Category: Police

Council Funds Police Hiring Compromise, More Delays In Store for Civilian 911 Response, and Sheriff Questions Impact of Hiring Bonuses

1. It’s easy to forget, after the charged backlash election of 2021, that there was a time when the city seemed ready to rapidly replace some police officers with civilian first responders, particularly for low-level crisis calls that are often made far more dangerous by the presence of cops with guns. Since 2020, when protests against police violence galvanized Seattle officials to make pledges to reduce the size of the police force, the city has taken a hard turn toward the rhetoric and policies of an earlier era, one characterized by ever-expanding police budgets and support for law-and-order policies

On Tuesday, the city council’s public safety committee voted to release $1.15 million in unspent funds from the police department’s 2022 budget to help address a level of attrition on the force that several council members described as a crisis. The legislation was a compromise between two proposals by committee chair Lisa Herbold and Councilmember Sara Nelson, who has argued that hiring bonuses (and police spending generally) will help keep Seattle residents safe.

Nelson, who had tried to introduce an ordinance releasing all the money SPD won’t spend this year (about $4.5 million) because the council provided more money for new hires than SPD can spend, said “people are dying” because there aren’t enough police, adding that “our community gatherings” are also “at stake” if the city doesn’t hire more officers quickly.

The compromise measure the council adopted will pay for a new SPD recruiter, relocation expenses for officers moving from elsewhere, an ad campaign to recruit new officers, and a national search for a permanent police chief. Only council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda voted against the plan, arguing that there are other actions the city could take to improve public safety besides a recruitment campaign for police, such as funding shelter and behavioral health services.

2. Mosqueda and most of the current council (though not Nelson) were around in 2020 when the council began discussing ways to replace police with civilian responders for some 911 calls, such as calls about people passed out in public or those experiencing certain kinds of health emergencies. Although the Seattle Fire Department has two Health One units to respond to some medical crisis calls, another response unit called Triage One never got off the ground, thanks in part to a dispute with the firefighters’ union over civilianizing a body of work that has been the job of firefighters.

On Tuesday, SPD data crunchers and Mayor Bruce Harrell’s public safety advisor, Andrew Myerberg, gave the public safety committee an update on the halting progress toward launching an initial pilot program to send civilian responders to certain kinds of calls. Very quickly, though, it became clear that the police department believes that the data the city previously based its support for civilian response—a report by the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, which found that at least 12 percent of all 911 calls could be transferred to civilian responders right away—is misleading and unreliable.

“Whenever we have a presentation like this, it’s like we have no conception of how a major us city can respond to calls differently, but we have a major US city”—Denver, whose STAR team responds to thousands of crisis calls—”and they’ve been responding to these calls for two years.” —City Councilmember Andrew Lewis

“We don’t believe that was a responsible analysis, and they did not taken into account many of the variables that are critically important to safely answer these calls,” SPD chief operating officer Brian Maxey said. In particular, Maxey and SPD senior research scientist Loren Atherley took issue with the fact that the numbers in the NICJR report (called “Nick, Jr.” for short) didn’t include data about how various call types turned out—for example, whether a call for what seemed like a low-acuity health issue resulted in violence.

The SPD researchers said that before the city can move forward with any kind of pilot program, they need to spend months analyzing actual call data and running it through a complex matrix to determine how risky each call type is in practice; then, and only then, will it be safe for SPD to consider letting people other than armed officers respond to some calls. As an example, Atherley said, the NICJR report only identified 300 types of calls; SPD’s analysis, in contrast, shows that the 400,000 or so 911 calls each year break down into 41,900 different categories. “Policing … has been attempting to find an avenue towards a differential response since the late 1950s,” Atherley noted.

Councilmember Andrew Lewis, who since 2020 has been promoting Eugene, Oregon’s CAHOOTS mobile crisis intervention model as something Seattle could try to emulate, asked why the city couldn’t look at other cities that have already moved toward alternative 911 response models and try to learn from them. “Whenever we have a presentation like this, it’s like we have no conception of how a major us city can respond to calls differently, but we have a major US city”—Denver, whose STAR team responds to thousands of crisis calls—”and they’ve been responding to these calls for two years,” Lewis said.

After the meeting, Lewis said he was encouraged that Myerberg, from the mayor’s office, seemed open to a future pilot program that could launch before SPD finishes its data analysis. “One important point Myerberg made was that we’re not going to necessarily have the cadence of this work be based on the police department” and its schedule, Lewis said.

However, Seattle Police Officers Guild president Mike Solan told Q13 FOX this week that he believes any change that would allow non-police officers to respond to 911 calls would be a subject for mandatory bargaining in the new police contract. SPOG is reportedly already playing hardball about other issues in the contract, including any changes that would subject the police to greater oversight.

3. At a King County Council committee meeting Tuesday, King County sheriff nominee Patti Cole-Tindall noted that the sheriff’s office had provided hiring bonuses to 20 new deputies, including four lateral hires, since the beginning of 2022—not nearly enough to outpace the 47 commissioned officers who left involuntarily or resigned after deciding not to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Overall, 98 sheriff’s deputies and professional staff applied for exemptions from the vaccine mandate; most (81) were requests for religious exemptions.

