Category: Cops

Despite Months of Arrests and Impoundments, the Car Brigade Is Still Protecting Seattle Protesters

Seattle Police officers impound a Car Brigade vehicle on Capitol Hill on October 3

By Paul Kiefer

Late at night on September 11, during the worst of the past summer’s wildfire smoke, a driver pulled over in a Bothell parking lot. Less than an hour earlier, the driver – who asked to remain anonymous because of pending felony charges – had been a part of the Car Brigade, a group of drivers who use their cars to protect Black Lives Matter protesters from attacks.

That night, the group had formed a protective perimeter around a relatively small and subdued protest march in Seattle. Driving at a walking speed, the motley crew of luxury cars, nondescript sedans and massive SUVs maneuvered to keep other drivers from entering alleyways, parking lot exits and intersections.

After months of practice, angry honking from inconvenienced drivers doesn’t phase the Car Brigade. The protest ended with no police in sight, so the drivers went their separate ways, expecting to make it home without issue. But when he reached Bothell, the driver saw police lights in his rear-view mirror. “There was never a siren,” he said. “It seemed like they had just silently followed me all the way to Bothell.”

“SPD thinks drivers are somehow involved in organizing the marches or have a hand in what marchers do,” one driver told PubliCola. “Really, when I’m driving, I don’t even know where we’re turning next.”

To his surprise, the officer who approached his window was from the Seattle Police Department. According to the driver, the officer “told me I had three seconds to open my window or he would smash it. I didn’t really have time to react or think. I was still trying to remember where the door handle was when another officer walked up and smashed the window. The funny thing was that my doors were unlocked anyway.”

That night, the driver was booked into the King County Jail for allegedly obstructing a public officer at a protest several days earlier. He was released only a few hours later, but SPD had impounded his car and was waiting for a warrant to search it. Without his cell phone—which SPD had also seized—the driver spent the early hours of Saturday morning searching for some way to make his way to his home in a suburb east of Seattle. “I’ve never been so happy to see a yellow cab,” he said.

The arrest in Bothell was not an isolated incident: between August and mid-October, arrests of Car Brigade members were an almost weekly phenomenon. In total, SPD detained drivers on more than a dozen occasions and impounded 13 drivers’ cars; some, like the driver arrested in Bothell in September, were arrested more than once.

Incident reports and search warrants obtained by PubliCola offer a glimpse at what might lay behind the arrests: A larger SPD investigation into the Car Brigade’s connections to property damage and arson at last summer’s protests, driven by the department’s belief that the volunteer drivers are not good Samaritans, but accomplices who provide cover and support for property damage, arson and other crimes.

Five Car Brigade drivers who spoke to PubliCola believe that SPD has an ulterior motive for the arrests, impoundments and investigation. They describe SPD’s treatment of the Car Brigade as a “scare tactic” intended to punish drivers for protecting marchers, undermine marchers’ safety, and finally bring an end to the nightly marches. And the tactic may be working: drivers say that a dwindling number of drivers are willing to risk losing their vehicles, and potentially face felony charges, in order to protect protesters.

SPD did not respond to questions about specific arrests or the broader investigation, so the details of arrests included in this story reflect the drivers’ own accounts, as well as SPD incident reports.

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The Car Brigade formed earlier this year in the wake of the the July 4 attack on I-5 that killed Summer Taylor and injured Diaz Love. In the weeks that followed, one organizer told PubliCola, marches were flooded with volunteer drivers. “There were 40 or 50 drivers a night,” she recalled, “but it was chaos. The only coordination came from one person running from car to car to relay directions.” The playbook the Car Brigade now uses was the brainchild of a group of former marchers and new volunteers, she said. The team developed nicknames, a weekly driving schedule and an emergency fund to cover gas and window replacements; by August, the Car Brigade was a well-oiled machine.

