: “The report said Majoor was well-known to staff at SCORE and implied that this may have led to inadequate care: “Over familiarity with the decedent and previous detox experiences were discussed as possible issues.””

At the King County Law and Justice committee meeting this past week, councilmembers discussed the plan to close the County’s juvenile detention facility. In 2020 Executive Dow Constantine promised to close the facility by 2025, but that date has been recently pushed out until 2028, and judging by the committee discussion, is likely to be pushed out even further. Indeed, some councilmembers did not seem convinced that actual achievement of zero youth detention will ever be possible.  

The main points of contention appear to be whether the newly proposed respite and receiving centers for youth would feature locked doors and what the differences might be between security and safety. 

Councilmember Jorge Barón spoke eloquently about the problem, saying, “It strikes me as a failure of our society that we have people at a young age engaged in harm-causing behavior, including very serious criminal behavior. We need to really reflect on that. What kind of society are we creating and how do we change that?” He spoke about how the current system contributes to harm-causing behavior rather than reducing it. 

The County will start public engagement on the Care & Closure plan soon, as well as releasing recommendations for improvements that can be made to the existing facility that can be included in Constantine’s budget proposal this fall. Meanwhile, the advisory committee will continue to meet to hash out the question of security vs. safety.

Recent Headlines:

All Kinds of Power Struggles in Seattle This Week Read More »

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

Seattle News:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Election News:

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

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

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

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

King County News:

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

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

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

Recent Headlines:

 

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

The Seattle City Attorney Has Been Busy

Personal News:

I had a novel come out this week! My Stars Shine Darkly is a YA science fiction novel and a dystopian romance. 

Book cover of My Stars Shine Darkly by Amy Sundberg, showing a teenage girl in a fancy dress and a golden Venetian mask

“In a story awash with Shakespearean intrigue and hijinks, join our intrepid heroine as she struggles against the dystopian patriarchy of her world.”

You can purchase it here or request it from your local library.

Seattle News:

Soon after I hit publish on my issue last Friday, the news dropped that the Seattle City Attorney’s Office would be filing an affidavit of prejudice on Seattle Municipal Court Judge Pooja Vaddadi on all criminal cases going forward. I dug more deeply into the issue with my story at the Urbanist. Perhaps most concerning is how this decision undermines the independence of the court from other branches of government.

Meanwhile the court is also in turmoil because of the rollout of a new case management system this week that has been bumpy at best. As The Seattle Times reports: “Court hearings have been exceedingly slow. Where it previously took a half a day to work through first appearances, when a judge sets bail, it’s now taking a full day, meaning some people are spending longer in jail than they otherwise would.

Yesterday at the State of Downtown event hosted by the Downtown Seattle Association, City Attorney Ann Davison said shesupports setting a limit on the number of times a person is allowed to overdose in public before they’re arrested and booked into jail.” While this law would supposedly only go into effect if a person refused treatment after an overdose, in practice treatment is often unavailable.

The City Attorney’s Office also announced they would be charging SPD Officer Kevin Dave, the officer who struck and killed Jaahnavi Kandula, with what amounts to a traffic ticket. Publicola reported that Dave received a hiring bonus of $15k after being hired in November of 2019: “Dave was previously an officer in Tucson, Arizona, but was fired from that previous position in 2013 after failing to meet minimum standards during his 18-month probation period.”

Daniel Auderer, the SPOG vice president who got caught in a recording laughing at Kandula’s death, was scheduled to have his disciplinary hearing with Chief Diaz this past Tuesday. Auderer has not yet had his pre-termination or “Loudermill” hearing, which would be required before he could be fired.

In other news, Publicola reported that SPD is continuing to operate under a crowd control policy that is against the law. SPD ignored the city’s new less-lethal weapons law (passed in 2021) for a few years before finally submitting a proposal in December 2023:

“Accompanying the policy: A memo from SPD denouncing their own proposal as “dangerous” and unworkable and asking the court to instead approve the department’s existing “interim” crowd control policy, which does not ban or substantially restrict the use of a single less-lethal weapon.”

The article goes on to state, “Antonio Oftelie, the court monitor overseeing the consent decree, told PubliCola that his office and the DOJ have decided to step back and see if SPD, working with the mayor and new city council, can come up with a policy in the first quarter of this year that complies with the consent decree and is something all sides can live with.

One example of SPD ignoring the new law was back in February when they dispersed a Pro-Palestine rally with pepper balls, which wouldn’t have been available for use if SPD had a policy in line with the existing legislation.

Mayor Harrell announced a new contract with the Coalition of City Unions with the following specifications:

“The proposed contracts include a 5% Annual Wage Increase (AWI) retroactively applied for 2023 and a 4.5% AWI for 2024, totaling a two-year 9.7% adjustment. The 2025 AWI will be based on a two-year average of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue-area with a 2% floor and a 4% cap. The 2026 AWI will be calculated similarly but then be increased by 1% with a 3% floor and a 5% cap.”

The contract has already been approved by union members and will now go for a final vote before City Council. It is currently unclear to me whether this increase in wages has already been calculated into the city’s looming deficit for 2025. According to Publicola, city departments are preparing plans to lay off employees (while already operating under a hiring freeze).

King County News:

This week Executive Constantine announced a five-prong strategy for addressing the fentanyl crisis and preventing overdoses. The five prongs are as follows:

  1. Treatment: launching a 24/7 buprenorphine prescribing line; increasing staffing for both the youth and adult mobile crisis programs; hiring 6 new community navigators to connect people with treatment
  2. Behavioral health beds: partnering with Pioneer Health Services to open 16-bed residential treatment program for people with both mental health and substance abuse disorders; re-opening a 24/7 SUD sobering center; opening post-overdose recovery center
  3. Overdose reversal meds and fentanyl testing: distributing more naloxone kits and test strips; testing drug samples; increasing number of fire depts providing leave-behind naloxone
  4. Behavioral health workforce: adding 100 apprenticeships statewide with half in King County
  5. Reduce disproportionality in overdose: investing $2 million in disproportionately impacted populations

KUOW reported that no new money is being allocated for this project, and when exactly any of this will happen is unknown. Neither Executive Constantine nor anyone else at the press conference would specify a timeline. Clint Jordan of Pioneer Human Services, however, did comment on when a 16-bed residential treatment program could open.

“We’re targeting a six month open,” Jordan said. “I think that puts us in October, November, somewhere in there.””

WA State Legislature News:

Initiative 2113, which changes the state-wide policy on vehicular pursuits, was passed in the state legislature on Monday. Unlike the reform on pursuits passed in 2021 and then weakened in 2023, this initiative doesn’t restrict pursuit based on type of violation in any way. Opponents say this change will almost certainly cause collateral damage, likely leading to more deaths and injuries. As Publicola reported, “Going back to 2015, Morris found that of 379 people killed by police in Washington state, 26 percent involved vehicular pursuits. Of the 32 deaths in Washington caused by collisions during pursuits, more than half were bystanders, passengers, or officers.”

Crosscut reported on two new gun control laws that are likely to make it through this year’s legislative session: one on reporting stolen guns and another on gun dealer security measures. 

Speaking of, this year’s legislative session is officially over. The WA State Standard reported that “Republicans had a pretty good year” and “big progressive priorities flared out.” 

Recent Headlines:

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