Council member Reagan Dunn, who opposed the vaccine mandate, asked whether the county should do more to fund more bonuses and incentives for new officers. “In terms of the recruiting,” Cole-Tindall responded, “our signing bonus is great, but we know that Everett and Kent offer $30,000. I’m not convinced that that’s what has somebody coming to an agency. I think it’s more about the culture. It’s more about the opportunity. “

Conservative Group With Ties to Assistant City Attorney Launches Pro-Davison Effort; Mayor’s Office Said He Didn’t OK Police Hiring Bill, Contradicting Council Member

1. Change Washington, a “strategic communications organization” launched by a right-wing nonprofit called Project 42 in 2019, has repeatedly provided a platform for the tough-on-crime views of now-assistant city attorney Scott Lindsay (including this evocatively titled promotional piece, “Ann Davison’s Plan to Eliminate Repeat Offenders“). On Wednesday, it issued an explicit call to action on Davison’s (and Lindsay’s) behalf.

“Ann Davison Needs Your Help!” screams the headline above an blog post imploring readers to contact Davison and King County Department of Public Defense director Anita Khandelwal to support banning so-called “high utilizers” of the criminal justice system from Seattle Community Court. The link for Davison is her generic city email address; the link for Khandelwal goes to a listing for her direct phone line, effectively encouraging Davison’s supporters to harass a county employee with no control over Seattle’s community court.

“[T]he Seattle Community Court has already failed regarding these criminals, because if the program was working as intended those serial offenders wouldn’t exist, and Davison’s initiative wouldn’t be necessary,” the blog post says. (All bolds in original).

This isn’t the first time Change Washington has encouraged people to flood officials’ emails and phone lines to support an agenda directly promoted by Deputy City Attorney Lindsay. Dann Mead Smith, who heads up Project 42, credited a post Lindsay wrote on Change Washington’s website with “stopping the proposal to do away with misdemeanor crimes in Seattle by activating its list of 35,000 subscribers and flooding the council with emails and comments.”

As we reported last week, Davison’s office sent a letter to all seven Seattle Municipal Court judges asking them to overrule the community court judge, Damon Shadid, who has been negotiating with Davison’s office over her demand to exclude people from community court who meet her “high utilizers” criteria. Community court is the municipal court’s therapeutic, less-punitive option for people accused of certain low-level, nonviolent misdemeanors.

Davison’s high-utilizers list (like similar lists Lindsay has made over the years, including the “high impact offenders” list that was the basis of KOMO News’ “Seattle Is Dying” video) is made up largely of people who are homeless and those who’ve been through court-ordered evaluations to determine their competency to stand trial. Or, as Change Washington puts it, people who are “not interested in living honest lives like the rest of us even when offered a helping hand to accomplish it.”

Change Washington headlines and stories about Ann Davison and her agenda

This isn’t the first time Change Washington has encouraged people to flood public officials’ emails and phone lines to support an agenda directly promoted by Lindsay. Dann Mead Smith, the former head of the libertarian Washington Policy Center who now heads up Project 42, credited a post Lindsay wrote on Change Washington’s website with “stopping the proposal to do away with misdemeanor crimes in Seattle by activating its list of 35,000 subscribers and flooding the council with emails and comments.” (That proposal would have allowed defendants to say they committed a crime, such as shoplifting, to meet a basic human need as part of their defense; it would not have “legalized” any crimes.) Project 42’s latest corporate filing indicates the group had revenues of more than $500,000 last year.

Change Washington’s post on community court lists all seven municipal court judges’ names along with a warning: “We won’t forget their names when they’re up for reelection. The time of judges flying under the radar with regards to criminal coddling and degrading the City’s public safety is coming to an end.”

It’s possible that conservative groups will recruit challengers for municipal court judges—the entire court is up for reelection, and has a history of liberal-conservative swings—but historically, most Seattle Municipal Court elections go uncontested and largely unnoticed amid higher-profile campaigns in Congressional election years.

2. Earlier this week, Seattle City Councilmember Sara Nelson said both Mayor Bruce Harrell and Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell had given her the “thumbs up” to propose a bill that would lift restrictions on $4.5 million of the Seattle Police Department’s 2022 budget, allowing SPD to spend the full amount, or any portion of it, on financial incentives to recruit new officers. Because we hadn’t heard anything about either Harrell explicitly supporting Nelson’s contentious proposal, we reached out to the mayor’s office to hear their version of the story.

According to a Harrell spokesman, Jamie Housen, both Harrells’ conversations with Nelson about hiring incentives took place “before this ordinance was even contemplated. Councilmember Nelson informed the mayor of her plan to sponsor a resolution in support of staffing bonuses, generally. The mayor let her know she was welcome to put it forward and that doing so would not create an issue with the Mayor’s Office,” Housen said.

“Similarly, when Councilmember Nelson asked to discuss police recruiting with Senior Deputy Mayor Harrell, the Senior Deputy Mayor encouraged her to explore potential solutions to SPD staffing challenges from the legislative level, which might include incentive pay or relocation costs as potential options.”

