1. Six of the seven District 2 city council candidates participated in a forum at the Georgetown Ballroom last night, and I livetweeted the whole thing. Check out the thread to find out what committee Ari Hoffman wants to chair, when Tammy Morales last called 911, why socialist Henry Dennison won’t answer yes/no questions… and also a lot of information about the candidates’ plans are for addressing homelessness, environmental racism, and how they would counter displacement in South Seattle.
2. City council members Lisa Herbold and Lorena Gonzalez invited leaders of several of the business groups that funded a recent report on so-called “prolific offenders” Wednesday, and raised questions about the methodology behind the report and some of its conclusions.
Mike Stewart, the head of the Ballard Alliance, said he and other business leaders got the idea for the report after they “started to realize that things are changing a lot” for business owners, who he said are dealing with a level of crime they’ve never experienced before. “It feels like many of the instances of the criminal behavior that happens seems to be coming from many of the same people—so an individual might commit a crime in a business district one day and the next week, they’re back again,” Stewart said. Erin Goodman, the head of the SODO Business Improvement Area, added, “One individual in our sample is quite simply terrorizing the Ballard business district. … In a single day in 2018, he shoplifted from five stores in a two-hour period, brazenly pushing a shopping cart full of the stolen items from store to store.”
The report, “System Failure,” was put together by former mayor Ed Murray’s public safety advisor, Scott Lindsay. It highlights the booking histories of 100 individuals, hand-picked by Lindsay and characterized in the report as “roughly representative of a larger population of individuals who are frequently involved in criminal activity in Seattle’s busiest neighborhoods.” Every person on Lindsay’s list had four or more bookings into King County Jail over a 12-month period and had “indicators” that they were chronically homeless and had a substance use disorder.
The criteria Lindsay used for his list are similar to those used in King County’s Familiar Faces initiative, which, in 2014, identified 1,252 people with four or more annual bookings (94 percent of them with a substance use disorder or behavioral health issue, or both), except that Lindsay chose to zero in specifically on frequent offenders who are homeless, which Familiar Faces does not. Just 58 percent of the people on the 2013 Familiar Faces list had indicators that they were homeless. By hand-picking a list of offenders who are homeless (and by choosing to highlight the stories of mostly people who moved to Seattle from elsewhere), Lindsay’s report feeds into the common, but unsupported, belief that most people who commit property crimes are homeless and that homeless people from across the country come to Seattle to mooch off the city’s generosity.
Support The C Is for Crank
Hey there! Just a quick reminder that this entire site, including the post you’re reading, is supported by generous contributions from readers like you, without which this site would quite literally cease to exist. If you enjoy reading The C Is for Crank and would like to keep it going, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter. For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is my full-time job. Help keep that work sustainable by becoming a supporter now! 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. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.
Gonzalez and Herbold pressed the “System Failure” funders on some of the methodology in their report, including the fact that Lindsay determined the number of crimes each person had committed using police reports, complaints, and charging documents, without looking at anything the person said in their own defense or tracking whether they were ultimately found guilty. Goodman, from the SODO BIA, acknowledged that “some of these folks could have gone through the criminal system and been found innocent,” but added, “This is simply a snapshot based on bookings. [Lindsay] clearly states that it does not say how the case was adjudicated.”
Goodman expressed frustration that so many people were let out of jail within hours or days of being arrested; that so few of the people found incompetent to stand trial because of mental illness were subject to involuntary commitment; and that “there was zero accountability in the system for consequences for failure to comply with court-ordered release conditions.” Those conditions, according to the report, included things like appearing at every court date; abstaining from drugs and alcohol; submitting to random drug tests; and going to abstinence-based inpatient or outpatient treatment.
Underfunding services and then complaining that they aren’t working “is like sprinkling a little bit of salt over a giant bowl of soup and then [saying], ‘Oh, salt doesn’t work,'” Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard said.
One issue with these kinds of conditions is that there simply isn’t enough available capacity—in other words, funding—for the services that do exist to serve clients with mental health and substance abuse challenges. The Law Enforcement Diversion Program, for example, recently expanded with funding from the recent Trueblood court settlement to provide a vastly expanded suite of services (including mental health care, transitional housing, and intensive case management) to people whose competency to stand trial has been called into question. That funding will serve about 150 people who would not have previously been eligible for the program. But, as Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard, who was also at the table, pointed out, there are likely thousands of people who could benefit from similar services, while the total capacity for all such programs is in the hundreds. Underfunding services and then complaining that they aren’t working “is like sprinkling a little bit of salt over a giant bowl of soup and then [saying], ‘Oh, salt doesn’t work,'” Daugaard said. “We are not right-sizing the things that are effective.”
The other, related, issue with expecting people to comply with court conditions is that those conditions are often unreasonable. As long as the underlying issues that are causing someone to shoplift or act aggressively or loiter in the doorway of a business aren’t addressed, telling people to show up to day reporting or abstain from their drug of choice is a losing strategy. It’s little wonder that 100 percent of the people Lindsay chose for his report failed to comply with the conditions imposed by the court.
Goodman’s frustration is understandable: Her group represents businesses in an area of the city with the highest concentration of people living in RVs, many of them with substance use disorders, untreated mental illness, or both. But there’s little point, experts say, in trying to force people into treatment when they aren’t ready. “If the clients aren’t ready, they aren’t ready, and therein lies the challenge,” Heather Aman, a deputy prosecutor at the city attorney’s office who works with LEAD clients, told me recently. “Anyone who isn’t addressing their substance use or mental health issues has an impact on their community, because there’s not an ability to force individuals to [get help or treatment] until they’re ready. And what do you do with the person that needs to be ready? That’s the million-dollar question.”
City council members raised questions this morning about Mayor Jenny Durkan’s decision to target seven specific neighborhoods for increased police patrols this month based on, as Durkan has put it, “crime and the perception of crime.” In addition to additional officers, the seven neighborhoods will get special attention from Seattle Public Utilities, the Seattle Department of Transportation, and other city departments to address outstanding maintenance needs such as fixing potholes and graffiti.
Representatives from the Seattle Police Department confirmed that patrols are being increased not just in neighborhoods where crime is on the rise, but in areas where crime is down but the “community input,” including reports made through the city’s Find It-Fix it smartphone app. Chris Fisher, a strategic advisor with SPD, said that although crime, particularly property crime, is generally down across the city, there were “pockets” in which crime has spiked or where “issues that aren’t criminal in nature” were causing concern. One question the city asks when determining where to focus policing, Fisher said, is, “What are people feeling on the ground?”
“We’re going with these seven neighborhoods first because we have only so much bandwidth.” —Assistant Police Chief Eric Greening
The seven neighborhoods that will be targeted for extra “emphasis patrols” and additional maintenance are Ballard and Fremont, Pioneer Square and the area around Third and Pike downtown, the SoDo and Georgetown areas just to the south of downtown, and South Park, across the Duwamish River from Georgetown.
Council member Teresa Mosqueda questioned whether the mayor’s approach to crime in neighborhoods was based on data or “the perception that crime is increasing in certain areas. … We have to make sure that the data bears out the policy solutions,” Mosqueda said. “We cannot just have a call for action and just rush to put more [police] on the streets” if the surge isn’t supported by data, Mosqueda said.