Over those months, the Car Brigade drivers maintain, their presence at marches has served one purpose. “What we do is protect protesters – that’s the entire reason we’re there,” the driver arrested in Bothell said. Continue reading “Despite Months of Arrests and Impoundments, the Car Brigade Is Still Protecting Seattle Protesters”

Council Staff: Mayor’s Proposals Could Promote “Racism Cloaked in the Language of Anti-Racism and Equity”

Foreshadowing what will likely be a heated debate over Mayor Jenny Durkan’s plan to wall off $100 million in the city budget for future “investments in BIPOC communities” that will be decided by an Equitable Investment Task Force appointed by the mayor, Seattle City Council central staff released an unusually blunt memo last week cataloguing potential issues with the mayor’s plan.

The memo raises two high-level issues with Durkan’s proposal. First, according to the staffers, it duplicates work that the city has already done, perpetuating the city’s practice of asking members of marginalized communities to provide recommendations again and again without ever taking action on those recommendations.

“These different and potentially overlapping processes and funds raise concerns that the Council has expressed in previous years regarding a lack of alignment of efforts around the criminal legal system and insufficient application of racial equity analyses, as well as the challenges of successfully doing anti-racism work in a racist institution,” the memo says.

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Just this year, for example, the mayor has proposed: A new Community Safety Work Group to “integrate community input into policy changes and operationalize community priorities to reshape community safety and policing in Seattle”; a “functional analysis interdepartmental team” (IDT) that would offer advice on “reimagining community safety”; a Joint Community Safety IDT to “advise upon and implement policies to reinvent policing and re-imagine community safety in the City of Seattle by centering the experiences of BIPOC communities”; a Functional IDT to decide how to transfer some functions of SPD, such as 911 dispatch, out of the police department; and the Equitable Investment Task Force, which is supposed to decide how to spend $100 million on “BIPOC communities.”

Those new efforts come on top of ongoing initiatives such as King County Equity Now’s Black Brilliance Project; plans for participatory budgeting in 2021; and $1.1 million the council previously allocated to groups working to create alternatives to the criminal justice system, such as Community Passageways and Creative Justice. Durkan’s 2021 budget would eliminate this funding.

Durkan’s communications director, Kamaria Hightower, said the processes the mayor has proposed are necessary counterweights to the council’s impulse to rush forward and cut the police department without a plan. For example, she said, the interdepartmental teams are necessary to figure out how to restructure the police force in an orderly way. “[T]he Council committed to 50 percent reductions [to SPD] without outlining a comprehensive plan or timeline for steps to reimagine policing and building the right community safety alternatives,” Hightower said.

“While Council may disagree with the Mayor’s timeline or the analysis on 911 calls and staffing, the Mayor thinks this work is critical and that the community should be engaged in the decisions that are being made about safety in the City.” Continue reading “Council Staff: Mayor’s Proposals Could Promote “Racism Cloaked in the Language of Anti-Racism and Equity””

Morning Fizz: Police Attrition, Demands for Resignation, and the Latest on Durkan’s Latest Task Force

Seattle City Council member Tammy Morales, via Flickr.

Fizz is back after a week in the mountains. Thanks to Paul and Josh for holding down the fort!

1. Last week’s city council budget discussions included the revelation that Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposal to spend $100 million annually on unspecified “investments in BIPOC communities” relied on funding the city had already allocated to equitable development in neighborhoods where there’s a high risk of displacement and low access to opportunity—AKA BIPOC communities.

The mayor’s budget plan abandons a commitment made in 2019 to create a Strategic Investment Fund, financed by the sale of the Mercer Megablock property, that was supposed to build “mixed-use and mixed-income development that creates opportunities for housing, affordable commercial and cultural space, public open space, and childcare,” according to Durkan’s 2019 budget.

Fizz predicts that the Equitable Investment Task Force could become 2021’s One Table—a group that reaches consensus around a set of basically uncontroversial proposals while the real budget and policy action happens elsewhere.

Council members suggested last week they may propose reducing Durkan’s $100 million “equitable investment” fund by $30 million to recommit to the plan the city adopted in 2019. “I just think it’s ironic that [the Strategic Investment Fund] is now cut so that we can fund a new program with a new process,” council member Tammy Morales said. “I’m struggling to understand the logic here.”

