Tag: Change Washington

Mysterious Lobbying Group Pushes Out Misleading Messages on Police Defunding

Change Washington’s website includes this image of former police chief Carmen Best and current fire chief Harold Scoggins surrounded by members of their respective forces. PubliCola has asked whether Scoggins, who has stayed out of the police defunding debate, gave Change Washington permission to use his image for lobbying purposes.

By Erica C. Barnett

This week, Change Washington—a lobbying group established by former Bellevue-area state senator Rodney Tom, along with several Republican donors and a former Zillow executive—sent out an email blast urging recipients to “help us spread the word” about the Seattle City Council’s “dangerous” plan “to weaken our police force without having a backup plan in place.” The call to action is featured on a new Change Washington website called “You Call, They Respond” that specifically targets the Seattle City Council.

Yesterday, the council voted 7-2 against a proposal by council member Kshama Sawant that would halt all police hiring and recruitment in the city. Opponents, including former civil rights attorney (and now council president) Lorena González, argued that a total hiring freeze would lead interim police chief Adrian Diaz to move more detectives in specialty units onto patrol, decimating the department’s ability to investigate domestic violence, elder abuse, and other crimes against vulnerable people. (Earlier this year, as PubliCola reported, Diaz moved 100 detectives onto active patrol duty, boosting the number of officers responding to 911 calls). The police department will shrink this year by about 20 percent, mostly due to officer attrition.

Nonetheless, the “You Call, They Respond” website claims repeatedly that the council is still considering cuts that would “decimate the department’s ability to respond timely and effectively when you need police.” In addition to soliciting donations for Change Washington, the 501(c)4 nonprofit’s call to action includes an email form pre-filled with one of about a half-dozen potential messages. Options include:

I am terrified. Even though the number of incidents and calls for service requiring a police response has more than doubled in the past decade, the total number of police officers will decline under Council’s planned budget. Please throw us a lifeline. Don’t make Seattle less safe. My neighborhood won’t survive.

I feel like you have lost sight of the fact the calls for service in Seattle already include your friends and neighbors who are experiencing either a very bad day or a horrific one. Shame on you. Please work to make Seattle safer. Abandon your plan to cut police by 50%.

Why are you flying blind on issues of policing? Look at the data.  94% of dispatched police responses in 2019 were either Priority 1 (lights and sirens, threat to life), Priority 2 (threat of escalation/harm if help does not arrive soon) or Priority 3 (requiring prompt assistance for a waiting victim). And you want to cut the police force by 50? You have lost touch with reality!

Several claims on the site are misleading or inaccurate. For example, the number of police responding to 911 calls has remained steady or increased over the past two years, even before the police chief moved 100 detectives onto patrol. Since the move, the number of 911 responders has been significantly higher than at any time in the previous year.

According to information compiled by city council central staff, SPD had 536 911 responders in January of 2019. That number was 544 in April, 538 in August, 537 in December, and 563 in April and August. In September, after the transfer, that number increased to 668. During that same period, between January 2019 and September 2020, the number of officers on patrol has increased from 674 to 694 (not “roughly 600,” as one of the calls to action claims).

The fact that most calls are Priority 1, 2, or 3 is not particularly revealing. Although the priority list goes all the way up to 9, the top three priorities account for 97 percent of the time officers spend responding to calls, according to SPD data. Priority 4, which accounts for 1 percent of officer response time, includes things like noise complaints and found property; Priority 5 calls, which make up the remaining 2 percent, include issues such as stolen license plates and injured animals.

It’s unclear who, if anyone, is on Change Washington’s payroll, how much money they’ve raised, or what kind of lobbying-related expenses they’ve accrued. Currently, the city does not require “grassroots lobbyists”—groups that spend money to influence legislation or policy by influencing and mobilizing members of the public—to register as lobbyists or report their funding sources and expenditures.

However, legislation the council will take up later this year could provide more transparency into who’s funding and working for the group. The legislation, which the council will take up December 8, would require grassroots lobbyists to reveal who is funding them, who they are attempting to influence, and what legislation they are seeking to pass, kill, or change. The bill would require detailed monthly reporting, similar to what is already required of people who lobby the city council or mayor directly. It would also expand the definition of “lobbying” to include direct attempts to influence non-elected city staffers.

Change Washington did not immediately respond to an email sent early Friday afternoon requesting information about their funding sources and the information included on the “You Call, They Respond” website. According to Change Washington’s website, “we think there’s room in the political center to find common ground for common sense, data driven governance that moves Seattle and the state forward.” That mission statement fits with the center-right goals of the mostly Republican “Majority Coalition Caucus” Tom formed in the state senate the early 2010s, but it’s pretty far out of step with the current Seattle City Council, which includes just one member, Alex Pedersen, who has consistently raised alarms about cutting SPD’s budget.