Herbold, who chairs the public safety committee, has proposed releasing $650,000 of the restricted money to pay for relocation expenses for officers moving to Seattle from out of town and to hire a professional recruiter for SPD.

New Councilmember Sara Nelson at Center of Debates Over Hiring Bonuses, Renter Relief, and Nonbinding Resolutions

1. At a meeting of the Seattle City Council’s public safety committee Tuesday, City Councilmember Sara Nelson continued to push for spending up to $4.5 million on hiring bonuses for new Seattle Police Department recruits and lateral hires. “We need to use every tool in our toolbox to accelerate the hiring of officers,” Nelson said. “If we don’t do this, what else are we going to do?” 

Nelson’s resolution states the council’s intent to lift a budget proviso, or restriction, the council imposed on SPD’s funding last year. That proviso stipulated that if SPD failed to meet its hiring goal of 125 new officers in 2022, they can’t spend the extra money until the council lifts the proviso and allocates the funds to a specific purpose. SPD now projects that it will hire around 98 new officers, leaving between $4.1 million and $4.5 million unspent. 

Although Nelson has proposed using the unspent money to pay bonuses to new recruits, the funds may be needed elsewhere. The city budget office has asked every city department to come up with potential cuts of between 3 and 6 percent of their budgets in anticipation of a budget gap of around $150 million next year. Unspent money from this year, including the $4.5 million left over from SPD’s 2022 hiring budget, could help fill that gap.

Just as debate on her hiring bonus resolution was wrapping up, Nelson attempted to walk on a last-minute addition to the committee agenda. The bill, which committee chair Lisa Herbold’s office confirmed she had not seen, proposed lifting the proviso on the $4.5 million to allow SPD to spend it on unspecified “staffing incentives,” including anything that “accelerates and prioritizes the hiring of police officers,” according to a draft of the bill.

Herbold attempted to cut Nelson off by closing debate, but Nelson interrupted, telling Herbold, “this should be the job of the public safety committee.” Although Herbold shut her down by moving on to the next item, the debate over hiring incentives isn’t over; in fact, Nelson has made it a cornerstone of her agenda, arguing that the only way to reduce crime and cut down on “addiction and overdoses” is to hire more police, and the best way to do that is through hiring bonuses. 

The city has consistently found that hiring incentives have no significant impact on the number of new officers SPD hires. Last month, the Seattle Department of Human Resources Department issued a memo concluding that a short-lived 2021 hiring bonus program had little impact on hiring, and an earlier report about a lengthier bonus program in 2019 found that only 18 percent of SPD applicants cited the potential bonus as one of the reasons they applied. 

Mayor Bruce Harrell has not requested funding for hiring bonuses.

A separate bill, sponsored by Herbold, would provide $650,000 out of the provisoed funds for two items the mayor’s office has requested: Reimbursement for moving expenses for new officers and a professional recruiter for the department.

Both Sara Nelson and Alex Pedersen left the online council meeting immediately before the vote—the equivalent of standing up in the middle of a council meeting and marching out of chambers

2. Less than two hours after the public safety meeting ended, Nelson raised objections to several bills on the full council’s afternoon agenda, including legislation updating the city’s renter protections to comply with state law, which she argued would hurt small landlords. (Even Alex Pedersen, who’s with Nelson on the “naturally occurring affordable housing” debate, voted for that one).

Nelson also objected to a nonbinding resolution by Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda condemning a federal pilot program critics call a first step toward privatizing Medicare. Accusing Mosqueda of “legislating by slogan,” Nelson she didn’t have enough information on how the pilot would affect “our constituents, and that’s who I represent—I don’t represent advocates or medical service providers.” 

Council members will soon take up legislation that will allow them to abstain from some resolutions that aren’t directly connected to city business, but for now, council rules require them to cast a vote. To avoid this, both Nelson and Pedersen left the online meeting immediately before the vote—the equivalent of standing up in the middle of a council meeting and marching out of chambers.

Although this action technically violates the council’s rules, violations are hard to enforce—back when council meetings happened in person, certain council members were notorious for taking bathroom breaks just before big, controversial votes. After the resolution passed 6-0 (with Kshama Sawant excused from the meeting), Councilmember Dan Strauss took a moment to thank a legislative aide who is leaving. “I’m sorry Councilmembers Nelson and Pedersen aren’t here to hear this,” Strauss said.

Police Accountability Office Dismissed Widespread Mask Violations as “Cultural Issue”

Photo by Adam Cohn on Flickr; Creative Commons license

By Erica C. Barnett

A new report from the Seattle Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that the Office of Police Accountability, which investigates allegations of officer misconduct, routinely dismissed complaints from the public about officers refusing to wear masks as required, viewing noncompliance as a “cultural problem” rather than individual insubordination. A spokeswoman for the OPA said the office “does not investigate systemic issues, which are the sole purview of the OIG.”

The OPA did not sustain (uphold) any of the 98 complaints the OIG reviewed about officers ignoring the mask mandate. These complaints included a highly publicized incident in which an officer refused to wear a mask inside a hospital; that officer was disciplined for violating SPD’s professionalism policies, but the OPA said mask noncompliance was a “systemic issue that needs to be remedied” by the department, not a matter for individual discipline.