2. While the council debated whether to whittle down Durkan’s $100 million proposal, the mayor announced the members of a new task force that will discuss how the city should spend the money. Given the council’s lack of enthusiasm for the mayor’s blank-check proposal, Fizz predicts that the Equitable Investment Task Force could become 2021’s One Table—a group that reaches consensus around a set of basically uncontroversial proposals while the real budget and policy action happens elsewhere.

Support PubliCola

PubliCola is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going—and expanding!

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. We’re truly grateful for your support.

One Table, as you may or may not recall, was a task force, spearheaded by Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine, to come up with a regional approach to homelessness. After meeting sporadically for eight months, the group announced a set of recommendations that included rental subsidies, job training, and behavioral-health treatment on demand. None of the recommendations were ever officially implemented. 

3. On Monday, council public safety chair Lisa Herbold added some context to a recent Seattle Police Department announcement that a record number of officers left the department this year. As Paul reported last week, the department reported a loss of 39 officer positions in September, for a total of 110 positions this year, compared to an early projection of 92. Mayor Durkan said the departures showed the need to recruit hire additional officers “committed to reform and community policing.”

But Herbold pointed out that the city council adopted a rebalanced 2020 budget that assumed 30 additional officers would leave this year, for a total of 122 departures—a milestone that SPD has not yet hit, despite the spike in September. (The projection has since been updated to 130 officers by the end of the year.) “One month’s data does not make a trend,” Herbold said. Continue reading “Morning Fizz: Police Attrition, Demands for Resignation, and the Latest on Durkan’s Latest Task Force”

Seattle Police Department Announces Record-Breaking Attrition

by Paul Kiefer

On Friday morning, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office released a new report from the city’s Budget Office and the Seattle Police Department showing a record-breaking number of attritions from SPD in September. In that month alone, 39 officers and officers in training left the department — double the number of officers leaving in the next-highest month on record. Without an end to the ongoing hiring freeze (a part of the city’s COVID-related austerity), SPD and the Budget Office project the department to continue hemorrhaging sworn staff well into 2021, potentially exceeding the staffing cuts proposed by the City Council during the summer.

The pending staff shortage places the department at risk of falling further out of compliance with the conditions of the Federal consent decree, increasing the likelihood that SPD will remain under the supervision of the Department of Justice for years to come. (Federal District Court Judge James Robart, responsible for overseeing Seattle’s consent decree for the Department of Justice, already ruled the city partially out of compliance in 2019).

Dr. Antonio Oftelie, the new court-appointed monitor for the consent decree, told PubliCola that the consent decree required SPD to scale up its staffing to improve specialized investigation units, departmental audits, and use of force reviews. “The specialty units that are required by the consent decree will likely be the first to feel the effects of budget cuts and the loss of offices,” he said. “SPD’s ability to audit itself, its ability to develop policy, its force investigation team and training units are also required by the consent decree and are also put at risk if the department has a massive staffing shortage.”

Continue reading “Seattle Police Department Announces Record-Breaking Attrition”

Next Month, King County Voters Will Decide On the Future of the Sheriff’s Office. Here’s What’s at Stake

by Paul Kiefer

A pair of amendments to the King County charter on the ballot next month open a door for significant reshaping of the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO). The measures have sparked two opposition campaigns — one closely tied to the King County Police Officers’ Guild (KCPOG), which represents sheriff’s officers — that have cast the amendments as radical attacks on law enforcement, while the measures have received limited vocal support from the most prominent local police accountability advocates.

The first amendment, Charter Amendment 5, would make the King County Sheriff an appointed, rather than elected, position. The second, Charter Amendment 6, would grant the King County Council the ability to set the structure and duties of the sheriff rather than relying on the duties specified in the state code. While the amendments’ sponsors, including council members Rod Dembowski and Girmay Zahilay (who wrote a PubliCola op ed supporting it), crafted the ballot measures to stand independently of one another, their practical implications and political significance have bonded the two measures together. In fact, in a July 14th council meeting, council member Claudia Balducci called them the legislative equivalent of a “Reese’s peanut butter cup”: a natural pair.

