Morning Fizz: Planning for Civil Unrest, Dismantling the Navigation Team, and Rethinking Prosecution

Image via King County Elections

1. As the federal government and state police prepare for possible civil unrest on Election Night, the city of Seattle says it does not plan to physically open its Emergency Operations Center, which coordinates emergency response during crisis situations and extreme weather and public health events.

However, the Seattle Police Department has restricted time off for officers who may be deployed to respond to demonstrations during the week following the election, and the city has sent information to businesses in neighborhoods where protests are common, such as  Capitol Hill, about “how to prepare and secure their employees and customers as well as their property to mitigate the impact of broken windows and graffiti, should that occur,” according to a spokeswoman for Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office.

As of November 1, 72 percent of ballots sent to registered voters in King County (and nearly 75 percent in Seattle) had been returned. Although Washington state votes by mail, the county has opened seven voting centers where people can vote in person until 8pm on election day, including two in Seattle.

Durkan’s spokeswoman said SPD “does not have any intelligence to indicate that there will be large-scale demonstrations on Election Night or the days following. Our partners at King County Elections have not reported any threats or security issues at any ballot boxes. As such, the SPD and Seattle Fire Department’s planning is for contingency purposes only, and does not indicate that there will be demonstrations or unrest.”

City council member Tammy Morales formerly introduced her proposed alternative to Durkan’s proposed replacement for the Navigation Team, called the HOPE Team, last week. The five-member team would be a scaled-back, service-focused version of the Outreach and Engagement Team proposed by Durkan and council member Andrew Lewis last month—a team that would itself be a kind of scaled-back Navigation Team, one that would put the members of the recently disbanded Navigation Team to work in new roles “coordinating” the work of the city’s contracted outreach providers.

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During the council budget hearing on Friday, Lewis suggested that the differences between his plan and Morales’ were minor, but said he wouldn’t co-sponsor her proposal “because of my involvement in a parallel process.” Last week, Morales told PubliCola she believes the language in Lewis’ proposal is still “vague” enough to allow members of the larger team to do direct outreach. “I think we need to leave that work to the service providers—to the folks that are out there every day and understand the importance of developing relationships,” Morales said.

The HOPE team would include a team manager, a liaison to coordinate with other departments like Seattle Public Utilities, which manages the “purple bag” encampment trash pickup program, one data analyst (read more about why one data person may not be enough for a team dedicated to coordinating outreach and shelter referrals here), and two “provider and neighborhood liaisons” who would work with King County Public Health and providers to “provide reasonable notification of a[n encampment] removal and time to plan and implement the relocation.”

“The Navigation Team model is a failure because it’s not about outcomes,” Morales said, but about “counting widgets”—that is, tracking data about metrics like the number of referrals to shelter or “contacts” made, rather than reducing the harm people experience from living outdoors or being shuffled through the homelessness system without moving any closer to housing.

Asked whether the proposed HOPE team would include the current members of the city’s Navigation Team—who remain on the city’s payroll while the council and mayor debate their fate—Morales said, “I would hope that the people who fill these positions would do so with the goal of reducing harm as much as possible and really looking for the solutions that the community is asking for. So if there are people in these jobs right now who have a different opinion, they might not be the right person for that job.”

3. Although council member Lisa Herbold’s proposal to create a new “duress” defense to misdemeanor charges has been punted to after this year’s budget, that hasn’t stopped “Seattle Is Dying” partisans from painting the idea with a broad and inaccurate brush. (The Times even pulled Mark Sidran, the former city attorney best known for impounding poor people’s cars and harassing teenage clubgoers, out of obscurity to clutch his pearls on their editorial page.) The idea is based on model legislation drafted by King County’s Department of Public Defense, which proposed several new defenses against prosecution for crimes that result from poverty or an unmanaged mental health or addiction disorder.

“More important than any legislation you could adopt or amendment I could recommend is that resources must be provided to assist individuals with the underlying issues that led to them to committing the crime.”—City Attorney Pete Holmes

Last week, current city attorney Pete Holmes wrote a letter to council members weighing in on the DPD’s draft. First, Holmes wrote, his office already avoids prosecuting people for obvious crimes of poverty and tries to divert people who commit crimes because of behavioral health issues into treatment. “[F]or example,” he wrote, “no city prosecutor is interested in sending an impoverished new parent to jail for stealing baby food.”

Holmes also suggested several areas where he thinks the legislation can be improved. For example, instead of making behavioral health disorders an affirmative defense against prosecution, Holmes suggested using them as an opportunity for diversion in lieu of prosecution—so that, for example, a defendant who assaulted someone during a psychotic episode could be sent to mental health treatment instead of jail. “More important than any legislation you could adopt or amendment I could recommend is that resources must be provided to assist individuals with the underlying issues that led to them to committing the crime,” Holmes concluded.

The changes Holmes is proposing would be substantive, but they wouldn’t necessarily conflict with the goal of the proposal—to ensure that people aren’t being thrown in jail because of crimes they committed for survival or in the throes of a mental health crisis. It’s a fairly safe bet that Holmes does not agree with his predecessor, Sidran, that prosecution and jail is the best way to “address” the issue of “crimes that victimize other people in a variety of ways that harm society.”