Support The C Is for Crank
Hey there! Just a quick reminder that this entire site, including the post you’re about to read, is supported by generous contributions from readers like you, without which this site would quite literally cease to exist. If you enjoy reading The C Is for Crank and would like to keep it going, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter. For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is my full-time job. Help keep that work sustainable by becoming a supporter now! 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. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.
Council member Lorena Gonzalez, whose letter asking Durkan to provide some justification for her choice of neighborhoods, pressed assistant police chief Eric Greening to explain what the new patrols would look like on the ground, and whether they would likely result in more arrests. Greening acknowledged that “any time you increase police presence in a neighborhood, the likelihood of arrest also increases,” adding that SPD would focus primarily on people with outstanding warrants, on assaults, and on “predatory drug dealing”—that is, drug dealing for profit above a level needed to support a drug dealer’s own addiction.
“What I’ve heard from every neighborhood and community group is, ‘We are so glad you’re listening not just to what the data is showing but what we’re experiencing in our community.'” — Mayor Jenny Durkan
District 4 council member Abel Pacheco, who was recently appointed to serve out the remainder of former council member Rob Johnson’s term, asked several times why the University District was not included in the emphasis areas, given that it has a higher crime rate than the neighborhoods that were selected. “That was a decision made based on a number of factors, including data and community input, to go with a limited number of neighborhoods,” Greening said. “We’re going with these seven neighborhoods first because we have only so much bandwidth with our partners,” including city departments that, unlike SPD, don’t operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
A representative from one of those departments, SDOT’s chief of staff Genesee Atdkins, told the council that as part of the emphasis patrols, SDOT would be repairing sidewalks, filling potholes, and fixing deteriorating crosswalks in the seven emphasis areas. On Tuesday, during one of the “public safety walks” the city has organized in all seven emphasis neighborhoods, she and others from SDOT noticed “an alley with a very deteriorated condition and we were, right then, able to dispatch some of our crews out to quickly fill some potholes.”
The city council has no authority over SPD or the neighborhoods where the department conducts emphasis patrols, nor to require the mayor to put them through a race and equity analysis. Such an analysis would likely consider issues such as which neighborhoods have actually experienced an uptick in the most serious types of crime, whether the policy was based on 911 calls, “Find It Fix It” reports, and other complaints from neighborhoods with more resources and populations that are likely to feel more comfortable calling police, and whether the “perception of crime” was based on reality or on the presence of visible signs of poverty and homelessness, such as tents.
After the meeting, which Durkan did not attend, the mayor and SPD chief Carmen Best took questions briefly before a scheduled public safety walk in downtown Seattle, the fourth in the series. (The final three will take place tomorrow). Durkan talked about a “holistic” approach to crime and disorder in neighborhoods that sounded not unlike the “broken windows” theory tried, and abandoned, in many US cities in the late 1980s and early 1990s: The emphasis patrols she said, are “not just the police—it’s really going in and taking away the graffiti, [fixing] street lights, activating parks, making sure that neighborhood feels safe.”
Near the end of the brief press event, a reporter asked Durkan for her response to criticism that her emphasis patrols focused on the neighborhoods that complained the most and the loudest, instead of those actually experiencing the most crime. “I haven’t heard that criticism,” Durkan responded. “What I’ve heard from every neighborhood and community group is, ‘We are so glad you’re listening not just to what the data is showing but what we’re experiencing in our community.'”
When the Olympia-based Freedom Foundation—a conservative group that has spent the bulk of its energy over the past decade fighting against health care workers’ right to organize—filed a lawsuit to stop a Low Income Housing Institute-run “tiny house village” for homeless people from opening in South Lake Union, it raised some eyebrows.
The encampment, like other tiny house villages, would consist of a collection of garden-shed-like temporary housing units that would occupy a city-owned lot on 8th Avenue North and Aloha Street. Why, union members and homeless advocates wondered, was a statewide think tank that describes its mission as “advanc[ing] individual liberty, free enterprise, and limited, accountable government” get involved in a local land use dispute about a homeless encampment on a single block in Seattle?
“When we saw [the lawsuit], we thought, ‘That’s weird,’” says Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 775 spokesman Adam Glickman. “Back in the mid-2000s, the Freedom Foundation was involved in the statewide initiative to get rid of the Growth Management Act (GMA), but recently they’ve been pretty laser-focused on attacking unions and, to a lesser degree, taxes.”
The SEIU represents home health care workers and has spent many years embroiled in legal and political battles with the Freedom Foundation over the union’s right to organize home health care employees and other quasi-public workers.
Glickman says that other than the anti-GMA campaign, he can’t remember the Freedom Foundation ever getting involved in a land use dispute, and certainly not one at such a hyperlocal level.
Neither, for that matter, can the Freedom Foundation’s own attorney, Richard Stephens, to whom a spokesman for the group referred all questions about the lawsuit.
“I’m going back a while, and I can’t remember any other cases like this,” Stephen says. “Most of what [the Freedom Foundation is] doing now is labor law, free speech, freedom of association kinds of things, but historically, they’ve had kind of a broad scope.”
In fact, the lawsuit itself asserts that the reason the Freedom Foundation has standing to sue over a proposed encampment in Seattle in the first place is on the grounds that it claims to generally represent the interests of people in Washington State “in regard to governmental treatment of people at all levels.”
The lawsuit claims that the city failed to do an environmental review of the encampment, which the group claims will lead to “loitering and substandard living conditions in this particular area”; that the city didn’t sufficiently inform the community about its plans to authorize the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) encampment; and that the encampment is illegal, anyway, because the legislation allowing the city to authorize sanctioned encampments only allows three such encampments at any one time.
Of those three arguments, Stephens says the third, involving the law that limits the number of authorized encampments to three, is “the cleanest,” because the law is explicit: “No more than three transitional encampment interim use encampments shall be permitted and operating at any one time,” not counting those located next to religious facilities.
“When the city council adopts an ordinance that says … we’re only going to allow three of them to operate at any one time, then it seems clear that the city staff is just ignoring what the city council did,” Stephens says. “That is sort of the clearest violation. But the other problem is the city council also said when you approve these, you’ve got to ensure there’s the right community outreach and public participation, and it seems like the city and the applicant [LIHI] are scrambling around to do it after the fact.”
Currently, the city has six permitted encampments. Lily Rehrman, a strategic advisor at the city’s Human Services Department, says the new encampments have been authorized under Type 1 Master Use Permits, which are four-week permits that must be periodically renewed. This distinguishes them from the permits used for the first three authorized encampments, in Ballard, Othello, and Interbay.
“Under this type of permit, temporary land uses, like permitted villages, are allowable,” Rehrman says, a claim the Freedom Foundation disputes. LIHI has applied for a four-week Type 1 permit, and LIHI director Sharon Lee says that if the tiny house village is approved, she will apply for periodic renewals.
“I don’t know if you noticed, but there’s a state of emergency,” Lee says, referring to the state of emergency on homelessness that former mayor Ed Murray declared in November 2015.
According to the most recent count of the city’s unsheltered homeless population, there were at least 4,488 people living unsheltered in Seattle. All Home King County acknowledges that this is an undercount, and that the total number is, in reality, higher.
Lee calls the Freedom Foundation’s claim that there wasn’t enough public outreach before the city approved the encampment specious.
“The whole point of having the two community meetings—one in May, the other earlier this month—was to get people to volunteer for the community advisory committee that is required in the legislation allowing encampments,” Lee says. “And not only were there two community meetings, there were also presentations to the chamber of commerce and other organizations.”
