Audit of Sheriff’s Office Finds Racial Disparities; Parking Officers Want Access to Crime Database; West Seattle Sweep Illustrates Futility of Sweeps

1. A new audit of the King County Sheriff’s Office found significant racial disparities in use of force, arrests, and who becomes a “suspect” in areas where the sheriff’s office is the primary law enforcement agency.

Residents and sheriff’s deputies “reported Black people as suspects and officers arrested Black people at rates nearly four times higher than expected given their proportion of the county population,” according to the audit report.

Although the county’s data on use of force was limited—619 calls led to a use of force between 2019 and 2021—the audit found that “overall, White officers as a group used force twice as often as Black or Asian officers. Additionally, both Black and Hispanic people were subjected to uses of force more often than White people.”

As the chart above shows, there were also major disparities in arrests—specifically, Black people were three and a half times more likely to be arrested than their proportion of the population would predict. In some areas, such as Sammamish and Woodinville, Black people were arrested at a rate more than ten times out of proportion to their population.

After “controlling” for overall arrest rates between various racial groups, that differential more or less disappears, but it still illustrates major upstream disparities, principal management auditor Peter Heineccius told the King County Council on Tuesday: Black, brown, and Native American people are far more likely than white and Asian people to become suspects (in part because people call police on them more), and more likely to be arrested as the result of a 911 call.

“This shows the risk of how an analysis that controls for certain factors might explain away racial disparities because it removes analysis of how [people of] different races become suspects,” he said.

Another factor that makes it hard to grasp the scope of racial disparities in stops and detentions: The sheriff’s office does not collect information about race during the vast majority of encounters with the public. Under the department’s interpretation of a law intended to protect immigrants from ICE, the county council would need to change county law to allow officers to start routinely recording the race of people they encounter.

“Previous Sheriff’s Office leadership has also stated that officers should not collect information about race, limiting the ability to quantify and ultimately reduce racial disparities,” the audit says.

Calling in to the council meeting on Tuesday, county Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall said she “was heartened to see that while the report did say there are racial disparities, the amount of force that we use, based on the number of contracts was very, very minimal”—about 0.06 percent of all calls for service result in force, according to the audit.

2. The city’s decision to refund around $5 million in parking fines, and drop the equivalent of another $5 million in tickets, is not the only issue parking enforcement officers have raised during their transition from the Seattle Police Department to the Seattle Department of Transportation. Parking officers, who are considered “special police officers” under the commission from SPD that was at the center of the parking ticket snafu, want to retain access to the Criminal Justice Information System, a that allows police to do background checks on vehicle owners, via radio, before making a stop.

Now, the union that represents the parking enforcement officers, the Seattle Parking Enforcement Officers Guild (SPEOG), filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint against the city for taking away their access to CJIS without bargaining the changes with the union. CJIS is only available to law enforcement officers; the state Public Employment Relations Commission is currently considering their claim.

“We sill have access to radio—it’s that the information is not the same as when we were at SPD,” said SPEOG president Chrisanne Sapp. “We are able to read between the lines, but with the body of work that we do, I don’t find that reading between the lines is an acceptable response.”

PERC hearings are not public; however, representatives from the city have argued that parking enforcement officers can still call in plates and find out if they should avoid a parked vehicle, even without access to the information system.

2. The recent removal of a small encampment from a park near the West Seattle Golf Course illustrates the problem with the city’s approach to sweeps, according to Keith Hughes, a neighbor who runs a day center at the nearby American Legion hall: Without housing and meaningful services, people just come back.

All five people who were living in Totem Pole Park a week ago returned to the area within three days, according to Hughes, including a couple who moved their tent temporarily to another location and three single men who stayed a couple nights in a large downtown shelter and came back to West Seattle days after they left. One of the men subsequently attacked Hughes physically, he said, punching the 74-year-old in the face and leaving him with a droopy eye, a large cut, and bruises on his left shoulder.

“These guys are not mentally stable—the reason they’re in West Seattle in the first place is because they do not deal well with crowds,” Hughes said. “And so the city picks them up in their sweeps and takes them downtown to a 100-person shelter. … It’s pure fantasy when the city says they offer people a better temporary housing situation—no, they don’t, they offer them a bed at a shelter facility as long as they lay there quietly and don’t  bother anybody.”

According to the city’s Human Services Department, the HOPE Team, which does outreach and offers shelter referrals to people living in encampments the city is about to sweep, “began engaging these sites on May 26 and visited multiple days leading up to the removal offering shelter and connections to services.” The spokesman confirmed that the city made three shelter referrals on the day the encampment was swept.

Hughes said that the two other men who returned to West Seattle are now sleeping under the awning at the VFW hall after losing their tents and other possessions in the sweep. A spokeswoman for the Parks Department, which is in charge of encampment removals, said the department did not store anyone’s possessions from the encampment. It’s unclear when the notice for the removal went up; Parks says it was on Sunday, but Hughes said he was at the park Sunday evening and didn’t see any notices until the following day.

Hughes called police about the man who assaulted him, but said in an email that he anticipates “nothing will be done to get him off the street or any help for his mental condition.”

2 thoughts on “Audit of Sheriff’s Office Finds Racial Disparities; Parking Officers Want Access to Crime Database; West Seattle Sweep Illustrates Futility of Sweeps”

  1. The more egregious part of this is that the City of Seattle, when it conducts a sweep, takes the meager belongings of the people living there and does not return them leaving people without even the bare necessities. The way these sweeps are conducted is criminal and they serve no lasting purpose other than to increase suffering.

  2. So, he should be charged with aggravated assault, and the folks living on VFW property charged with criminal trespass. Problem solved.

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