The report also found that SPD supervisors rarely disciplined officers even for third, fourth, and fifth violations of the mask mandate, using “supervisor actions” (training or coaching by a supervisor, usually reserved for minor policy violations) in lieu of formal discipline.

“Director Myerberg explained that he perceived the mask non-compliance as indicative of a serious culture issue within SPD and stated that it was not sustainable for OPA to be the ‘thought police’ of the Department.”—Inspector General report on widespread mask violations at SPD

The OPA spokeswoman declined to comment on the OIG’s conclusions.

“I think what you see with the frustration expressed by OPA and the tone of this report is an acknowledgement that such widespread non-compliance with policy, and even direct orders, can’t be adequately addressed by piecemeal, individual discipline or external policy recommendations,” Inspector General Lisa Judge told PubliCola. “Issues like this that have a strong underlying cultural or philosophical root require action on the part of leadership to shift that culture to change behavior.”

According to the report, both the OPA and SPD treated officers’ refusal to comply with mask mandates as a “minor nondisciplinary issue,” even after the state Department of Labor and Industries penalized the department on two separate occasions for “serious” violations of state law requiring work sites to be “free from recognized hazards that are causing, or are likely to cause, serious injury or death.”

For the first violation, from February 2021, L&I fined SPD $5,400 and outlined a course of disciplinary action, including progressive discipline (discipline that becomes more severe with additional violations) for officers cited for failing to follow mask rules more than twice. L&I ultimately closed that complaint because officers were using various tactics to slow down disciplinary proceedings against them, making it harder for the OPA to investigate and punish officers who wouldn’t wear mask.

L&I’s second citation, from July 2021, involved multiple complaints that officers weren’t wearing masks while responding to public demonstrations. Although the agency couldn’t interview any of the officers involved in this second complaint because they were all on furlough or refused to cooperate, L&I issued a $12,000 fine.

According to the report, then-OPA director Andrew Myerberg, now a public-safety advisor to Mayor Bruce Harrell, “noted that it seemed procedurally unjust to sustain an insubordination allegation against an individual officer when others higher in the chain of command might also not be wearing masks.

“Director Myerberg stated that no one in headquarters wore masks and related that someone had sent OPA a photo of multiple lieutenants, captains, and chiefs celebrating an event at headquarters without any masks. Director Myerberg explained that he perceived the mask non-compliance as indicative of a serious culture issue within SPD and stated that it was not sustainable for OPA to be the ‘thought police’ of the Department.” Continue reading “Police Accountability Office Dismissed Widespread Mask Violations as “Cultural Issue””

Downtown Seattle Could Get Storefront Police Precinct, Finalist for Sheriff Would Have to Go Back to Police Academy if Appointed

1. The Seattle Police Department could open a “mini precinct” in a storefront owned by the Low Income Housing Institute on Third Avenue downtown, and is also considering a second location at LIHI’s Frye Apartments in Pioneer Square, Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office and LIHI director Sharon Lee confirmed.

The Third Avenue storefront, a short-lived Shake n Shake location, is on the ground floor of LIHI’s Glen Hotel Apartments, a single-room occupancy low-income housing building. Before the pandemic, the block was home to a Kress IGA grocery store and a TJ Maxx discount store, but both shut down in 2020, leaving most of the block without a tenant to attract foot traffic. The site is one block from Third and Pine, a locus of the recent crackdown on street-level crime known as Operation New Day. According to Lee, the “illegal market activity” has gotten worse since police swept Third and Pine, as drug dealers and people selling shoplifted items moved to nearby locations.

Lee said people have broken in to the apartment building and slept, urinated, and defecated in the hallways and stairwells. “The residents upstairs are scared to come out at night; they’re scared to walk around the neighborhood,” Lee said. “So we decided to offer the city the use of the space as a place where community service officers or bike officers can use it to park their bikes, take a restroom break, write up reports, and keep an eye on the street.”

LIHI would provide the space to SPD at a “nominal” cost, Lee said.

The Frye Apartments, located across the street from Prefontaine Fountain and fenced-off City Hall Park, used to have a mini-precinct on the first floor, Lee said, but the space was occupied until recently by Aladdin Bail Bonds.

A spokesman for Harrell, Jamie Housen, said the mayor’s office “is in early stages of considering what a neighborhood precinct could look like. We are continuing to explore all options for enhancing public safety downtown, including a more permanent police presence.” The two LIHI buildings “have been offered as potential options, but are by no means the only locations being considered,” Housen said.
A spokesman for the Downtown Seattle Association said the DSA would welcome a permanent police presence downtown.“As we’ve seen over the past month, dedicated resources along Third Avenue have led to a safer, more welcoming environment. Sustaining this effort is essential for the people who live and work along Third, and it’s critical as more workers and visitors return to the heart of the city. … If a mini-precinct is an element that will help enhance safety, then it should be welcomed,” the spokesman said.

2. Interim King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall, one of three finalists for the permanent sheriff position, would have to attend the state’s 19-week-long police academy and be certified by the state Criminal Justice Training Commission if she’s selected and confirmed as sheriff; during that time, an undersheriff chosen by Cole-Tindall would serve as sheriff, King County Executive Dow Constantine’s office confirmed.