Mayor Jenny Durkan formally announced plans to fund the tiny house village in South Lake Union through the “Bridge Housing” program in May, but the idea of sheltering hundreds of homeless people in tiny house villages across the city has been around since at least last February, when Durkan first announced the plan.
The city attorney’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit, beyond a brief statement from spokesman Dan Nolte: “We fully intend to defend the City in this suit, and we’re currently assessing the claims.”
Data analysis “does not link a correlation or causation between the Licton Springs Village and crime.”
Before the Freedom Foundation got involved, the debate over the encampment centered largely on whether the camp would impose a danger to neighboring residents and harm property values in the surrounding area. The proposed site is three blocks north of Mercer Avenue and sits in the epicenter of South Lake Union gentrification. Earlier this month, at a standing-room-only meeting in South Lake Union, opponents focused on the fact that the encampment will not be explicitly clean-and-sober, although drugs and alcohol will be banned in common areas.
The comments from opponents drew guffaws and shouts from tiny house village supporters in the crowd. One neighbor, condo owner Betty Wright, said South Lake Union was “too crowded to handle 100 additional people—I don’t want to say ‘poor people’—people with issues. I was hoping to move to a safe place where I don’t have to worry about crime. I used to run down to the garage in my jammies. I can’t do that anymore. I won’t do that anymore.”
Wright’s neighbor and fellow condo owner Greg Williams suggested that instead of allowing “the ‘homeless,’ as you call them” to live on the site and “destroy it,” they should be required to provide free labor as payment.
“They can give us four hours a day. They can clean. They can do something for us,” Williams said.
“That’s called slavery!” someone shouted from the back.
Amid all the opposition, several people spoke up in favor of LIHI’s plan. They included Kim Sherman, a Beacon Hill resident who hosts a formerly homeless man in a backyard guest house through a program called the BLOCK Project; Mike McQuaid, a member of the South Lake Union Community Council; and Sue Hodes, a longtime activist who worked on the pro-head tax “decline to sign” effort.
Hodes asked the people in the room who opposed the encampment to recognize that “poor people are people” but got shouted down when she pointed out that opponents of stopgap survival measures like tiny house villages and encampments are “mostly white, mostly middle-class.”
According to an annual survey commissioned by All Home, 20 percent of King County’s residents living outdoors have jobs; 25 percent cited job loss as the primary reason they lost access to shelter; and 45 percent were actively looking for work. Moreover, there is little evidence that authorized encampments actually increase crime in neighborhoods.
Although the Seattle Police Department (SPD) says it’s difficult to attribute the rise and fall in crime statistics in and around authorized encampments to any single factor, SPD Sergeant Eric Zerr, who heads up the Navigation Team that removes unauthorized encampments and offers services to their inhabitants, says there’s no comparison between the “criminality” around unsanctioned encampments and camps like those run by LIHI, which include case management, 24/7 security, and basic necessities such as food, restrooms, and showers.
“If you’re living in a tent [in an unsanctioned encampment] and you don’t have any source of income, there’s criminality that goes along with that,” particularly if the people living in encampments are addicted to drugs, Zerr says. “When you have [drug] usage, there’s prostitution, there’s the property crimes, there are domestic violence issues, trafficking issues, serious assaults, rapes, gunplay, that type of thing.”
A review of recent police reports from unsanctioned encampments in greenbelts along I-5 confirms that violent crime is still a regular occurrence in these encampments, although SPD provided no specific evidence connecting unauthorized encampments to crime in the surrounding neighborhoods.
“If you’re living in a community, and you have the life-sustaining things that we consider to be a normal part of life, [plus] case managers and a defined space, you move into a different kind of mindset,” even if, as with the proposed tiny house village in South Lake Union, drugs and alcohol aren’t strictly prohibited, Zerr says of life in a sanctioned, monitored encampment with case management and other basic services.
SPD said it was unable to provide crime statistics demonstrating crime rates in the areas immediately around every sanctioned encampment in the city before and after those encampments opened. Detailed information about specific incidents in and around encampments used to be available online, but is no longer. That data was unreliable when it was available, however, because it included many duplicate incidents, and excluded some incident reports for privacy reasons.
SPD’s Crime Dashboard breaks down crime statistics into 58 neighborhoods, like “Lakewood/Seward Park” and “Rainier View,” but because these are large geographic areas, it’s difficult to attribute changing crime rates specifically to the presence of sanctioned or unsanctioned encampments. However, SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb says it just stands to reason that “if you’ve got organization and structure, it’s going to be safer, and if you don’t have organization and structure, and it’s just random, then it’s going to be less safe.”
SPD did create a document summarizing the rate of crime in the neighborhood immediately surrounding the authorized encampment in Licton Springs, which—unlike LIHI’s proposed tiny house village in South Lake Union—is explicitly low-barrier, meaning that people in active addiction can live, and use drugs and alcohol, on the premises. LIHI owns the Licton Springs property, but the encampment is operated by a separate group, SHARE/WHEEL, which is not involved in the proposed South Lake Union encampment.
According to the SPD document, “the block containing Licton Springs Village (N 85 to N 88 and Aurora to Nesbitt) remains one of the busiest areas in the North Precinct, both in police proactivity and calls for service.”
The document shows that crime has increased by some metrics and decreased in others, but cautions that the “data analysis … does not link a correlation or causation between the Licton Springs Village and crime.”
Zerr, the Navigation Team leader, says he would personally “feel fine” if a tiny house village opened in his neighborhood, but adds that he supports “energized and maybe even contentious debate” like the one that’s currently taking place in South Lake Union.
“I’d be going down asking those same questions, to make sure the city has thought everything through and that the residents have a voice. Those are things that a responsive government should offer its citizens when they’re going to change the living conditions of their neighborhood,” Zerr says.
Lee, the LIHI director, says she remains optimistic that the South Lake Union tiny house village will be able to open on August 15, as scheduled. “We’re optimistic,” Lee says. “We want to get homeless men and women off the streets before the winter.”
If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.
If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, including this series of interviews with the candidates for mayor, city attorney, and (later this summer) city council and Port, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.
City attorney Pete Holmes was first elected in 2009 as a reformer. A bankruptcy attorney who advocated for marijuana legalization and was one of the original members of the Office of Professional Accountability Review Board (OPARB), the body that reviewed disciplinary decisions in police misconduct cases, he challenged then-incumbent Tom Carr from the left, assailing Carr for cracking down on minor crimes like pot possession and waging war against bars and clubs while letting DUI and domestic violence cases molder. Now, Holmes’ challenger, Scott Lindsay, is ripping some pages from the city attorney’s own playbook, accusing him of going soft on police accountability, ignoring the consequences of the opiate epidemic, and ignoring problems in homeless encampments. I sat down with Holmes to discuss his record, his path to reelection, and the case his opponent laid out against him at a Starbucks across the street from City Hall.
Erica C. Barnett [ECB]: Your opponent, Scott Lindsay, got in the race late, and only after his boss, Mayor Ed Murray, was accused of sexual abuse. Were you surprised that he decided to run against you, and how do you respond to his statement that you have little to show for your two terms in office?