For their most vocal proponents, namely Dembowski and Zahilay, the amendments are vital steps towards an accountable sheriff’s office with a more appropriate scope of duties and a sheriff that better represents the needs of the King County residents they serve. The opponents of the amendments, including the sheriff’s guild, cast the measures as part of the broader “defund” movement to undermine law enforcement and as a power grab by the executive and the council.

As contemporary as those arguments may seem, they’re part of a longstanding debate in King County. In November, voters will face a choice between two paths for KCSO; both have been tested in the county before, and neither has transformed the department in the ways the amendments’ opponents fear or the ways their champions hope.

Continue reading “Next Month, King County Voters Will Decide On the Future of the Sheriff’s Office. Here’s What’s at Stake”

SPD Debuts New “Community Response Group” To Assist Patrol, Lead Demonstration Response

By Paul Kiefer

On Wednesday afternoon, Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz and two high-ranking officers announced the formation of a new, 100-officer rapid-response unit: the Community Response Group, or CRG. According to Chief Diaz, the CRG is part of a broader effort to address what he calls SPD’s “core mission”— responding to emergency calls. Diaz linked the new unit directly to his earlier decision to move 100 officers from specialized units to patrol, though he said only a few of those 100 officers volunteered to join the CRG.

Diaz said that the CRG is intended to be “a team to address the needs that weren’t tied to the artificial bounds of a precinct,” providing support, for example, to precinct-based patrol officers by responding to the most urgent emergency calls.

The unit will also lead SPD’s protest response; according to Lieutenant John Brooks, one of the two lieutenants who will direct the CRG in the field, the unit has already assumed the role of primary protest responders in the past week. Brooks has frequently been tapped to serve as the incident commander for demonstrations over the past summer, guiding SPD’s strategy during the August 16th protest at the SPOG headquarters in SODO, among others. 

Both Diaz and CRG leader Captain Mike Edwards said the CRG will free up neighborhood patrol officers to do “community engagement” in neighborhoods, and that the team will continue to do “community roll calls” in neighborhoods, allowing them to talk to neighborhood residents and businesses about their concerns. How responsive the CRG will be to community input is unclear: Edwards said “community advisory groups” will be able to relay their concerns and needs to the CRG through local precinct commanders, but he didn’t mention any direct interface between the public and the team’s leadership.

According to Diaz, the CRG will exist at least into 2021. Because the unit is new, advocates for police accountability and abolition had not weighed in on the announcement as of Thursday.

Support PubliCola

PubliCola is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going—and expanding!

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. We’re truly grateful for your support.

As Public Demands for Police Cuts Continue, Parking Enforcement Officers Could Take On Greater Role

Seattle Parking Enforcement Officer (Photo via Seattle Police Department)

By Paul Kiefer

During a public safety budget hearing last Thursday, Seattle City Council public safety committee chair Lisa Herbold suggested a wider role for an agency that’s received relatively little attention during the recent debates about reducing the size and role of the Seattle Police Department: SPD’s Parking Enforcement Unit.

The idea of expanding the role of parking officers to include duties currently performed by armed police comes as the city council deliberates on Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed 2021 budget, which includes only minor cuts to SPD’s budget. At a public hearing Tuesday night, dozens of residents asked the council to amend Durkan’s proposal to defund SPD by at least 50 percent, in line with what protesters and advocates have been demanding for months.  

After raising the issue of overtime spending for SPD staffing at special events, Herbold said she was “grateful to [parking enforcement officers] for signaling their willingness to take on that work.” She pointed to a letter written by the Seattle Parking Enforcement Officers’ Guild to council members expressing interest in expanding their duties to include not only a greater role at special events, but also an array of other roles currently filled by more highly paid sworn SPD officers. As Herbold noted, SPEOG also said that they would prefer to move into the proposed new Department of Public Safety, rather than the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), as Durkan has proposed.

Support PubliCola

PubliCola is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going—and expanding!

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. We’re truly grateful for your support.

The concept of the Department of Public Safety originates in a resolution the council passed in August recommending the creation of a “civilian-led Department of Community Safety & Violence Prevention to remove certain functions from the Seattle Police Department.” However, the absence of any concrete foundations for the department has become a sticking point in the ongoing budget discussions. The budget Durkan transmitted last week limited budget cuts to SPD on the grounds that the city has not yet developed alternatives to police, while the council contended that developing those alternatives will require shifting money from SPD’s budget.