Cole-Tindall, 57, mentioned the requirement during an interview with members of the press on Tuesday. Although Cole-Tindall attended the state’s Basic Law Enforcement Academy decades ago and is a commissioned officer, she spent most of her career outside of law enforcement, working as an investigator for the state Employment Security Division and the county’s labor relations director before joining the sheriff’s office as head of the Technical Services Division, which oversees a miscellany of operations, including courthouse security, the automated fingerprint ID system, and the county’s 911 system.

“[When] I went through [the police academy] 30 years ago, I was 30 years younger,” Cole-Tindall said. “And it’s a lot… It’s doing firearms, Taser, traffic stops—things that, as a police administrator, are not things I would be using on my day to day job.” Cole-Tindall said she would also have to pass a physical assessment test that includes “pushups, sit-ups, and squat thrusts” before entering the academy.

A spokesman for King County Executive Dow Constantine said that when the county has a permanent sheriff but the sheriff is unavailable, an undersheriff assumes the job. Although Cole-Tindall appointed Jesse Anderson as interim undersheriff when she became interim sheriff earlier this year, she could appoint a different undersheriff if she becomes permanent sheriff, and that person would then serve as sheriff in her absence.

Constantine will nominate a permanent sheriff in early May. The other finalists are Maj. Reginald Moorman from the Atlanta Police Department and Killeen, Texas police chief Charles Kimble.

Report Shows Ongoing Racial Disparities in Use of Force, Sparking Criticism and Questions About Future of Consent Decree

By Erica C. Barnett

A review of the Seattle Police Department’s use of force over the last three years, released by the federal monitor who oversees the consent decree over the department, found that despite a decline in the use of all levels of force, officers remain far more likely to use force against Black and Native American people than white suspects, and that Black people were most likely to experience the most serious type of force, which includes shootings by police. Thirty-six percent of use of force incidents involved Black individuals, who make up just over 7 percent of Seattle’s population.

Between 2019 and 2021, SPD officers used the highest level of force (known as Type 3 force) against 15 Black people, compared to 15 white people and 15 whose race officers listed as “unknown.” Overall, the race of nearly one third of all use-of-force subjects (and more than half of the people police used force against during the summer 2020 protests) was recorded as “unknown” (compared to 9 percent of people arrested overall), making it hard to draw clear conclusions about the true extent of racial disproportionality in use of force. This data gap could simply mean “a box wasn’t checked,” Oftelie said during a public meeting about the report Tuesday night, or it could be “something a bit deeper and more culturally nefarious, like officers have not wanted to check that box… in order to avoid repercussions” related to racial bias.

At Tuesday’s meeting, community members, including members of the city’s Human Rights Commission and a staffer for City Councilmember Alex Pedersen, raised questions about the report’s conclusions and how they’ll be incorporated into upcoming negotiations with the city’s largest police union, the Seattle Police Officers Guild. Malik Davis, a staffer for Pedersen, expressed frustration about the secrecy surrounding contract negotiations, noting that SPOG’s 2018 contract, which invalidated major elements of the city’s landmark 2017 police accountability ordinance, was the reason the federal judge overseeing the consent decree, James Robart, ruled the city partly out of compliance with the agreement the following year.

Oftelie is expected to recommend a path toward ending the consent agreement later this spring.

Meanwhile, the city’s Human Rights Commission, which is not one of the city’s official “accountability partners,” is seeking amicus status on the consent decree in order to share “the stories and solutions of our residents and community stakeholders most affected,” according to an SHRC press release. “In simple terms, the amicus status will enable the Commission to be a ‘friend of the court’ and have the ability to petition the court for permission to submit a brief in support of our neesd for continuous police accountability,” the SHRC wrote.

Two members of the city’s Community Police Commission, which does have amicus status with the court, said Tuesday night that amicus status does not give them carte blanche to “petition the court” or communicate with Judge Robart directly; it does allow them to “file on on the city’s brief, like we did in 2020 when the city tried to come out from under the consent decree,” CPC member Rev. Harriett Walden said. Continue reading “Report Shows Ongoing Racial Disparities in Use of Force, Sparking Criticism and Questions About Future of Consent Decree”

Hiring Bonuses Don’t “Compensate” for Other Issues Impacting City Worker Retention; Bright Economic Forecast Won’t Zero Out Budget Gap

1. During a briefing at the city council’s public safety committee about the city’s struggle to retain qualified staff in every department, City Councilmember Sara Nelson suggested there is no need to “study the benefit of [hiring] incentives” for police, “because it’s been shown to work in other cities—pretty much most if not all cities in our region.” With public safety “such a crucial issue right now,” Nelson continued, “this is something that doesn’t need a lot more study.”

Nelson, whose legislation to fund hiring bonuses will come before the same committee later this month, was responding to a presentation by the city’s Human Resources Department about a survey that concluded the biggest barrier to retention for most city staffers is the city’s 32-year-old job classification system, which creates artificial barriers to advancement for many city workers. 