Pete Holmes [PH]: [When I ran], I was at that point in my legal career that I finally felt that I just maybe had enough experience in the law to be the city’s lawyer. Back in ’09, when I ran, I had made partner at a major downtown firm; I knew my way in and out of court; I advised big and little clients businesses and individuals; and I really had a sense of what the law was about. All of that readied me for the challenges that lay ahead at the city of Seattle.
“I think Scott wants a job, and I would just urge him not to give up on that ambition, but learn what it’s like to be a lawyer first.”
A candidate for office told me recently that from their perspective, I was a candidate that ran for a specific office with a specific mission and that was absolutely right. It was no surprise to [then-city attorney] Tom [Carr] that I was going to run against him. I had spent the previous three or four years at that point debating with him, trying to get him to do the right thing on transparency and police accountability, trying to work with him, and finally realizing that, you know what, I can’t complain. I need to step up and say, ‘Here’s my vision, and it’s different from yours.’ We had big difference of opinion on police reform, drug policy, things like that, and it was only at that point in my career that I felt like, I know what the practice of law is all about, I feel secure in the knowledge that I’ve learned my craft, and maybe, just maybe, I could presume to be the city’s attorney.
I think Scott wants a job, and I would just urge him not to give up on that ambition, but learn what it’s like to be a lawyer first.
ECB: Lindsay received some surprising early endorsements from two members of the Community Police Commission who had been your allies, Lisa Daugaard and Harriett Walden, who both argued that you had hindered the group’s efforts to increase civilian oversight of the Seattle Police Department. Daugaard criticized you, specifically, for opposing the CPC’s request that it be allowed to refer complaints directly to the city’s Inspector General for investigation, and for your request to delay submitting police reform legislation to the council. Without getting too far in the weeds, what was your issue with the way that the CPC wanted to implement civilian oversight, and why did you seek to start the process over?
PH: The sheer size and scope of the CPC is, I think, the biggest concern. A budget that’s probably close to $2 million annually is something I’m not sure the city can afford. But the really fundamental question I have is, why we have allowed ourselves to forget the fundamental purpose of civilian oversight? It’s to hear what the community thinks about policing services as delivered where they live. I think Lisa would say her theory is that the CPC should be a commission of subject-matter experts—her, term not mine—and my counter to that is, I want all of my expertise, my academic and practical expertise, to be in my command staff and especially my chief of police and my professional overseers, like the [Office of Police Accountability, formerly the Office of Professional Accountability] director, who’s investigating individual misconduct cases, and the inspector general, who’s looking more broadly at policy.
“We’ve had all of these reform efforts that end up with a blue ribbon panel pontificating about the need to get community involvement and things are smoothed over for a little while. So the fact that we’re under federal oversight is our best opportunity and maybe our last opportunity.”
So what role does the CPC serve? It’s to say how well all this expertise is translating into the streets. Is the chief managing appropriately? Is the inspector general managing broad policy themes that need attention? Is the OPA director holding people accountable for the thoroughness of investigations? At the end of the day, we need to know how the guys who have a gun and a badge are interacting with our fellow residents here in the city, and if you’ve got a committee of subject matter experts that are studying established practices and doing all those kinds of things things that I hope the IG and the OPA director and the chief of police are doing, then who’s taking the time to listen to the community?
There’s one person that you ultimately hold accountable for holding your cops accountable, among many safeguards, and that’s your chief of police. So number one, if you have taken all of these policy areas away from the chief, then the chief will say, ‘You know what, I’m sorry that our department is not delivering services to, say, an African-American community the way you think they should, but you took all that power from me and you gave it to this commission of subject matter experts.’ And it’s already difficult enough under our current contracts for discipline to stick. All of the major discipline decisions, all the firings [Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole] has done, with very few exceptions, have been contested, and my office has to defend all those things. So what I worry about is not only would your existing chief finally say, ‘You know, look, I give up,’ but when you have to replace Chief O’Toole, who’s going to come to a city that is so heavily laden with politics and procedure? It’s like, ‘Can I run my department, please?’ It might scare away a good candidate.
ECB: Do you expect that the ongoing effort to comply with the federal consent decree that’s currently still in place at SPD will remain on track, given that Attorney General Sessions has suggested that he wants to pull back on police reform?
PH: What we have to remember is that we would not have made the progress we’ve made to date, including the CPC, but for the federal intervention. We’ve tried over the decades to do reform and have only gotten a little bit of window dressing, and then it goes away. The unions retain their power through a collective bargaining agreement and mayors routinely get worn out and say, ‘Oh, God, please just get it done so I can move on to the next thing,’ and we’ve all inherited decades of that. We’ve had all of these reform efforts that end up with a blue ribbon panel pontificating about the need to get community involvement and things are smoothed over for a little while. So the fact that we’re under federal oversight is our best opportunity and maybe our last opportunity.
Fortunately, we’ve got that so-called judge [federal judge James Robart, whom Trump called a “so-called judge” when he refused to enforce the original travel ban]. I really think Judge Robart is nothing but a no-nonsense judge and he is not going to say his order has been met fulfilled until he believes the order has been fulfilled. Jeff Sessions is not going to tell him when it’s been fulfilled, and for that matter, no one of us city officials is going to do that. I do think that at some point, I’d like to see the unions in front of Judge Robart bringing forth all their concerns so that we can really have comprehensive contract-based reform.
And by the way, it’s not about the size and scope of the CPC that I first broke with Lisa [Daugaard]. They lobbied hard to make me appeal Judge Robart’s decision [delaying the city’s police reform legislation in 2016] and make them a party to the lawsuit and at some point I just said no.
“At some point, the city has got to be able to negotiate its contracts. It’s got to be able to hire and fire officers. It’s got to be able to appoint chiefs. The [CPC’s] approach is going to actually confound the ultimate goal of having a well-disciplined, well-trained, and community-respected police force.”
If [the CPC is] telling the council that Judge Robart is stopping [them] from doing [their] work and that the city attorney is letting him get away with it, it’s really hard to go back to the council and explain that we would not be where we are but for Judge Robart and this consent decree. It’s the same pitch that I couldn’t get [former mayor] Mike McGinn to fully appreciate. I remember telling him, ‘Mike, no one’s going to blame you for the police department you inherited, and nobody’s going to forgive you if you let this opportunity go away. So you can either treat DOJ as an invading force or the wind in your sails for reform.’ And we never quite got on the same page, but it’s kind of the same theme that was playing this time around, with the CPC wanting to be permanent, full-throated advocates in front of the judge. At some point, the city has got to be able to negotiate its contracts. It’s got to be able to hire and fire officers. It’s got to be able to appoint chiefs. The [CPC’s] approach is going to actually confound the ultimate goal of having a well-disciplined, well-trained, and community-respected police force. That’s my concern, and you can’t explain that in a sound bite.
ECB: It seems to me that there’s a fair amount of bad blood between you and Lisa Daugaard.
PH: It’s not bad blood. I believe she sincerely believes in what she’s doing, but she cannot be chief of police and Inspector General and OPA director all in one fell swoop, and you can’t make the Community Police Commission into those bodies. I think fundamentally, who represents the community is really the question. Just because the Community Police Commission has ‘community’ in its name doesn’t mean they own the community.
“When you get to the point where you’ve exhausted a housing-first services approach and you’ve still got someone who says, ‘I like being here stealing bicycles or dealing drugs’ or whatever, then you’ve reached a point where you say that’s not an option. You’re going to be arrested and Pete’s going to prosecute you.”