In the letter to council, the parking officers offered to take over array of “services that were formerly provided by sworn SPD officers” ranging from managing red light violations to responding to car prowls, minor accidents, illegally parked RVs and abandoned vehicles. Currently, those types of incidents make up roughly 20 percent of the calls for service to which SPD responds; traffic incidents alone account for nearly 15 percent of all calls. While parking enforcement officers can’t replace SPD at to every traffic- or car-related incident, the guild argues that they can take on a sizable portion of SPD’s workload, which would in turn significantly reduce interactions between civilians and armed police officers.

Union president Nanette Toyoshima, who wrote the letter to council, said Durkan’s proposal to move parking enforcement into SDOT caught her unit off-guard. “We only learned of this potential move through Twitter and a press conference,” Toyoshima said, referring to Mayor Durkan’s July 13 announcement that she intends to move a variety of civilian units out of SPD, including parking enforcement and the 911 call center. “It was a bit of a rude awakening after over 50 years with SPD.”

She said the guild had no complaints about being housed in SPD, but that they were also responsive to the public push to civilianize some roles held by police. “No matter where we’re moved—to a new [public safety] department, to SDOT, or if we stay in SPD —we’re interested in being part of the solution,” she said. Continue reading “As Public Demands for Police Cuts Continue, Parking Enforcement Officers Could Take On Greater Role”

Durkan Unveils 2021 Budget that Uses JumpStart Tax to Fill Shortfall, Fund $100 Million In Unspecified BIPOC Investments

Editor’s note: This is a developing story that will be updated.

In a pre-recorded message complete with swelling background music, multiple backdrops, and B roll from locations around Seattle, Mayor Jenny Durkan unveiled a 2021 budget proposal today that relies heavily, as PubliCola was first to report, on revenues from the JumpStart payroll tax passed by the city council earlier this year. The council expressed its intent to wall off the revenues from the tax for direct COVID-19 relief to Seattle residents in the first two years, and to spend the money in 2022 and beyond on affordable housing, non-housing projects outlined in the Equitable Development Initiative, Green New Deal investments, and small business support. Durkan vetoed the spending plan (the council overturned that veto) and allowed the tax to become law without her signature.

“We’ve balanced the 2021 budget, with a $100 million investment for BIPOC communities,” budget director Ben Noble said at a press briefing this morning, referring to the money the mayor has proposed parking in the city’s “general finance” budget until a Durkan-appointed “equitable development task force” comes up with recommendations for spending the money. (PubliCola was also first to report on the task force). “If we identify a sustainable source for that in 2022 and beyond,” such as a local one-percent income tax, “those resources could be redirected towards the council’s original intent. … Budget priorities for the city have changed, arguably, since that [JumpStart] plan was developed.”

Durkan first proposed spending $100 million on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities last summer, as protesters called on the city to defund the police department. This morning, she argued that it was appropriate to use the payroll tax revenues for this purpose. “Everyone wants to make deep, deep commitments to the BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] communities and investing in those communities,” she said.

“‘Dedicated’ is not really the term used with resolutions,” Durkan continued, referring to the fact that the council’s JumpStart spending plan was not a budget ordinance. “We did everything we could this year to honor the allocations [for COVID relief], and next year we will have a discussion with council to really honor the city’s commitments going forward.”

Durkan’s budget includes a $21.5 million line item for COVID relief in 2021, and $86 million in combined “continuity of service and COVID relief” this year. It’s unclear how that combined $86 million differs from the $86 million that payroll tax sponsor Teresa Mosqueda proposed spending on COVID relief, specifically, this year. The budget presentation notes that the city will also fund COVID-related activities in various departments.

The mayor did not answer specific questions about the future of the city’s Navigation Team, a group of police and social workers that, prior to the pandemic, removed encampments and offered shelter referrals to some of their displaced residents.

