Tag: alternatives to policing

Fizz: One in Six Officers Were on Extended Leave Last Year; City Agrees to Alternative Responder “Pilot”; Council Moves Police Hiring Bonuses Forward

1. The City Council’s public safety committee voted 4-1, with Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda voting “no,” to approve a package of police recruitment and hiring incentives that will include hiring bonuses of up to $30,000, four new recruitment-related positions (a recruitment manager, two recruiters, and an administrative staffer), and $150,000 to search for a new chief of police.

Sara Nelson, Alex Pedersen, Andrew Lewis, and committee chair Lisa Herbold voted for the legislation, originally proposed by Mayor Bruce Harrell.

According to a staff analysis, the hiring bonuses alone—$7,500 for new recruits and $30,000 for trained officers who transfer from other police departments departments—will cost around $3.8 million over four years, including around $1.5 million in 2022, $289,000 of that for the hiring incentives alone.

Before voting against the plan, Mosqueda noted that studies have consistently found that financial incentives have little impact on recruitment and retention, and have the potential to harm morale among officers working alongside newcomers recruited with large up-front payments. “What they’ve said is what they need is not additional money, but a place to bring people” in crisis, Mosqueda said. “A PR firm for SPD won’t help that. A hiring incentive approach won’t help that. Marketing won’t help that. [And] $150,000 for a police chief search won’t help that.”

The full council will vote on (and likely pass) the legislation next Monday.

2. Tuesday’s meeting also gave the council a look at SPD’s 2022 budget and staffing levels. Although the department lost 109 officers due to “separations” (resignations and retirements) in the first half of the year—significantly more than either SPD or council staff projected—there may actually be more officers on the streets by the end of 2022 than there were in 2021.

That’s because an unusually high number of officers went on extended leave starting immediately after the protests against police violence in summer 2020. Many more officers joined them after the city instituted its vaccine mandate in October 2021. Although these signposts are only indicators—SPD doesn’t provide information about why officers go on leave—the spikes in the chart correspond closely to those two events.

Historically, between 30 and 70 officers (out of a force that numbered close to 1,400) would be on extended leave at any given time; at the end of 2019, for example, 49 officers were on extended leave and unavailable for service. Typically, officers on extended leave are burning up their paid leave before they retire, since they can’t cash it out; after the vaccine mandate went into effect, some officers who did not want to get vaccinated went on leave as well. The numbers don’t include officers who are on administrative leave related to misconduct allegations.

After the city’s vaccine mandate took effect, 181 officers, or 16 percent of the police force, were out on extended leave.

The number of officers on extended grew slightly through the first half of 2020, in the early days of the COVID pandemic—a time when SPD was reluctant to grant leave to first responders. That number exploded in the months that followed the protests, nearly tripling between March and the end of 2020, when 137 officers were out on extended leave—more than 10 percent of the force. The number shrunk slightly, then exploded again, to 181, in the fall of 2021, after the vaccine mandate took effect. During that period, 181 officers, or 16 percent of the entire police force, were out on extended leave.

Since then, the gap has begun to close as some of those officers return to work after long periods off, at least temporarily offsetting losses from officers leaving the force.

A reduction in the number of police officers doesn’t translate to savings on a one-to-one basis, for a couple of reasons: Each officer who leaves SPD gets separation pay, which comes out of the budget, and fewer officers generally translates into more overtime costs. Currently, the city has paid out two-thirds of all the separation pay it budgeted for this year, and that only accounts for officers who left through the end of May. SPD is also spending more than anticipated on overtime, including patrol hours and staffing outside events; currently, the department is on track to go between $2 million and $3 million over its budget for 2022.

The department has been reluctant to scale back staffing at events like Mariners and Seahawks games, where officers direct traffic and provide security. At Tuesday’s meeting, Police Chief Adrian Diaz said SPD has “had to say no to many special events” because of understaffing and the need to dedicate officers to “emphasis patrol” areas like Third and Pine downtown and 12th and Jackson in the International District.

3. The discussion about overtime bled into a conversation about alternatives to policing—an issue Lewis has begun bringing up at nearly every SPD-related briefing. The basic question: After promising for more than two years to transfer some responsibilities, such as responding to low-risk 911 calls, into civilian hands, why has Seattle fallen so far behind other cities like Albuquerque, Denver, and Houston?

SPD, as we’ve reported, has argued that it needs to do a complex risk analysis before relinquishing control over any of the calls it currently handles, and Harrell’s office has generally concurred, laying out a lengthy timeline that could result in a transfer of some call types some time in 2024.