Her comments elicited immediate pushback from other council members, including committee chair Lisa Herbold, who pointed out that recent short-lived hiring bonuses did not lead to more applicants for police jobs, although they did get people to apply for jobs at the city’s new 911 call center. (After the city offered hiring bonuses for new SPD recruits in 2019, slightly fewer than one in five applicants said the hiring bonus was one factor in their decision to apply). Councilmember Andrew Lewis asked, semi-rhetorically, whether there was any city in the country that wasn’t currently struggling to retain officers right now. And Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda went further, apologizing to SDHR’s Keith Gulley “on behalf of the council” because “the work that you’ve done was impugned” by Nelson.

So, about that work: SDHR’s analysis found that, in general, hiring incentives serve as “a one-time quick fix that may not compensate for uncompetitive wages, difficult or unsupported work conditions, lack of opportunity to develop career relevance, experience and skills, and limited promotion opportunities” at the city, Gulley said. Additionally, signing bonuses for new hires can hurt the morale of existing employees who “feel undervalued and underappreciated” because they’re doing the same work with no extra reward.”

The hardest jobs to fill, according to the department’s survey, include carpenters, plumbers, and truck drivers as well as IT programmers, senior civil engineers, and public safety auditors. 

The shortcomings of the city’s job classification system are especially troubling for mid-career employees, who frequently get stuck in mid-level positions because they lack a requirement, such as a graduate degree or specific college credits, to move up the ranks. Gulley gave the example of an accountant who had been at the city for more than 15 years but got stuck on the ladder because she hadn’t taken 24 hours of required coursework back in college. “That’s where the majority of our employees who have worked for the city for years get stuck,” Gulley said.

Of three possible scenarios, the city is using “baseline” assumptions in its forecast.

2. An economic forecast released by the city’s Economic and Revenue Council last week predicts the city will take in about $90 million more in taxes and fees this year than a similar forecast predicted six months ago, thanks to higher-than-expected revenues from sales taxes, the JumpStart payroll tax, and the tax on real estate sales.

In all, the city expects to collect about $711 million in general-fund revenues, which fund the city’s annual budget, in 2022—a 5.6 percent increase over 2021. The forecast also predicts the city will take in about $447 million in other taxes and fees that can only be spent on specific purposes, including taxes on real estate sales, which fund capital projects. Next year, the city predicts that revenues will continue to grow, but at a slightly slower rate.

In a press briefing last week, ERC director Ben Noble cautioned that the actual value of city tax dollars—the bang the city can get for its buck—will be reduced this year because of high inflation. And he noted that job growth has been distributed unequally: While tech and other white-collar jobs have more than bounced back, hiring in hotels and the hospitality industry, as well as manufacturing, is still far below pre-pandemic levels. Continue reading “Hiring Bonuses Don’t “Compensate” for Other Issues Impacting City Worker Retention; Bright Economic Forecast Won’t Zero Out Budget Gap”

A Month After “Operation New Day” Crackdown, Impacts on Crime Remain Unclear

The Seattle Police Department’s Mobile Precinct on Third Avenue in downtown Seattle.

By Paul Kiefer

A month has passed since the Seattle Police Department moved its mobile precinct to the intersection of Third Ave. and Pine St. in downtown Seattle, scattering an open-air market for drugs and stolen merchandise that had recently been the scene of two murders.

SPD has maintained a presence at the intersection since then as part of a push to crack down on crime downtown called Operation New Day, mostly making arrests for shoplifting and other misdemeanor crimes. Unlike a similar crackdown in the Little Saigon neighborhood in February, there have been few felony arrests in the long-troubled area. Meanwhile, the social services that Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said would follow the sweep at Third and Pine are still on hold.

Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell says that the relative scarcity of felony arrests doesn’t tell the full story. “Felonies take a while—you’ve got to build those cases,” she said. Unlike at 12th Ave. and S. Jackson St. in Little Saigon, where federal law enforcement began investigating a similar illicit market and a pattern of EBT fraud long before SPD cleared the intersection, Harrell said the sweep of Third and Pine was a direct response to the shootings on February 27 and March 2 that killed 52-year-old Reno Maiava and 15-year-old Michael Del Bianco, respectively. SPD later arrested suspects in both shootings, though neither arrest took place on Third; officers tracked Maiava’s killer to a Tukwila motel, while Del Bianco’s killer turned himself in at SPD’s West Precinct.

Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell disputes that the sweeps in the downtown core fueled an increase in violence elsewhere. “People’s perceptions and urban myths are not always fact,” she said.

Harrell added that while SPD is still working with federal partners to make drug arrests in the area, the investigations require patience. “We’re not trying to get the low-level dealers,” she said. “We’re trying to get the folks who are a little further up the food chain, and you can’t put that on a calendar.”

Judges have already released many of the people arrested at both Third and Pine and 12th and Jackson; one man released by a King County Superior Court judge after his arrest in Little Saigon reappeared along Third, where SPD officers arrested him again for drug possession and carrying a gun illegally. According to Harrell, the repeat arrests have frustrated some prosecutors. “What I’m hearing from prosecutors is that they’re making their best cases and their strongest recommendations” to judges, she said, “and sometimes they’re feeling unheard.”