From the budget itself, it appears that the work of the existing team will be dispersed among various departments, and that some of the funding for Navigation Team positions (though not necessarily the people themselves) will be moved into a new Safe and Thriving Communities division of the Human Services Department. That division will include staff from the existing Youth and Family Empowerment Division, domestic violence advocates that already work in HSD, and domestic violence victim advocates that would be transferred out of SPD. Some DV advocates have opposed this transfer from SPD, which is a subject I’ll write about in greater detail in a future post.

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PubliCola is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going—and expanding!

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. I’m truly grateful for your support.

All HSD contractors will see their contracts extended at the same levels as 2020, with a small inflationary increase, and will not be subject to the previously required performance reviews that determined whether they would receive fully funding. The decision to extend these contracts is related to the fact that the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which is supposed to take over most of these contracts, has been unable to hire a director on its original time frame, which has pushed the schedule to get the authority up and running further into 2021.

The mayor didn’t dwell much this morning on her Seattle Police Department budget, which she said she will have more to say about in the spring. So far, it includes the reductions she has already announced, which mostly result from transferring items that can be civilianized, such as the 911 call center, into other departments. Durkan vetoed the council’s revised budget in August over the council’s plans to cut the police department by 100 positions, not all of those resulting from layoffs. (That veto was also overturned.)

The $100 million for BIPOC communities is a “blank” item in the budget. The mayor wants that spending to be determined through the work of the task force whose members she will announce this week. At the same time, the city council allocated $3 million to a separate “community research” effort headed up by King County Equity Now; at a press conference yesterday, the group announced that they had already hired dozens of staff and planned to employ more than 130 researchers. (Paul will have more on that story later today.)

Durkan’s plan would keep some parks facilities, including many pools, closed throughout 2021, and would cut back spending on many transportation projects, including bike, pedestrian, and transit infrastructure improvements.

Overall, Durkan’s budget includes about 40 outright layoffs, a number the budget office was able to keep down by drawing down on revenues such as the payroll tax and levy funding, and by reducing the city’s emergency reserves to $5 million next year. The revenue forecast for 2021 is actually less dire than the shortfall that resulted in major budget reductions in the budget the council adopted in August, which just withstood a mayoral veto—the budget office expects the city to take in about $1.7 billion in revenues, including the payroll tax, next year, compared to just $1.4 billion this year. In addition to the general 2020 economic collapse, this year’s shortfall resulted in lower revenues from funding sources that were impacted by COVID, including parks fees, parking taxes, and taxes on real estate transactions. “We do see that there’s hope on the horizon,” Durkan said.

 

 

In Surprise Vote, Seattle City Council Overrides Mayor’s 2020 Budget Veto

This story first appeared in the South Seattle Emerald.

The Seattle City Council voted 7-2 to override Mayor Jenny Durkan’s veto of the 2020 midyear “rebalancing” budget package they adopted in August, setting the stage for a showdown with the mayor in the upcoming 2021 budget discussions, which kick off formally next Tuesday.

The vote essentially reinstates the midyear budget the council passed back in August, after several feverish weeks of work to come up with a proposal that could win a veto-proof council majority. That budget included fairly modest cuts to the Seattle Police Department (a reduction of 100 positions, many achieved through attrition) and investments in community organizations that work to reduce violence and improve community safety, as well as a $3 million down payment on participatory budgeting.

Council members Alex Pedersen (D-4, Northeast Seattle) and Debora Juarez (D-5, North Seattle) voted to sustain the mayor’s veto. Pedersen said he supported most elements of a “compromise” bill that council president Lorena González introduced in case the veto override vote failed, and said he believed that “we get more done in a faster and more sustainable way when we work together.” Juarez, who frequently votes with Pedersen, was the only council member who didn’t offer any public explanation of her vote.

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If you enjoy breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going.

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. I’m truly grateful for your support.

Council members who voted to overturn the mayor’s veto said that community members had made clear that they want the city to reduce police spending and reinvest in community-based programs more quickly than Durkan is willing to move. “There is broad agreement in the community that there is an urgent need to divest [from] the systems that have acted” against the interests of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities, council member Teresa Mosqueda said.

