violent crime

Alternative Response in Seattle is Behind…Again

Seattle News

There’s a lot to catch up on, so let’s start off with the big news that the Social Housing Initiative 135 has passed! Next steps include bringing together a board of directors and seeking funding.

Mayor Harrell gave his State of the City speech last week. Apparently the white paper about a third public safety department that was supposed to be completed last year is still forthcoming. As this was supposed to be the main tangible step forward in 2022, the failure to deliver this white paper in a timely fashion is disappointing to say the least. But at least the new department has a name now, which obviously took many hours of painstaking work: CARE, the Civilian Assisted Response and Engagement Department. Apparently we’ll also be hearing more about police officer hiring this year, which is hardly a surprise, although given the difficulty police departments across the country are having hiring, these are conversations that seem unlikely to deliver the desired results.

Last week the Adley Shepherd case was dismissed by a U.S. District Court Judge. Adley Shepherd is a former SPD officer who was fired after punching a handcuffed woman in the back of a squad car. His case has been filtering through arbitration and courts ever since, most recently as a suit brought by him against the City of Seattle.

The City of Seattle settled the CHOP lawsuit for $3.65m, $600k of which was due to the missing texts of former Mayor Durkan, former SPD Chief Best, and others. This money, as well as additional costs of defending the lawsuit, comes from taxpayer dollars.

At this week’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting, the CSCC presented on their 911 Protocols Software that would enable them to dispatch calls to responders other than the police. Right now the plan is to implement dual dispatch including SPD, although CM Herbold was quick to remind us that dual dispatch doesn’t necessarily mean a police officer will be on the scene in every instance, but rather in some cases SPD would simply be situationally aware of the dispatch of a civilian responder. That being said, it was made clear at the meeting that the nature of the dual dispatch model has yet to be determined

Shocking no one, given we’ve been holding our breath for a particular white paper since December, all the work on alternative response appears to be behind schedule. None of the deliverables outlined on the term sheet regarding developing alternative response between the Mayor’s Office and Central Staff appear to be complete. Some of this delay was attributed to the hiring and on-boarding of the new interim Director of the CSCC, Rebecca Gonzales, although of course everyone already knew when deliverable dates were set that a new director would need to be found. CM Lewis was frustrated enough to say that if more progress isn’t forthcoming in future briefings, the Council might need to take a more assertive role in this work. Given Seattle has been waiting two and a half years for alternative response with nothing to show for it, this reaction seems quite measured.

The protocols and work flow of the new triaging dispatch system also won’t be complete until late this year. CM Herbold called out that we continue to be told of reasons why we can’t move forward on implementation of alternate response: SPD’s RMD analysis, the overdue white paper from the Mayor’s Office outlining the new third public safety department, and now this triage dispatch system. She expressed her hopes that launching an alternate response pilot for person down and wellness checks won’t depend on the dispatch system being complete. CM Lewis pointed out other cities with alternative response have triage systems that dispatch to fully civilian responses, not just dual dispatch. And so the slog to push alternative response continues sluggishly forward as Seattle continues to fall behind many other cities who have been able to do this work.

Due to objections from SPOG, SPD discontinued use of Truleo software that analyzed police body-cam footage to look for potential police misconduct. Unfortunately, SPD’s use of several other surveillance technologies was approved by the Seattle City Council earlier this week, including “cell phone and laptop extraction tools, a geospatial analysis technology called GeoTime, remotely operated vehicles, crash retrieval forensics and hidden GPS trackers and cameras.” Seattle has its own Surveillance Advisory Working Group, and the CMs failed to implement many of this work group’s recommendations relating to the use of these technologies.

A recent report shows that Seattle’s automated traffic cameras disproportionately target Communities of Color. In fact, 65% of automated traffic cameras are placed in neighborhoods with relatively more people of color and immigrants; Seattle’s most dangerous roads tend to be in these communities because of displacement. In 2022, Seattle’s automated cameras issued almost 200,000 traffic tickets, which is almost fifty times more than the number given by police. It’s also worth noting that these camera-generated tickets currently require review by police, meaning such a large volume requires additional resources given to SPD in order to review them; to do otherwise would require a law change. An op-ed in the South Seattle Emerald by Ethan C. Campbell and Nura Ahmed outlines several ways to address issues of equity surrounding traffic cameras in Seattle. 

CM Herbold wrote the following about violent crime in Seattle in 2022:

Although, over the entire year, the data shows violent crime higher than it’s been for years, the SPD Crime Dashboard shows that there were 363 violent crimes reported in December 2022; this is the lowest number of violent crimes reported for a month since February 2021, when 329 violent crimes were reported. The December 2022 figure is lower than the 403 violent crimes reported in December 2019 (before COVID-19, before the murder of George Floyd, and before 500 officers left SPD).

A further review of the SPD dashboard shows that moving into 2023 (the report only covers 2022), 371 reported violent crimes in January, slightly lower than January 2020, with 373 reported violent crimes.

Shots fired, while higher overall in 2022, are also dramatically declining, according to the Chief.”

When discussing violent crime in 2022, it would be remiss not to reiterate the increasing violence experienced by unsheltered people.

The turmoil at the Seattle Human Rights Commission (SHRC) and the Community Police Commission (CPC) continues. Two more SHRC commissioners have recently resigned as commissioners continue to receive legal threats from the City Attorney’s Office about trying to seek amicus status in the consent decree, and the CPC Executive Director Brandy Grant resigned on February 10. Cali Ellis has been named as the interim director. After events at a CPC community engagement meeting on February 14 and the CPC’s regular meeting on February 15, both Castile Hightower and Howard Gale have filed complaints with the OPA about SPD Officer Mullens, who also sits on the CPC. 

King County News

The ACLU of Washington filed a lawsuit on Friday against King County and Executive Constantine arguing they are in breach of a settlement agreement regarding the King County Jail mandating certain staffing levels and inmate access to medical care and court hearings. Advocates held a press conference and rally outside the jail on Monday morning.

Election News

Becka Johnson Pope, who has spent the last three years managing King County’s budget, announced her run for the King County Council seat for District 4. Sarah Reyneveld has already announced her run for the same seat.

Seattle CM Dan Strauss has announced his intentions to run for re-election in District 6.

ChrisTiana Obeysumner has declared their candidacy in District 5. They are one of six filed candidates so far for the district.

WA State Legislature

Sadly, the bill banning solitary confinement has died again this year. The new drug possession bill also doesn’t look promising.

HB 1513 (traffic stops), HB 1025 (qualified immunity), HB 1579 (independent prosecutor), and HB 1445 (AG investigations & reform) are all headed for floor votes. March 8 is the cut-off date for bills to be voted out of their house of origin. 

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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. 

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