According to US Attorney Nick Brown, finding a “high-level” drug dealer at an intersection like Third and Pine—or at any of the encampments in greater downtown that SPD has swept in the past two months—is unlikely. Most of the dealers whose crimes could rise to the federal level, he says, “are, in fact, not Washingtonians. … Most of the people we identify as significant in those cases are not even in Seattle; many are in Mexico or California. Those that are here only come for a short period of time.” Brown’s office has the discretion to decide which cases rise to the federal level; the King County Prosecutor’s Office handles the vast majority of felony cases. So far, Brown’s office has taken four cases from the crackdowns in Little Saigon and along Third Ave.

In the view of some skeptics of the operation, most of the behavior drawing negative attention at Third and Pine doesn’t rise to the felony level. “Most of what people complain about aren’t felonies,” said Kevin Toth, a social worker with the King County Department of Public Defense. “Drug dealing, sure. Robberies, shootings, also, yes. But most of the atmosphere down there is the result of lawful behaviors or misdemeanors at worst.”

Meanwhile, the operation at Third and Pine has re-opened the direct line between police officers and the Public Defender Association-run program LEAD, the city’s primary diversion option for people who commit crimes related to behavioral health issues or extreme poverty. LEAD’s early model relied on referrals from arresting officers—so-called “arrest diversions”—but in the past two years, the program shifted focus, relying instead on community groups, business organizations, outreach workers and prosecutors to refer clients for diversion. Community referrals don’t create an arrest record—one reason the program began shifting away from arrest diversions to begin with.

However, according to LEAD project director Tara Moss, that trend is reversing. “We’re now seeing the current mayor’s office and SPD leadership break the logjam and start sending LEAD referrals again” after a two-year pause on arrest referrals, she said. In 2021, LEAD received one arrest diversions; this year, the program has received eight arrest diversions. Moss also noted that while the program currently has some “capacity issues” as a result of a new wave of referrals, she anticipates that LEAD will be able to take on more clients later this year.

Since officers haven’t done arrest diversions in years, Harrell said, SPD is currently retraining officers on how to engage with LEAD and introducing officers hired in the past two years to the program for the first time.

SPD did not arrest everyone at the open-air market on Third and Pine; some scattered to nearby corners, to Pioneer Square, or to other parts of the city. V, an organizer with the drug user solidarity group DUST, says that dispersing people—many of them unhoused—across the city by sweeping corners like Third and Pine can create tension in the places where those people land. “[It] puts a strain on the homeless people in each neighborhood because the service providers there have limited capacity,” they said.  Newcomers can trigger conflicts, V added, that can escalate into violence.

The weeks following SPD’s clearance of Third and Pine have not been peaceful. Eighteen people were shot or stabbed in the past month or so, most of them in or near encampments; in response to some of those shootings, the city cleared encampments in Chinatown, Little Saigon, and the University District. But Harrell disputes that the sweeps in the downtown core fueled an increase in violence elsewhere. “People’s perceptions and urban myths are not always fact,” she said. In Ballard, for instance—the site of two shootings, one of them fatal, in the past month—the deputy mayor said that a pattern of gun violence long predates the crackdowns in downtown Seattle. Continue reading “A Month After “Operation New Day” Crackdown, Impacts on Crime Remain Unclear”

Sheriff Finalists Announced; Sound Transit Moves to Reinstate Fare Enforcement, but Staffing Challenges Remain

1. King County Executive Dow Constantine announced three finalists for King County sheriff on Thursday: Charles Kimble, chief of the Killeen, Texas Police Department; Reginald Moorman, a major in the Atlanta Police Department; and King County’s current interim sheriff, Patti Cole-Tindall.

The next sheriff will be the first to be appointed to the office by the county executive since 1996, when voters made the sheriff an elected position. County voters passed a charter amendment reversing that decision in 2020, making the sheriff’s office an appointed position once again—a move supported by many police accountability advocates, who criticized former sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht for her handling of multiple high-profile shootings by sheriff’s deputies. Johanknecht didn’t seek the appointment.

Before joining the sheriff’s office in 2015, Cole-Tindall served as the director of the county’s labor relations unit and as interim director of the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight, an independent agency that investigates misconduct and systemic problems in the sheriff’s office. A graduate of Central Washington University, Cole-Tindall began her career in law enforcement as a special agent with the Washington State Gambling Commission in 1991.

Reginald Moorman joined the Atlanta Police Department as a beat officer in 2001; he later served as the deputy director of a regional drug enforcement task force and as the commander of the department’s community-oriented policing, major crimes and airport security sections. Moorman is currently a precinct commander and adjunct professor in the criminal justice department at his alma mater, Georgia State University.

Charles Kimble spent most of his 25 years in law enforcement in North Carolina, including as the deputy police chief in Fayetteville and as the police chief in the smaller town of Spring Lake, both adjacent to Fort Bragg. He took over as police chief in Killeen, a small city near Fort Hood, in 2017; three years later, his department faced a lawsuit after Killeen police officers shot and killed a man while serving a no-knock warrant. Kimble is a US Army veteran and holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Liberty University, a Christian university in Virginia founded by evangelist Jerry Falwell Sr.

In the final stage of the selection process, the three finalists will meet with community, labor and municipal representatives from King County and take part in a series of public forums. Constantine plans to make a decision by early May, after which the King County Council will begin the confirmation process; the next permanent sheriff will likely take office by this summer.