After the vote, King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle, two groups that have been at the virtual council table during their budget discussions, issued a statement applauding the council for its vote and urging them not to backslide during budget negotiations this fall. “It should not take such prolonged, sustained community efforts for this minimal change but we recognize that Council’s move to override the Mayor’s anti-Black veto marks an urgent break from the decades of votes to expand racist policing,” the statement said. “Going forward, we expect Councilmembers to continue to resist the Mayor’s attempts to rewrite legislation that has already passed.  

The mayor immediately denounced the vote. In a statement, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office said Durkan thought she and the council had reached a compromise—the backup “compromise,” which PubliCola described in detail this morning—but that “they chose a different path.”

Votes do have consequences,” the statement continued. “Because of Council’s actions today, the Navigation [T]eam will be eliminated, severely restricting the City’s ability to move people out of homelessness and deal with encampments for the rest of this year. The City will move forward with layoffs for the City staff who are coordinating and helping individuals experiencing homelessness at encampments across the City.” 

The mayor’s statement appears to refer only to the civilian members of the Navigation Team—the field coordinators who manage encampment removals and cleanups, and the three “system navigators” who do direct outreach to people living in encampments. The team also includes 14 police officers, whose positions are subject to bargaining through the Seattle Police Officers Guild.

Durkan has the ability to direct the Human Services Department to lay off these workers, but if she does so unilaterally, without funding alternative outreach strategies and equipping them to succeed, the result could be some level of chaos. The council’s budget didn’t just call for slashing the team—it also directed the mayor to spend the money saved through staffing cuts to expand existing contracts with outreach providers, such as the nonprofit outreach nonprofit REACH, and to transfer the Navigation Team’s outreach function to those providers.

The transition wouldn’t just be a matter of shifting personnel. Currently, the Navigation Team has exclusive access to hundreds of shelter beds, which team members can access through a proprietary program called NavApp. The Human Services Department would need to hand over access to this system to any new outreach provider if it wanted to prevent a disruption in services, and to comply with a council requirement that the team report regularly on referrals and other data.

Of course, the mayor’s statement could be bluster. (Her office did not immediately respond to an email asking if it was). Durkan’s 2021 budget announcement, coming next Tuesday, reportedly includes a proposal to transition the Navigation Team into a smaller group focused on outreach and engagement rather than encampment removals; the new-look Nav Team would also work with encampment residents to reduce their impact on surrounding communities instead of routinely declaring encampments “obstructions” and removing them without notice, according to people familiar with the document. 

Legislation that isn’t signed by the mayor takes 30 days to take effect. Durkan could wait until next week, roll out her proposal, and negotiate a new deal with the council that would keep the Navigation Team in a different form. Or she could stick with her initial statement, start sending out pink slips, and eliminate the changes to the Navigation Team from her budget. The council indicated today that they’re still open to amending the budget they adopted, which is now the official budget for the rest of 2020. The next move will be the mayor’s.

Morning Fizz: Veto Crunch Time, a $100 Million Mystery, and Other Budget News

Council President Lorena González, via
City council president Lorena González, via Youtube

1. Today at its special 3pm meeting, the Seattle City Council will vote on whether to overturn or uphold Mayor Jenny Durkan’s veto of their 2020 “rebalancing” budget package. The council’s version of the budget included modest cuts to the police budget, new spending on a process to reinvest city dollars in alternatives to policing, and the elimination of the Navigation Team, a crew of cops, sanitation workers, and three social workers that until recently removed hundreds of homeless encampments a year.

The mayor actually vetoed three separate bills. Two require a six-vote majority to overturn; the third, which actually appropriates funding for the remainder of 2020, requires seven votes—so seven is the number council members who want to overturn the mayor’s veto will need to shoot for. A vote to overturn all three vetoes would restore the council’s budget. A vote to sustain the veto(es) would lead to a vote on a separate, “compromise” piece of legislation, put forward by council president Lorena González, that would preserve the police department at existing levels, eliminate a loan between city departments that would pay for city and community human services programs, and keep the Navigation Team at current levels while requesting that the Seattle police chief reduce the total size of the team by eliminating two police positions that are already vacant.