ECB: Will you extend the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program [which gives low-level offenders the opportunity to avoid charges if they accept services and participate in a structured diversion program] to the rest of the city, and is there anything you would like to change or improve about the program?
PH: Intuitively, I am convinced that LEAD is a correct approach. A correct approach—not the correct approach. Because LEAD addresses one small element of the overall population that we need to address. The danger with elevating something like LEAD as the answer, the silver bullet, is that if you’re looking a 360 degree [range of offenders and solutions], LEAD represents only about ten degrees of that arc.
You remember in 2013, when I got that letter from SPD about 28 or so of the so-called hardcore offenders downtown, and they demanded I issue warrants for all of them? I said, ‘No, because you did none of the background work to tell me what their issue is. You can’t just tell me you issued three tickets to them and they didn’t respond. I want to know, are they homeless? Are they drug addicted? What have you done to address their issues?’ And if you’ve done all of that and they’re resisting, they’re just simply refusing our offer, then you’re right. Then we’ll intervene. But you’ve got to show that it’s a credible threat.
Same thing with homelessness. I’ll work with you nine ways to Sunday to figure out what are your obligations when dealing with the homeless encampments, but I’ve got to tell you that when you get to the point where you’ve exhausted a housing-first services approach and you’ve still got someone who says, ‘I like being here stealing bicycles or dealing drugs’ or whatever, then you’ve reached a point where you say that’s not an option. You’re going to be arrested and Pete’s going to prosecute you.
ECB: Since you brought it up, let’s talk about sweeps. How do you think the city’s new Navigation Team, which your opponent takes credit for setting up, is doing at getting people living in encampments into shelter, housing, and services?
PH: I think that the Navigation Team is learning that if they don’t have actual, real resources, they won’t succeed. I don’t mean the Taj Mahal. But the shelters don’t work for a variety of circumstances. We’ve got to meet people where they are. If we’re providing housing that addresses all those areas and it’s refused, then you have to act. You have to say, ‘You can’t stay here,’ and you’re going to make an arrest at some point.
It’s interesting how all our labels are conclusory. If it’s bad, it’s a sweep. If it’s good, it’s an encampment cleanup.
ECB: I would say ‘sweep’ is fairly accurate. I’m not calling it a ‘purge.’
PH: If you’re not, as a practical matter, addressing human needs, if you’re not dealing with their personal effects, then yeah, I guess it is a sweep. But if you are doing that and you’re simply doing a cleanup, that’s a positive sweep. That’s sweeping up the detritus, the non-valuable property left behind that’s just from living and the human condition.
“If you want to avoid the guy passed out on your store or doorstep, if you want to deal with that compassionately and effectively of course we’ve got to have this. And maybe it’s going to be next to [someone’s] home in Laurelhurst.”
ECB: Scott seems to blame you for ending some of the specialty courts that were once available as alternatives to the regular court system, like mental health court and community court. Why were those courts eliminated, what were they replaced with, and how do you think the current system is working?
PH: I think that the defense bar recognized that by opting into community court, they were basically agreeing to a much longer [period of] supervision and interference than if you just simply said, ‘No, I’ll take my chances at regular court.” The defense bar was advising clients not to accept the community court offer because there were too many conditions attached to it. So what the municipal court did was to say that instead of community court being the one place where you opt in [to alternatives to incarceration that include access to services], we want to make sure that all of those resources are available to all judges in all cases so that they can fashion remedies. In some ways, the municipal court may have expanded community court rather than disbanded it. So Scott doesn’t have the full story. It is in transition. I believe the defense bar would prefer to be working with us, because when we, both prosecutor and defender, see someone who is in the throes of an addiction and of course is making life miserable for everyone around him as well as himself, the last thing we want to do is just throw him in jail.
ECB: How will you support the creation of a supervised drug consumption site in Seattle, and how likely do you think it is that Seattle will accept it?
PH: We got to a state with marijuana where people are finally saying, ‘This actually works pretty well.’ Like the holdout cities that were saying, ‘No way are we gonna allow pot use in our city’—they’re starting to see that Seattle went from over 150 unlicensed, troublesome [medical marijuana] dispensaries to 50 well-lit, well-regulated legal dispensaries. And now they’re saying, ‘I want some of that in my town.’ It’s going to be the same thing with these medical sites We made the decision, wrongfully, to say, we’re going to put public health problems in the criminal justice system. So my role has been to try and slowly release those tentacles and get medical and health care professionals to get responsibility for it. When people say, ‘Where should they be?’ I say, I don’t know, but that’s why I want to hear form the medical professionals. And then I’ll help you with the land use issues and the criminal jurisdiction issues.
ECB: The answer to the question of where a safe consumption site will be located is purely political, though—it’s wherever people will accept it.
PH: I’d say that’s the cynical political answer. I think at some point, once we have helped switch this bad course that we went down of criminalizing public health problems, then I think we’re going to start seeing people get it. If you want to avoid the guy passed out on your store or doorstep, if you want to deal with that compassionately and effectively of course we’ve got to have this. And maybe it’s going to be next to [someone’s] home in Laurelhurst.
In some ways, opioid addiction might even be easier than marijuana legalization, because it cuts across all demographic groups. So what I think you’re discounting is that for every person who says, ‘I don’t want to step over them anymore,’ there’s also going to be a person whose brother is the person being stepped over. We showed a better approach [to marijuana use] than prohibition, and opioids is going to be a tougher one—it’s definitely going to need the medical community more involved—but I get so passionate about it, because you can just see how wrongheaded our traditional approach has been. And I could say, ‘Let’s do this’ and get reelected and start looking at the next office, or I can say, ‘How can I fundamentally change a bad policy?’ That’s not a small order. That’s a long haul.
A scary thing happened to me on the half-block walk between my bus stop and my house the other night. As I walked along the sidewalk, a man in a silver BMW tore out of the quiet, one-lane alley behind my house and pulled into the street, nearly hitting me. Seeing me (and possibly hearing my standard response when this happens, a resigned “No need to stop”), he slammed on the brakes, leaped out of the car, at charged at me, and screamed at the top of his lungs, “Why don’t you wear something I can SEE next time, you stupid fucking cunt? Get out of my fucking way, you stupid ugly bitch!” The guy, about 50, was tall, white, bald, and much taller and larger than me. I was pretty sure he was going to attack me, but he didn’t, and I managed to stumble home physically unscathed.
Later that night, I posted a quick note on my Facebook page, describing what had happened and concluding, “This man is probably my neighbor. Welcome to Donald Trump’s America.” (Shorthand for: Electing a man who cheerfully brags about sexual assault and has been accused many times of harassment, assault, and even rape, has emboldened some misogynists to act out in more extreme ways than before the election, as part of a documented increase in crimes based on a person’s gender, race, sexual orientation, or perceived religion.) The next day, I found the car, which was parked at one of the new townhouses about 50 yards down the alley, and posted an update, which read in part:
I know there’s no point in repeating this to people who just won’t believe my experience, but this kind of explicitly violent threat, and this level of aggression, has been escalating in my experience, and the experience of many women I know, since Trump was elected. Misogynists like this guy may have WANTED to lunge at and threaten women physically before Trump, but now they are empowered and validated when they actually do so. This is new. It is different. It is terrifying. So don’t tell me that if I had just dressed differently (wearing lights and reflectors to walk the half-block from my bus stop to my house) or been meeker, smaller, or more passive in some way, this wouldn’t have happened. I didn’t bring this attack on myself. Neither did the many women who have experienced similar incidents since November 9. I will not accept any excuses for this kind of violent misogynistic behavior, and neither should you.