However, in the city’s latest quarterly report to the monitor overseeing the federal consent decree with SPD, the city attorney’s office reported that the city, “in the short term, will explore and execute potential pilot programs for diversified 911 response systems, as well as evaluate whether existing resources can be redeployed or more efficiently deployed on staffing projects like Special Events to increase SPD or alternative response to priority three and four calls in the near term, without engaging in costly expenditures in the face of a prospective budget deficit.”

This marks a change from the city’s previous position that a pilot can only happen after a lengthy data analysis. Lewis, Herbold, and others on the council have argued that SPD is already not responding to low-risk Priority 3 and 4 calls, so it doesn’t take work away from officers to deploy unarmed responders to some of those calls.

Council IDs Funds for 911 Alternative Pilot, Prosecutor Won’t Pursue Charges Against Police Who Killed Lyles

1. City council members Lisa Herbold and Andrew Lewis, who have advocated for creating an alternative response system for 911 calls that do not require police, sponsored a change to the city’s 2022 budget that sets aside $1.2 million originally budgeted for former mayor Jenny Durkan’s “Triage One” program to pay for a future “alternative response model” for these calls.

Although the money is currently frozen—Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office wants to reserve it to help backfill an anticipated budget shortfall next year—the amendment moves the money out of the Seattle Fire Department in case the council and mayor’s office can agree on a pilot proposal this year.

As we’ve reported, the city has backed away from its initial commitment to quickly fund alternatives to traditional police-based 911 response, made in the immediate aftermath of citywide protests against police violence sparked by the murder of George Floyd in 2020, and recently outlined a process for standing up a new public safety department in 2024. Council members have expressed frustration about the slow timeline, arguing that the city could create a pilot program now and see how it goes, rather than waiting years to start.

Using the cost estimates for Triage One, Lewis had council staff create a spreadsheet with a very rough estimate of what a pilot civilian response program, along the lines of CAHOOTS in Eugene, OR or the STAR program in Denver, would cost. The total for a three-person pilot—”basically one van,” Lewis said—came out to about $940,000, or about one-quarter of one percent of the $355 million the city budgeted for the police department last year.

Lewis noted that the cost could be lower if, for example, the new team used existing city cars instead of buying a $100,000 new custom Ford F150 (Durkan’s Triage One budget called for three) or if they found space that cost less than the previous estimate of $20,000 a month.

Ultimately, it will be up to Harrell’s office to decide whether they want to spend the money on a pilot program for new responders, or to help fill the city’s budget gap, which could total well over $100 million. The city budget office will release its latest revenue forecast next month.

2. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg announced Thursday that he would not prosecute the two police officers who shot and killed Charleena Lyles in her apartment in 2017, citing the fact that the law in place at the time effectively exonerated officers who acted “without malice and with a good faith belief that [a shooting] is justifiable.”

In a memo explaining his decision not to prosecute, Satterberg cited testimony during the inquest from experts who agreed “that the use of deadly force was necessary given the circumstances.” Hearing similar testimony, Satterberg wrote, “a criminal jury would likely conclude that the use of deadly force was necessary.”

An inquest earlier this month found that the officers did not violate the law or SPD policies on use of force when they killed Lyles, a 31-year-old Black woman whose history of mental illness was known to both officers, in 2017.

After voters passed Initiative 940 in 2018, the state legislature removed the “malice” standard and required officers to go through additional training in de-escalation and mental health.

In a memo explaining his decision not to prosecute, Satterberg cited testimony during the inquest from experts who agreed “that the use of deadly force was necessary given the circumstances.” Hearing similar testimony, Satterberg wrote, “a criminal jury would likely conclude that the use of deadly force was necessary.”

The inquest process itself is designed to make very narrow determinations about responsibility; in Lyles’ case, the six-person jury was only instructed to answer “yes,” “no,” or “unknown” to a list of 170 factual questions. King County reformed its inquest process in 2018 to give families access to an attorney and to give inquest juries more latitude in deciding whether officers followed department policy. The inquest into Lyles’ shooting was only the second inquest, and the second to find a police shooting justified, since the state supreme court allowed inquests to restart under the new rules last year.

Seattle Was Supposed to Create Alternatives to Police for 911 Calls. What Happened?

