Parking Enforcement Stays at SPD For Now, Memo Outlines City’s Objections to Street Sinks, Cops’ Vaccination Rate Remains Unknown

1. The Seattle City Council voted Monday to keep the city’s parking enforcement unit in the Seattle Police Department until September, approving an amendment to legislation moving the 911 call center and parking enforcement from SPD to a new Community Safety and Communications Center. Their hope is that that the unions representing the parking unit’s management and rank-and-file will use the next three months to resolve their disagreements about which city department should absorb parking enforcement.

Last fall, council public safety chair Lisa Herbold proposed moving the unit to the CSCC in response to lobbying by the Seattle Parking Enforcement Officers’ Guild, which represents the unit’s roughly 100 rank-and-file members. Nanette Toyoshima, the union’s president, told PubliCola in October that she hoped to give parking enforcement officers a larger role in the city’s efforts to civilianize public safety.

At the time, other council members didn’t oppose the move. But Mayor Jenny Durkan, Seattle Department of Transportation Director Sam Zimbabwe, and parking enforcement unit management argued that parking enforcement would operate more efficiently in SDOT than the new community safety unit. In a letter to the council in April, Zimbabwe argued that transportation departments manage parking enforcement in other cities, including Denver and Houston, and said SDOT is better prepared to absorb parking enforcement than the still-untested CSCC.

Zimbabwe’s arguments, and lobbying by parking enforcement management, convinced Council President Lorena González, who is now the council’s most vocal supporter of moving the unit to SDOT. But Councilmember Andrew Lewis, who has communicated with leadership in both unions, urged the council to delay moving the unit out of SPD until parking enforcement management and officers can reach an agreement about which city department would make a better home for their unit.

“It is always hard for us as a pro-labor council when two members of our broader labor family have a disagreement,” he said during the council’s weekly briefing on Monday. “I think this would benefit from additional time to better understand a way to resolve this equitably and without dividing the labor community.”

The 911 call center will still move to the CSCC by June 1.

2. On Monday, Seattle Public Utilities provided responses to a list of questions posed by Councilmember Lewis about a long-delayed program to provide temporary handwashing stations while public buildings are closed due to the pandemic. The council provided $100,000 for public sinks last year in response to repeated outbreaks of communicable diseases among people living unsheltered, who have had little access to soap and running water since businesses and public buildings closed their doors in March 2020.

The memo includes photos of a sink that was vandalized, with the warning, “Durability and vandalism resistance is critical. Extreme vandalism should be expected in most locations.”

In the memo, SPU reiterated their many objections to a proposal by the Clean Hands Collective, including the fact that it is not technically ADA-compliant, uses hoses instead of direct sewer connections to provide water, and have hookups that are vulnerable to freezing in the winter. “These sinks cannot legally operate from approximately October through April,” the memo says, because they filter graywater through soil.

“The design requirements, considerations, City procurement requirements and technical challenges SPU discussed with proposers at technical assistance sessions and with the committee are the same standard SPU as a regulated and regulating agency must adhere to,” the memo continues. “They are also intended to ensure that public expenditure is geared towards ensuring quality functioning, healthful, and accessible solutions that meet the needs of the community they are designed to serve and the outdoor conditions into which they are deployed.”

The memo includes photos of a sink that was vandalized, with the warning, “Durability and vandalism resistance is critical. Extreme vandalism should be expected in most locations.”

Some of the diseases that have spread through homeless encampments during the pandemic include hepatitis A and B, shigella, and cryptosporidiosis; the latter pair of diseases can cause major gastrointestinal symptoms such as extreme and constant vomiting and diarrhea. Such diseases are spread mostly through fecal-oral transmission, which is easily preventable through handwashing.

The city has opened a handful of its own sinks around the city, some of which are operated by a foot pedal. Unlike the proposals the city has received, which are wheelchair accessible but not fully ADA compliant, foot-operated sinks are not usable by many people with disabilities.

3. As the Seattle Office of the Inspector General begins a new investigation into a surge of complaints about unmasked police officers, the Seattle Police Department’s compliance with public health recommendations is under a microscope.

But while SPD can require masks, they can’t track how many Seattle police officers are vaccinated; according to the department, unless the city requires all city employees to get vaccinated, SPD can’t ask its officers about their vaccination status.

Police officers are at an elevated risk of exposure to COVID-19, which also means that officers could transmit the disease to members of the public—including inmates at the King County Detention Center, which saw a serious outbreak in late March whose source is still unknown. SPD Assistant Chief Bryan Grenon, who has helped lead the department’s efforts to promote vaccinations, told PubliCola that a single burglary arrest in February exposed a dozen officers to COVID. “We don’t really get to pick and choose who we interact with,” he said, “and we wind up interacting with a lot of vulnerable people.”

SPD officers’ reported infection rate is only slightly higher than the infection rate for King County as a whole: only 93 of the department’s 1,813 officers have tested positive for COVID-19 since last March. According to Grenon, many officers were disappointed that they weren’t among the first groups eligible for vaccination; law enforcement officers became eligible in mid-March, more than a month after Seattle firefighters. “We felt like we got pushed to the back of the bus,” he said. Since then, the Seattle Fire Department has coordinated with SPD’s South and Southwest precincts, and later with SPD as a whole, to arrange vaccination opportunities for officers.

But Grenon also acknowledged that some in the department are still skeptical of the COVID-19 vaccines. “There are some folks saying that they won’t get the shot until they’re forced to,” he said.

How likely is that? Kelsey Nyland, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jenny Durkan, told PubliCola that the mayor’s office is still weighing the possibility of mandating vaccines for city employees. If the mayor does decide to pursue a mandatory vaccination policy, Nyland said that the city will first need to clear the decision with the city’s labor partners, including police unions.

 

3 thoughts on “Parking Enforcement Stays at SPD For Now, Memo Outlines City’s Objections to Street Sinks, Cops’ Vaccination Rate Remains Unknown”

  1. “The Seattle City Council voted Monday to keep the city’s parking enforcement unit in the Seattle Police Department until September.” This has got to be about the toxic workplace and unprovided employment rights at the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT)

    The SPD annual 2021 budget adopted by November 2020 flouted the small cuts actually made to the adopted budget. (15% reduction?). That in part reflected moving costs for parking enforcement employees, overhead, etc., out of SPD to SDOT.

    Part of this reduction was made by taking the Seattle Department of Transportation Budget and dropping in all the the city’s parking enforcement unit into its personnel. This is basically like an interfund transfer: you provide the service for me and the money transfers from the general fund (or whichever fund account) to the Department providing the service (SDOT rather than SPD).

    The only way I can imagine parking enforcement not wanting to move to SDOT is the legendary, and worsening, toxic work culture and no actual Equal Employment Opportunity Plan and definitely no EEO Officer. The Police Department employees, including civilians, are better protected than SDOT employees, because at some point the US DOJ learned SPD was not following EEOC rules and protections. I’m sure it’s not perfect, but at least SPD does have a federally accepted EEO Program. It may be the only City Agency requiring an approved plan, that has an approved plan. SDOT never had an EEO Program for when it had 50 applicable employees, nor 100 applicable employees, nor 150+ employees which it reached by 2016 and which was shared. Something changed in federal information collection that required SDOT to be more accurate with its EEO issues.

  2. The hand washing stations are going to be expensive and without 24 hour observation they will get destroyed or worse spread the disease to even more people. Maybe housing advocates will step up with volunteers to watch over our investment.

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