You’ll never believe this, but some people–all strangers or relative strangers, almost exclusively men*–didn’t listen. So I decided to compile some of their helpful suggestions here, in case any other woman ever finds herself confronted with a large, screaming man who lunges at her and won’t take “I was just trying to walk down the sidewalk” for an answer. (I should note here, of course, that most of the responses to my post came from a place of genuine concern and desire to express support or offer help; that said, the responses below are typical of the comments from men who never learned that lesson about opinions and assholes.) Notice how many times I’m told that it’s my responsibility not to get myself hit by a speeding car or physically threatened by a man (“Just move to another part of the city/country!”), and how many people turn out to be mind-readers who just know that this man didn’t mean anything malicious when he threatened me and called me a “stupid fucking cunt.”
Time to move if this is your neighbor!
She should have been packing and she could have “feared for her life”.
In no way trying to excuse or support his behavior but I do a lot of running. I have been hit (daylight) wearing bright colors, hit at night with a light and reflective clothes. The point to be made is that even when supposedly obvious drivers (both genders) can’t/don’t see me. If you are out at night in dark/non-reflective clothes drivers can’t see you. Be seen.
stop and think about his point of view for a minute! Assuming it was dark, he barely missed you due to not seeing you because of the dark clothing you were wearing. [Note: I did not say what color or shade of clothing I was wearing.]
As a driver, IT IS very difficult to see pedestrians in the dark. Unfortunately, he handled the situation with immaturity, blame and anger, but I doubt he meant any danger to you. It was just a poor way to express himself and try to make his point, as he was caught off guard when he suddenly noticed someone walking in the alley that he didn’t see before.
Try to consider it from his angle, please….and what does Trump have to do with this? Nothing.
You marginalize the incident by trying to illogically link it to a politician you dislike. It stands on it’s own the guy who verbally accosted you is an ass.
You have to remember that even though you think that you might be able to be seen at night, dusk, that actually it is a scientific fact that drivers cannot see people on the street as well as you might think they can.
So yeah wasn’t right that he was mad at you but I think he was scared that he almost hit you. You might think about how close you came to being hit and how you can contribute in the future to your own safety.*
I would suggest moving to some place like Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit or Philadelphia.
If you want to see real hatred [nope, didn’t say I did], try that coming from Clinton supporters. Here are some examples: [irrelevant links to right-wing sites]
sometimes in the dark or bad weather if you can move your arms or make a quick movement make yourself as visible as possible to a driver, a small flashlight could save you and others life. Also with people on cell phones both walking and driving it is tougher these days were all at risk even under ideal conditions.
Empower yourself with MACE and a taser….and/or carry a lil .380. Take self-defense classes and kick his ass
Go and get you some bear mase. Next time this asshole approaches spray his ass then kick him on the balls and beat the shit out of him. Real Talk a lesson should be taught to this son of a bitch!
Stop casting blame. Some people are just jerks. And others are judgemental.*
There HAS been a rise in violence since the election, mostly from HRC supporters: [irrelevant link to right-wing site]
stop demonizing people who have a different opinion and perhaps consider listening to the reasons and facts behind that opinion.
Car drivers did this well before Trump was elected
I hear muzzle flash is visible for a split second from quite far away.
Women go through our lives not being believed, particularly by men. We go through our lives being told how we should have behaved differently, that we were probably just misinterpreting the situation, that we were probably at fault, that we should bend as far as we can to make sure things don’t happen to us, as if making ourselves as small as possible, or taking a self-defense class, or covering ourselves with lights and reflectors will protect us from men who want to harm us. (The idea that we might expect men to be better is never on the table.) We are constantly told to question our own experience.
So when I explain something that happened to me, something that was, by any interpretation, a crime, what I don’t need is a bunch of men telling me what I did wrong or why what happened to me didn’t actually happen or that I should really try to see things from the perspective of my attacker. I can explain until I am blue in the face all the ways in which misogynists have been emboldened since the election of the pussy-grabber-in-chief, using not just my own experience (which is so easily invalidated by a simple, “Are you sure it really happened that way”?) but the experiences of many, many women I know as well as statistics on sexual harassment and other gender-motivated crimes. But the truth is that people who won’t believe my experience won’t believe the experience of millions of other women, either. Because the bottom line is we’re all just women. And until people start believing women, I’m afraid these incidents are going to continue to be ignored, and dismissed, and rendered silent by the chorus of voices, mostly men’s, but some women’s, too. saying “Yeah, but…” We have to start saying “I believe you” instead.
* And some women! Whose comments are marked with asterisks!
If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into it as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.
Emails between city of Seattle decision-makers and officials at the private social-networking site Nextdoor reveal that the city planned to use Nextdoor as a key portal for delivering information about neighborhood events; distributing surveys to help determine what neighborhoods’ priorities are; and as “a smart, efficient way to educate/inform residents about SeaStat and our soon to be (officially) announced Community Policing Micro Plans,” according to an email from SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb to Jeff Reading, his then-counterpart in Murray’s office, back in October 2014.
Anyone without a Nextdoor account cannot access any of those public communications; the private site, based in San Francisco, is only accessible to members, and those members can only communicate with others in their immediate neighborhood.
In February, I reported that Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole held a “public town hall” on Nextdoor that was only accessible to Nextdoor members, who make up a tiny percentage of the city. After Nextdoor canceled, then reinstated, my membership when I reported some of the questions neighbors asked O’Toole during the virtual public meeting, along with details about her responses, the city said it would consider ending the partnership.
Since then, both Mayor Ed Murray and chief technology officer Michael Mattmiller have told me that they are working to figure out how to make communications with Nextdoor, which are subject to public disclosure laws like any city communications, more transparent, and are considering ending the partnership altogether. However, the city continues to partner with the site and provide updates to neighborhood residents by posting privately to members, who make up a tiny fraction of the city, there. Mattmiller did not return calls for comment.
In October of 2014, SPD’s Whitcomb told mayoral spokesman Reading enthusiastically, “I think we are ready to go with Nextdoor! Our plan is to tie it in to SeaStat as a community engagement and feedback tool.” Nextdoor even offered to write press releases and social media communications for SPD for the launch, though it’s unclear whether SPD took them up on the offer.
SeaStat is a relatively new program in which SPD gathers data and meets twice a month to identify and target crime “hot spots.” Community micro policing is an outgrowth of SeaStat, which involves using data to target police patrols. Both are directly informed by the priorities to which residents on Nextdoor choose to draw SPD’s attention, as well as issues SPD identifies in Nextdoor-specific surveys. As the SPD Blotter blog put it back in 2014, “Nextdoor users will have an active role helping inform SeaStat, since officer deployment will be based not only on crime data, but also on community feedback. Look for neighborhood specific surveys on how SPD can improve community safety and police services in the near future.”
The potential issue with using Nextdoor as a barometer and guide for police deployment is twofold. First, Nextdoor’s membershiprepresents just a fraction of city residents; in Columbia City, for example, just a fifth of households are signed up; in Ballard, 16 percent; in Pinehurst, 11 percent; in Magnolia, 19 percent. Although it’s impossible to tell how many of those members are homeowners and how many are renters, the residents who comment tend to self-identify as homeowners, at least on the dozen or so Nextdoor neighborhood boards I’ve seen.