Health One vehicle, 2019
Seattle rolled out its Health One program, part of the Seattle Fire Department, in 2019. Since then, progress on alternatives to traditional policing have been small-scale and ad hoc.Seattle City Council from Seattle, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Erica C. Barnett

More than two years have passed since the protests against police violence that erupted after George Floyd was murdered in the summer of 2020, and many of the changes the city considered in the aftermath of those protests have failed to materialize.  Beyond the demonstrable fact that the police have not been “defunded”—reductions in SPD’s budget have been modest, and most have come from shifting jobs into other departments, not actual cuts—the whole idea of “community safety” has been largely abandoned in favor of “reform,” an idea that has been around for decades.

In Seattle, initial reforms, which were supposed to be followed quickly by more meaningful changes, included a lot of administrative shuffling, with mixed results. Parking enforcement officers now work for the Department of Transportation, not SPD, a move that has prompted a complaint at the state Public Employee Relations Commission alleging unfair labor practices and that forced the city to refund millions of dollars in parking tickets.

Separately, the city’s 911 system moved out of the police department and into a new department called the Community Safety and Communications Center. Although reformers hoped the CSCC would be able to direct some calls, such as those involving a mental health crisis, to civilian responders, that process has stalled. Earlier this summer, SPD began explaining why.

According to a recent presentation to the city council’s public safety committee by SPD chief operating officer Brian Maxey and senior research scientist Loren Atherley, a frequently cited SPD analysis concluding that 12 percent of 911 calls “can and should be explored for alternative responses starting now,” as a report from then-mayor Jenny Durkan’s office put, it was flawed. The 12 percent number was based on a report from the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (NICJR)  that found that nearly 80 percent of 911 calls in Seattle were “non-criminal” in nature.

In fact, the SPD officials told the committee, the city should never have used the NICJR report as the basis for staffing recommendations in the first place, because it relied on “perfect,” after-the-fact information about how various types of calls were ultimately resolved. In real time and in advance, “it’s very difficult to tell what is being described over the phone what you are dealing with,” Atherley told the council.

SPD’s “risk matrix” locates different types of 911 calls on a grid with two dimensions: The severity of the outcome and the likelihood it will happen. Currently, according to SPD, the department responds to all calls as if they are in the red “extreme” zone.

“The NICJR report that called for the vast majority of our calls to be categorized as appropriate for civilian response— honestly and directly, we take issue with it,” Maxey added. “The 12 percent that we discussed last summer—I don’t want to call it a back-of-the-envelope analysis, but it was far less sophisticated than the approach we are taking right now.”

That new approach involves using a “risk matrix” to categorize every 911 call based on the likelihood of various outcomes if an armed responder is not present, ranging from “negligible” to “catastrophic”. The risk matrix is based on safety management systems in commercial aviation, which determines risk based on a complex analysis of past events to decide which kinds of risks are acceptable and which must be avoided at all costs. Currently, according to SPD, every call gets treated as if it’s likely to be catastrophic; the point of the analysis is to figure out which calls don’t require an “all-hazards” response.

At a followup committee meeting last month, Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell said this analysis will enable the city to determine  “what is the consequence of not having an armed response a sworn response? And what is the likelihood that there will be a bad outcome without a sworn response?”

So far, SPD’s analysis has determined that there are about 42,000 different types of 911 calls—meaning that of the 400,000 or so calls the CSCC receives every year, each call type occurs an average of ten times a year. “Maybe that’s too granular,” Deputy Mayor Harrell said in an interview. “Maybe we can we can put those together. But there’s certainly themes, and there’s overlays to that in which we can in which we can say yeah, there are there are a significant number of calls that do not necessarily need a police response.”

The CSCC’s interim director, Chris Lombard, did not respond to requests for an interview.

City council members impatient for changes have questioned whether SPD and the mayor’s office are slow-walking the analysis on purpose to delay taking action. Pointing to cities like Denver, Eugene, Houston, and Albuquerque that have implemented alternative response models—including “co-responder” models that pair police and mental health professionals and triage models where low-risk crisis calls go directly to non-police responders—council member Andrew Lewis argues that there’s no need to wait for a lengthy analysis before starting to reroute some low-level calls.

I don’t know what is unique or special about our city that we cannot do this basic work, but I would like to… figure out how to put forward a very precise, efficient, and disciplined timeline to deliver on this critical body of work and not treat it like it is something that is unprecedented or obscure or difficult to do,” Lewis said at the council’s weekly briefing this past Monday. Continue reading “Seattle Was Supposed to Create Alternatives to Police for 911 Calls. What Happened?”