2. The Sound Transit board’s executive committee approved a new fare enforcement policy on Thursday that brings back fines, court involvement, and the possibility of collections for riders who fail to pay fines for nonpayment. The policy still has to be adopted by the full Sound Transit board; as we reported Wednesday, board member Joe McDermott, a King County Council member, plans to introduce amendments that would take fare nonpayment out of the court system and would remove the possibility of collections.

Board members voted unanimously for the changes, which come after more than two years of debate over how to balance the need to collect fares (which currently fund about 5 percent of Sound Transit’s budget) with pressure to eliminate punitive policies that disproportionately target Black riders. During the pandemic, Sound Transit has experimented with various approaches, ranging from traditional fare enforcement to a pilot “fare ambassador” program in which non-uniformed staffers checked fares and provided information about low-income transit pass options, but did not issue tickets. Currently, according to a Sound Transit staff presentation, about 40 percent of riders do not pay the required fare.

Before voting for the changes, several board members expressed their opinion that the new fare policy—which provides several opportunities to resolve unpaid fares before fining riders, and eliminates the option of trespassing riders from the system—doesn’t go far enough to punish riders who fail to pay.

“When we’re thinking about equity, I also think about the equity of who’s paying for this system,” said board member (and Everett Mayor) Cassie Franklin. “Riders do need to pay for the system they’re using, because we have a lot of non-riders paying for the system right now. And I think that I fear that compliance will get worse, not better, with this current policy.” Franklin said she would like to change the policy in the future to start fining riders immediately after a second warning, rather than allowing them to avoid fines with alternatives like loading money onto a transit pass or attending a Sound Transit focus group.

Board member (and Pierce County Executive) Bruce Dammeier, who recently called Sound Transit trains “unsanitary and unsafe” and said he would not ride them, called the new policy “a little soft” on nonpaying riders, and said he would like to revisit the policy in six months “to determine what’s worked and what has not.”

3. In a separate meeting Thursday, Sound Transit’s Rider Experience and Operations Committee voted to continue the “fare ambassador” program and expand the fare ambassadors’ role to include fare enforcement, which the agency has renamed “fare compliance.” The proposal the committee adopted adds $1.3 million to the transit agency’s 2022 budget to hire up to 56 fare ambassadors this year.

That number could be optimistic. Sound Transit has struggled to hire fare ambassadors throughout the pilot period, which began in mid-September of last year. According to a Sound Transit spokesman, the agency had hoped to begin the program with 26 ambassadors , “but only 23 stayed on when we launched,”and the number of ambassadors “started declining from there.” Currently, there are 14 fare ambassadors, including supervisors, and 12 vacant positions.

According to a staff presentation at Thursday’s meeting, at current staffing levels, riders encounter a fare ambassador about 3 percent of the time; if the program was fully staffed, riders could expect to have their fare checked on one out of every three trips, the staffer said.

—Paul Kiefer, Erica C. Barnett

Professionalism Complaints Make Up Largest Number of SPD Misconduct Allegations

By Paul Kiefer

An annual report by Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA) released on Tuesday contained a revealing statistic: Of the nearly 1,500 misconduct allegations brought against Seattle police officers last year, the largest number—more than 20 percent—involved unprofessional behavior. In one well-publicized case, an officer refused to wear a mask inside Harborview Medical Center; in another, an officer referred to a trans protester as “that.”

The Seattle Police Department’s professionalism standards are broad, so unprofessional conduct can include anything from insulting a member of the public to covering up mistakes. Consequences for unprofessional behavior are generally light, typically ranging from “training referrals”—often a conversation with an officers’ supervisor—to written reprimands that appear on an officer’s permanent record. In certain cases, the OPA can resolve complaints quickly through a process called “rapid adjudication”; however, the OPA did not resolve any complaints through rapid adjudication in 2021.

While a federal court has tracked SPD’s progress toward reducing racially biased policing and excessive force for the past decade, professionalism issues have not sparked similar scrutiny. Recent OPA data suggests that officers accused of violating SPD’s professionalism standards are more likely to be disciplined—more than half of the misconduct cases the OPA sustained since January involved unprofessional behavior—but in reviews of SPD practices by accountability agencies, professionalism concerns draw only brief attention. The Office of the Inspector General’s most recent assessment of SPD’s protest response in 2020, for instance, suggested that “SPD officers should eliminate their use of sarcasm or confrontational dialogue with protesters” but made no other mentions of unprofessional behavior.

Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who chairs the council’s public safety committee, told PubliCola that professionalism issues within SPD aren’t new, though the OPA’s recent policy recommendations for SPD generally have not addressed those problems.

Some accountability advocates say that although systemic reviews of SPD pay relatively little attention to professionalism complaints, disrespectful or unprofessional treatment of the public by police officers still matters. “The issue of professionalism and the police force cuts to the heart of culture change,” said Leslie Cushman, a spokesperson for the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability. “Disrespect is disregard, it is dehumanizing, and it is thumbing their nose.” Continue reading “Professionalism Complaints Make Up Largest Number of SPD Misconduct Allegations”