Using Nextdoor as any kind of gauge for where the city should focus police resources, in other words, is to do outreach to a tiny, self-selected fraction of the city, in contrast to the much broader way government agencies typically communicate with neighborhood. It’s kind of like determining city policy based on an unscientific survey posted on a departmental website on seattle.gov.
Second, as I’ve pointed out previously, the closed-loop nature of the system can lead neighborhoods to whip themselves into a frenzy over relatively minor issues such as discarded needles, “suspicious” or unfamiliar people, people living in their cars who don’t obey parking laws, and litter, without the context of what’s going on in other neighborhoods.
For example, Nextdoor members in Ballard and Magnolia routinely post photos of people they describe as “suspicious,” in some cases accusing them of specific crimes, without their knowledge or consent; tacitly condone vigilantism against homeless people they feel are creating litter and committing property crimes; and have threatened to dump garbage and human waste on the lawns of Murray and council member Mike O’Brien, who represents Ballard, one of the epicenters of Nextdoor-based overreaction. (Nextdoor members also frequently post tangents that violate the site’s ban on personal attacks, and have harassed and threatened me personally within the site itself and in off-site communications that refer to things I have written about Nextdoor.)
How much does any of this matter? In terms of city policy (as opposed to civil discourse), maybe not that much. Nextdoor is, after all, merely “another tool in the toolbox” for outreach by SPD and other city offices and departments—including, currently, the mayor’s office, the Department of Neighborhoods, Seattle Public Utilities, and the city as a whole.
And it’s not like the city doesn’t have a longstanding policy of basing policy on which group shouts the loudest—at a meeting on Monday evening, in fact, a city staffer admitted that Murray had promised to preserve most single-family zoning in perpetuity “after a big outcry from [homeowners in] the neighborhoods.”
But I do wonder: What message is the city, and Murray in particular, sending by continuing to partner with Nextdoor and using it as a tool to communicate with, and get feedback from, neighborhoods? Intentionally or not, I think they’re saying that they want to provide yet another way for a small, motivated cadre of agitated homeowners to direct and shape city policy.
Homeowners in Magnolia hired a private security firm, Central Protection, to drive around their neighborhood in Humvees and protect them from property crimes they say the Seattle Police Department has failed to adequately address. Under the umbrella of the Magnolia Patrol Association, homeowners pay about $250 a year for supplementary protection and peace of mind that they have more eyes on the street preventing car prowls, break-ins, drug sales, and other crimes. Other neighborhoods, such as Queen Anne, are poised to follow suit, arguing that the extra private guards keep them safer than police alone. (Magnolia Patrol president Joe Villarino did not respond to questions about Central Protection.)
Earlier this month, however, an incident in which a Central Protection guard named James Toomey pepper-sprayed, handcuffed, and detained a convenience-store clerk (a Magnolia resident who had recently started living in his car) called into question whether the private patrols were keeping residents safe, or victimizing innocent bystanders in the war between neighbors and property criminals. After the incident, I reported that Toomey was convicted of a felony, forgery, and violating a domestic-violence protection order, a misdemeanor, related to DV charges by his ex-wife, and KIRO reported that he had been charged with assault for pepper-spraying two teenagers in Tacoma.
Now, a review of court documents from across the Puget Sound region reveals that many (at least seven) of Central Protection’s 24 employees (identified as such by a state Department of Licensing database) have extensive criminal records, including charges of sexual assault, domestic violence, resisting arrest, and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The sheer number of drug and alcohol charges, not all of which are included here, is noteworthy because one of the primary concerns expressed by homeowners in the press, on social media, and in public meetings is the fact that people, usually homeless people, are using drugs and alcohol in their neighborhoods—and committing crimes like petty theft to get their next fix. Yet many of the people those homeowners have hired to protect them have significant drug- and alcohol-related criminal histories themselves.
What follows is a partial accounting of the criminal records of current Central Protection employees, many of whom are patrolling Magnolia, keeping it “safe,” today.
Except in the case of Central Protection owner Denis Kurdija, I have kept the individual security guards anonymous because they are not currently involved in any disputes related to their work patrolling neighborhoods on behalf of organizations like the MPA. Kurdija did not return a call for comment.
Kurdija, the Central Protection owner, was arrested for sexual assault after a former employee at the Belltown nightclub he owns, the Sarajevo Lounge, called 911 late one night in 2013. According to a Seattle police report, Kurdija allegedly invited the woman and a female friend to his apartment near the club, invited her into his bedroom, locked the door and, according to the report “threw her on the be [and] tried to kiss and feel her up. The alleged victim told police she told Kurdija “no” and tried to leave, but he grabbed her by the throat, “told her to leave and not contact him again, [and] then shoved her away by the throat.” The report goes on to recount a similar scene in the club itself later that night, when the woman and her friend returned to Sarajevo Lounge to find their friends; at that point, the report says, the woman said Kurdija “grabbed her again by the throat and told security to escort her from the club.” She called police shortly thereafter. (The friend gave a nearly identical account of the night’s events to police.)
Kurdija was arrested for assault and released for $3,000 bail. He pled not guilty and a no-contact order was approved in August, and eventually pled guilty to a misdemeanor, which allowed him to stay out on probation as long as he went to treatment (what kind is unspecified in the available court records) and didn’t violate the terms of his probation; although court records indicate he didn’t finish treatment in time and indeed “fell asleep in class,” he eventually did and his case was finally dismissed last month.
Kurdija pled guilty to carrying a concealed gun without a license in 2010. He was also charged with using drug paraphernalia in Snohomish County in 2008, but that charge was dropped.
But it isn’t just Kurdija who brings a criminal history to Magnolia (and other neighborhood) streets. Many of his employees have records that would likely disqualify them from actual police work, according to Seattle Police Department spokesman Sean Whitcomb, including DUIs, assaults, and allegations of domestic violence.
One Central Protection employee, whom we’ll call Tom, 38, was in trouble with local law enforcement as a young man as far back as 1997, when he was charged with resisting arrest and being a minor in possession of alcohol, as well as unlawful possession of a weapon, in Lynnwood. (He pled guilty to the latter charge and the former was eventually dismissed). Also that year, he was charged separately with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. He was caught with pot and, presumably, a pipe again later that year and found guilty of possession. A few years later, in 2001, he was caught driving with a suspended license and paid a fine.
These old charges are relevant because in 2008, when he was about 31, Tom was charged with driving under the influence, which was later reduced to negligent driving. A few years later, in 2013, he was convicted of still another DUI, after an officer saw him weaving from side to side on the road, pulled him over, and “observed the driver’s watery bloodshot eyes as well as the obvious odor of intoxicants and marijuana emanating from within his vehicle,” according to the police report.
Because it was his second offense, Tom was given a suspended year-long sentence, (he served a little over three weeks, according to court records) and was required to wear an ankle bracelet, go through an alcohol assessment and treatment, use an ignition interlock device on his car, and attend a victims’ impact panel. He was put on work release and ordered not to use drugs or alcohol on October 14, 2015.
Tom, according to court records, violated those terms almost immediately, testing positive for cocaine on December 1, 2015, which landed him back in jail. He is now back on patrol for Central Protection.