Morning Fizz: As City Hall Moves Closer to Agreement on Homeless Outreach, “Seattle Is Dying” Star Claims the Council Wants to Legalize Crime

Screen shot from “Seattle Is Dying”

1. Scott Lindsay, a former mayoral public safety advisor whose report on “prolific offenders” featured prominently in the viral “Seattle Is Dying” video, published a broadside against city council member Lisa Herbold yesterday on the website of a new political nonprofit called Change Washington. In the piece, Lindsay accuses Herbold of sneaking legislation into the 2021 budget that would  “create a legal loophole that would open the floodgates to crime in Seattle, effectively nullifying the city’s ability to protect persons and property from most misdemeanor crimes” and “negat[ing] the majority of Seattle’s criminal code.”

Change Washington was incorporated at the end of 2019. Its principals are former state Sen. Rodney Tom, a conservative Democrat from Medina who caucused (and voted) with Republicans; Sally Poliak, a “centrist Republican” political consultant in Seattle; Steve Gordon, a Republican donor from Pacific, WA who runs the anti-tax group “Concerned Taxpayers of Washington State“; and former Zillow executive Greg Schwartz, who left the company last year vowing to focus his energy on “Seattle’s chaotic streets and government.”

In his post, Lindsay refers to himself as a “dyed-in-the-wool blue Democrat.”

Lindsay’s claims about legalizing crime come from an extremely broad reading of a draft bill crafted with input from Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now and posted on the website of the King County Department of Public Defense. Lindsay appears unaware that these groups participated in the drafting of the bill, and even claims that they have never expressed any support for its basic concepts. And despite Lindsay’s claim that Herbold is using an elaborate “backdoor” strategy to “[keep] the proposed legislation almost entirely hidden from the public,” Herbold has not actually proposed any legislation. Council staffers are still working on a draft, one of many bills the council will propose as part of the budget process.

Nor would the bill Lindsay incorrectly identifies as Herbold’s actually legalize crime. Instead, the county public defenders’ draft proposes several new defenses against prosecution for crimes that result from poverty or an unmanaged mental health or addiction disorder. Among other (welcome) changes, the bill would prevent prosecutors from throwing a person with untreated mental illness in jail because he broke a store window during a psychotic episode, or pressing charges against a hungry person because he stole food. It would not create a get-out-of-jail-free card for anyone who commits a crime and then claims to have—as Lindsay glibly puts it—”depression, anxiety, etc.”

Herbold says it’s high time the city reconsider its approach to offenses that result from poverty and lack of access to health care and housing. “As we’ve seen in the massive national and international protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, it is past time that we reexamine our systems which often perpetuate homelessness and economic instability,” she says. “The City currently spends approximately $20 million a year on incarceration, which is known to significantly increase the risk of housing instability and homelessness.” The council will discuss the proposal at its budget meeting Wednesday.

Lindsay’s arguments will almost certainly find purchase in right-wing talk radio and on TV chat shows whose ratings depend on keeping audiences in a perpetual state of fear. There will always be a large contingent of people, even in liberal Seattle, who don’t believe that crimes that result from poverty or untreated mental illness really exist. To these people, Lindsay’s assertion that defendants would only have to “claim drug or alcohol addiction” or fake a mental illness to evade justice will make sense. It’s easier to believe in a world where shady defense attorneys argue, as Lindsay predicts they will, that “drugs are a ‘basic need” for someone with a substance use disorder” to than to consider the possibility that throwing people in jail for being addicted, mentally ill, or poor doesn’t actually work.

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2. After the city council passed legislation establishing a new “outreach and engagement team” to coordinate the city’s response to unauthorized encampments, you might think Mayor Jenny Durkan would be thrilled. After all, the team keeps most members of the Navigation Team on the city payroll, while leaving the question of what, exactly, the team will do.

Instead, the mayor responded to the 7-1 vote by reigniting the debate over the council’s 2020 budget rebalancing package, which Durkan vetoed (unsuccessfully) after the council voted to eliminate the Navigation Team. In a statement Monday night, Durkan characterized the council’s vote as a decision to “restor[e] funding for the Human Services Department to coordinate homelessness outreach” and called the legislation “similar to previously proposed legislation negotiated in August” that would have kept the Navigation Team intact.  Continue reading “Morning Fizz: As City Hall Moves Closer to Agreement on Homeless Outreach, “Seattle Is Dying” Star Claims the Council Wants to Legalize Crime”