On Monday, it looked unlikely that there would be seven votes to overturn the mayor’s veto, although several council members were conspicuously silent during the discussion. Interestingly, González herself tweeted on Monday night that she would vote to overturn the veto, in support of “the work to divest from a broken model of policing.”

A vote for the compromise bill would hand Durkan a significant victory on the eve of her 2021 budget speech next week, and on the threshold of her 2021 reelection campaign. Council members suggested Monday that they believe their hands are tied—if they overturn Durkan’s veto, the mayor can simply ignore any budget provisos that restrict police spending (forcing the council to overturn those provisos so that officers will continue to get their paychecks) and any negotiation with the Seattle Police Officers Guild would probably take three months anyway, pushing the discussions into 2021.

“I think we’re faced with the unfortunate reality that even though we can appropriate money, we can’t compel the mayor to spend the money, and that is sort of the condition we found ourselves in with a lot of these projects around how we’re going to restructure and defund” SPD, District 7 council member Andrew Lewis told PubliCola after the vote.

The consolation prize, to the extent that there is one, consists of $3 million that, according to the legislation, “is intended to be spent on providing non-congregate shelter,” like tiny house villages and the hotel rooms Durkan has resisted funding in response to the COVID-19 crisis. That funding is secured through what council members called a “verbal agreement” with the mayor’s office; Lewis said after the meeting that because the council discussed the agreement publicly, “it’s on record that that’s going to be the understanding of how this is going to work. We are about to [discuss] the 2021 budget and we can make sure this is in there, and we would be fully within our rights to be very indignant about that if there’s not a shared commitment to keeping that deal.”

There’s also $500,000 to be divided among a long list of human service needs, including behavioral health investments, “support[ing] the work of the Navigation Team,” diversion funding, and rapid rehousing funds. The entire half-million would flow through the Navigation Team, even though some of the programs—such as rapid rehousing, a kind of short-term rent subsidy that assumes a person will be able to pay full market rent within a few months—are not really geared toward people experiencing long-term unsheltered homelessness.

Under the compromise bill, the $3 million allocated for research into community-led alternatives to policing in the council’s budget is shrunk to $1 million, with the rest to follow, also apparently by verbal agreement, next year. And there’s $2.5 million for “organizations engaging in community safety,” such as (for example) Choose 180 and Community Passageways.

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2. If the compromise passes, Durkan will also get to keep the Navigation Team at its current level. The future of the team was a major sticking point in the budget negotiations (the other two being whether the council would overturn the veto—which Durkan was adamantly against even if the council immediately adopted a compromise—and cuts to police) and a vote for the compromise bill will only forestall the debate over the fate of the team.

Already, Durkan has reportedly indicated that she plans to keep the team going through 2021, although Lewis—who chairs the council’s special committee on homelessness—says the team’s role, like public safety in general, may be “reimagined.” What that might look like remains unclear, but it could involve renegotiating the terms under which the city can remove encampments, or—as Lewis puts it—”pivoting to more of a coordinating and clearinghouse kind of space to coordinate service providers.”

The council voted unanimously to remove police from the team last month through another budget proviso. The compromise bill also states the council’s “policy intent” to cut five positions from the Navigation Team total; Lewis indicated during the meeting that the additional cuts would come from removing non-SPD staffers from the team.

3. With the 2020 budget almost the rearview mirror, it’s time for Durkan’s 2021 budget proposal, which she will send to the council next Tuesday. The biggest-ticket promised item—”$100 million in community-driven programs for Black youths and adults,” as she put it when she first committed to the funding in June—will also be the hardest to pay for. Durkan has not said publicly where she plans to come up with $100 million in a budget that will have to address ongoing revenue shortfalls in 2021.

Will the money be new revenue—something like a flat income tax, with rebates to low- and middle-income people to get around a court ruling quashing the city’s high-earners’ income tax? Will the revenue come by reallocating funds from a tax that already exists? Or will the mayor use budgetary magic—similar to the math that turned an interdepartmental transfer of 911 call center staff into a huge “cut” to the police department—to conjure $100 million from existing dollars?