1. The University of Washington prevailed earlier this month in a labor dispute with the union representing the officers of its campus police department, allowing it to move forward with a plan to the replace armed police officers in its residence halls with new, unarmed “campus safety responders” without going to the bargaining table. The decision by Washington’s Public Employee Relations Commission (PERC) could set the stage for other employers to shift some duties from sworn officers to unarmed civilian responders—a change that some in Seattle’s government see as a possible fix for the city’s shortage of sworn police officers.
After pressure mounted on the school’s administration in the summer of 2020 to reevaluate the role of armed police officers in campus security, UW president Ana Mari Cauce promised to expand the university’s existing civilian responder programs by adding a new team who could respond to non-criminal emergency calls, including welfare checks. Less than a year later, the university also opted to remove armed police patrols from its dorms, replacing them with a combination of in-house social workers and campus safety responders.
The rank-and-file police officers who previously patrolled the dorms objected to the new arrangement, filing an unfair labor practice complaint accusing the university of “skimming” some of their responsibilities to a new team of employees in violation of the university’s contract with their union.
PERC sided with the university, ruling that the decision to use civilians instead of sworn officers to patrol the dorms has a “limited impact” on the police officers themselves—an impact, they wrote, that is outweighed by UW’s “compelling interest” in rethinking how it approaches campus safety. According to the ruling, the change did not require UW to lay off or cut the pay of any police officers, nor did it reduce opportunities for the officers to work overtime. The PERC ruling also noted that UW has only hired four campus safety responders since January, resulting in hardly any change to who responds to emergency calls on campus. Between September of 2021 and the start of this month, sworn UW police officers received 205 dispatches to residence halls; the campus safety responders received only six.
The ruling could be significant in Seattle, where city council members and members of Mayor Bruce Harrell’s staff have expressed interest in shifting some responsibilities from sworn police officers to civilian units like the Community Service Officers (CSOs) and parking enforcement officers. Although the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) has generally opposed reducing officers’ responsibilities, SPD’s ongoing staffing shortage has increased pressure on elected officials to find ways to allow SPD officers to focus on serious crimes by assigning more responsibilities to civilians.
2. King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski quietly bowed out of the race to replace King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg less than two months after he filed for candidacy in early January. Dembowski told PubliCola that he filed to “take a look at the race,” but he did not elaborate about his decision to drop out. The remaining candidates include the King County Prosecutor’s Office’s current chief of staff, Leesa Manion, as well as former deputy prosecuting attorney Stephan Thomas and current Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell.
3.KOMO TV, which is owned by the national conservative broadcasting conglomerate Sinclair Broadcast Group, fired reporter Jonathan Choe today after Choe posted flattering coverage of a rally by the Proud Boys, a white nationalist group, to protest the continued detention of those implicated in the January 6 attack on the US capitol.
Choe promoted the rally in a series of tweets that included a montage of protest footage set over a white nationalist anthem known as the “Männerbund,” which includes the lyrics, “In our own towns we’re foreigners now, our names are spat and cursed/ The headline smack of another attack, not the last and not the worst.” That tweet, which Choe later deleted, encouraged readers and KOMO viewers to come down and meet with the Proud Boys, who would stay on hand to “mingle and answer questions if anyone is interested in learning more about their cause and mission.”
In a second tweet, Choe praised the Proud Boys for being polite and allowing him to “record freely on public property without interference. No umbrellas or hands in my face.” The latter was a reference to Choe’s frequent claims that he is targeted by protesters or “antifa”. On his feed, Choe frequently tags Andy Ngo, a Twitter provocateur who has written sympathetically about the Proud Boys and has worked tirelessly to demonize “antifa” (which he characterizes, inaccurately, as an organized, violent group of militants) to his right-wing audience.
PubliCola independently confirmed Choe’s firing. David Neiwert, reporting for DailyKos, received a statement from KOMO saying the station “did not direct or approve Jonathan Choe’s decision to cover this weekend’s rally, nor did his work meet our editorial standards.”
Choe is best known in Seattle for his efforts to confront and elicit reactions from unsheltered people and their advocates, including mutual aid volunteers. His Twitter feed is an avalanche of footage showing people in crisis and commentary condemning homeless people for existing in public, including endless poverty porn-style videos of people living unsheltered.
Although KOMO has an official policy of “objectivity,” Choe’s feed overflows with over-the-top praise for city workers conducting sweeps of homeless encampments. (“GAME OVER,” he tweeted repeatedly during a recent sweep of tents across the street from City Hall). On many occasions, Choe has started on-camera confrontations with volunteers and activists working with unsheltered people, even identifying some to his readers (and tagging Ngo) as “antifa.” (Choe has blocked us on Twitter, along with many other local reporters following this story.)
Sinclair, which produced the infamous “Seattle Is Dying” series, expressed no public concerns that Choe’s coverage of homelessness was exploitative and misleading, nor that it put homeless people in danger and violated their right to privacy. For KOMO, advocating for white supremacy appears to have been a bridge too far; posting videos condemning homeless people for existing in public, apparently, was not.
—Paul Kiefer, Erica C. Barnett