We’ll start off this week by looking at Chloe Cockburn’s recent reporting on the current landscape of policing in the United States. Police have already killed hundreds of people in 2023 (220 to be precise, and keep in mind we’re only two and a half months into the year). That figure is up 6% since 2021.
She also reminds us of a Gallup poll conducted at the end of April-early May of 2022, saying:
“If you were just going by media commentators you would have thought that support for reforms had completely collapsed in the face of rising concerns about crime. On the contrary: 45% of Americans in 2022 supported eliminating police enforcement of nonviolent crimes, and 44% supported eliminating police unions. Moreover, 15% of Americans support eliminating police departments entirely, while Black Americans support this at the rate of 21%.”
I bring this up because I know some of you are disheartened by recent developments in the Washington state legislature. It is important to remember in spite of what the media might be saying, there is still an appetite in the United States for taking a different avenue to public safety that is more equitable and less harmful. The work being done in this space matters.
This past Tuesday Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee discussed the Seattle City Attorney’s Q4 2022 report. In Q4, the City Attorney’s Office received 2,740 referrals from SPD. For pre-pandemic comparison, the SPD gave 3,529 referrals in Q4 of 2018 and 3,724 referrals in Q4 of 2019. These referrals were all misdemeanors, as the City Attorney’s Office doesn’t deal with felony charges.
The Seattle City Attorney’s Office also announced a 50% decrease in their case backlog over the course of 2022. The office filed 1,323 cases and declined 3,336 cases in Q4. Many of those declined cases were part of the aforementioned backlog. The office also took the opportunity during their presentation to discuss the difficulties recruiting and retaining prosecuting attorneys given their relatively low salaries compared to salaries of prosecutors in other cities.
At the State of Downtown event on Tuesday, Mayor Harrell said he wants to change significant laws to improve public safety, but he declined to give any details on what those laws might be. Stay tuned!
King County News:
Erica C. Barnett reports that this past weekend 50 inmates were moved from the King County Jail to the Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC) in Kent. The MRJC is also suffering from insufficient staffing. According to the Department of Adult & Juvenile Detention, most of the people who were moved are facing misdemeanor or non-violent felony charges.
If you remember the plan discussed by the King County Law & Justice committee last week to move 50 additional inmates to SCORE in Des Moines, the Public Defenders’ Union is now trying to get an amendment added to that legislation that would codify the Department of Public Defense’s visitation needs and require some reporting. This legislation is due to be voted on by the full King County Council next week.
Meanwhile, the Bellevue City Council approved funding for teams to provide public safety on public transit including the light rail. I’ve heard this new transit unit will consist of 7 armed officers who will patrol light rail stations and transit hubs. A community forum to discuss this new, already funded unit was held this past Tuesday evening.
Washington State News:
Taija PerryCook had a very informative article on the new 988 system in Crosscut. My takeaways:
- Crisis Connections, which answers King County’s 988 calls, has experienced a 25-30% increase in calls since 988 launched last July.
- Before 988, Crisis Connection answered around 40% of calls within 30 seconds. Now they are able to answer 90% or more within 30 seconds.
- 95% of calls are resolved over the phone. Fewer than 2% of 988 calls end up involving the police or EMS.
- For the 5% of calls not able to be resolved over the phone, speed of that response is critical. There is currently a bill in the state legislature that would increase funding for rapid-response teams. This bill was passed in the House and is now being considered in the Senate.
- Three Things to Read This Week (on unnecessary law enforcement response in Louisville; most persuasive arguments for deprioritizing traffic stops by police; successful community violence prevention program in Baton Rouge)
- Transit fare inspections are upheld by WA Supreme Court
- As Regional Homelessness Authority shapes $11B plan, Seattle outreach stats show better results but more than half still declining shelter
- A Really Bad Tweet (Alec Karakatsanis)
- Seattle City Council D1 interviews:
- Here are the nine(!) Seattle City Council candidates collecting Democracy Vouchers in District 3
- ACLU-WA, Director of Public Defense Call Out Conditions in King County Jail