• Another Central Protection employee—we’ll call him Mark—who is 33, was charged with DUI in 2001 and required to undergo a drug and alcohol assessment as a condition of his release before trial. (He was also charged with being a minor in possession of alcohol, though that charge was dismissed).
After failing to go in for his assessment and then failing to show up in court (he said he was sick), a warrant was issued for his arrest and he bailed out for $1,000. Eventually, he pled guilty to the DUI but then failed to appear again, claiming he had taken the wrong bus. He failed to show up a third time (his attorney said he didn’t know why he wasn’t there), was booked in the Issaquah jail, and bonded out for $5,000 this time. Finally, he was sentenced and required to complete a six-month drug treatment program, go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, use an ignition interlock device, undergo periodic drug and alcohol tests, and pay a $1,355 fine.
Court records indicate that he never did pay the fine, which was still in collections ten years later, when the case was dismissed.
In 2004, Mark was again charged with driving under the influence in Renton, and pled guilty to negligent driving with the condition that he would attend AA meetings and undergo alcohol evaluation.
In 2007, Mark was charged in Kirkland with driving with a suspended license and again repeatedly failed to show up for court, resulting in multiple warrants for his arrest and escalating bail after he failed to show up to serve his 30-day jail sentence. That verdict required him to install an ignition interlock device in his car, to abstain from alcohol and drugs, to undergo an assessment for alcohol dependence, and other conditions, which he did not do. Eventually, he served some jail time, agreed to go through a 12-month treatment program and attend AA meetings, but also failed repeatedly to comply with those requirement, according to Kirkland court records. He also failed again, repeatedly, to show up in court, boosting his bail at one point to $15,000—an unusually high bail for a DUI case. That case was finally closed in 2013 after Mark completed his required jail time.
In the meantime, however,, in 2012, Mark had been jailed again in Renton for failing to have the required ignition interlock device and for driving with a suspended license (which had been suspended two years earlier for unpaid tickets) after causing an accident and leaving the scene; Mark was also ticketed for following too closely and for having no insurance.
• A different Central Protection employee, whom I’ll call Arthur, 45, was arrested and charged with domestic violence assault and issued a no-contact order in 1998; that case was dismissed when the woman who accused Arthur of domestic violence declined to testify against him and asked to have the order withdrawn (a relatively common occurrence in domestic violence cases when the defendant and the accuser are in an ongoing relationship). Since then, his record has been relatively clean except for traffic violations.
• Another Central Protection employee, Dan, 27, was arrested in 2010 for driving under the influence while speeding, and pled guilty to reckless driving in 2011. As a condition of his plea, his license was suspended, and he was subsequently charged with driving with a suspended license. In a separate case in Kitsap County for which most records have been destroyed, he was charged with malicious mischief in 2011 and pled guilty to a lesser misdemeanor charge.
• Finally, yet another Central Protection employee, Todd, 24, was the subject of a sexual-assault protection order by an ex-girlfriend, who was 14 at the time (Todd was 18) and claimed that Todd was harassing her and her family and would not leave her alone. In the request for the order, which was granted after a Snohomish County Superior Court judge determined that “by a preponderance of the evidence that a sexual assault has occurred,” the parents said they had ordered the girl not to see the older teenager because of the “age gap and his academic, legal … history [ellipsis in original]” and that he had manipulated her emotionally and given her an STD. In statements supporting the protection order, the girl’s friends described him as “dangerous,” threatening, and verbally abusive.
Also in 2011, Todd was charged with resisting arrest and with being a minor in possession of alcohol—specifically, a bottle of vodka he had set down on the pavement outside a large party in Marysville.
This is by no means a comprehensive account of the criminal records of all Central Protection employees. A few employees were hard to identify in court records because they have common names, and many records were no longer available or are still being produced through the public-records process. Cumulatively, though, the extensive criminal records of some employees of this private security firm are noteworthy and could give some residents of Magnolia, as well as other neighborhoods that are thinking about hiring private security guards to “supplement” protection by Seattle police, pause. Perhaps the $250,000 Magnolia residents reportedly spend on their private security force would be better spent funding shelter and services for the homeless population in their neighborhood.
Asked about SPD’s own hiring requirements and background-check process, SPD’s Whitcomb says new police hires go through a “meticulous” background check that takes “weeks, sometimes longer, and that is because we want to make sure we are getting the best candidates possible.” SPD hiring standards automatically disqualify any applicant who has gotten a DUI within the past five years, any felony conviction, or any domestic-violence conviction, but Whitcomb says the department can also exclude candidates for other factors, such as multiple DUIs that are more than five years in the past.
“When we’re talking about criminal history, it doesn’t have to be a conviction,” Whitcomb says. “If someone is involved in a number of different events but not convicted or not arrested, these are things that will be weighed as they seek employment with us. … With domestic violence, let’s say it wasn’t a conviction but it resulted in an arrest and perhaps charged, that would be scrutinized closely.” Having two or three DUIs on your record, no matter how long ago, “would probably be a disqualifier” as well, Whitcomb says.
Whitcomb says he can’t comment on the hiring practices of a separate business, but adds that, in general, “Anyone who is conducting security in the city does have to understand that the law applies to everyone. There’s no special dispensation for uniformed security.”
Police spokesman: “It’s not cool to just pepper-spray someone and put them in cuffs.”
[UPDATE: On Monday afternoon, I received a copy of the police report about the pepper-spray incident. According to Toomey’s account, he approached Harris’ car after two people approached him and “explained that there was a person [Harris] parked in a vehicle … and possibly doing narcotics.” At that point, Toomey told the officers, he approached Harris’ car and found him sleeping, knocked on his window, got in a verbal altercation with Harris, and left to call 911 “to report the suspicious incident.” (That incident being, so far, the presence of a man sitting in his car in a legal parking spot.) then, Toomey told the police, Harris drove up behind him, got out of his car, and “attempted to grab” him twice before Toomey pepper-sprayed him, pushed him onto the hood of Harris’ car, and handcuffed him before calling 911 again.
Toomey’s account differs from Harris’ in a few respects. He claims Harris tried to “grab” him and does not mention knocking Harris’ phone, which SPD officers found shattered underneath Toomey’s Hummer, to the ground. He also doesn’t mention attempting to open Harris’ car door, which Harris claimed he did. Finally, he claims to have only pepper-sprayed Harris once, “striking him in the face,” whereas Harris says Toomey actually chased him back to his car while spraying him–an account that is consistent with Harris being shoved and cuffed on the hood of his own car, rather than the Hummer’s.]
A Seattle Police Department spokesman says a guard working for a private security force hired to police the Magnolia neighborhood stepped out of bounds when he pepper-sprayed and cuffed a longtime neighborhood resident and employee last week. “It’s not cool to just pepper-spray someone and put them in cuffs,” SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb says.
As I reported last week, Central Protection security guard James Toomey reportedly pepper-sprayed, handcuffed, and detained Magnolia resident and 76 gas station employee Andrew Harris after a confrontation that began when, Harris says, Toomey approached Harris’ car, which was parked on a street in Magnolia, and asked him what he was doing there.
Meanwhile, Pierce County Superior Court records reveal that Toomey pled guilty to one felony count of forgery and one gross misdemeanor count of violating a no-contact order in April 2004. According to court documents, Toomey was arraigned for domestic violence assault in 2003, and his ex-wife obtained a restraining order against him. Subsequently, according to court documents, Toomey forged a letter on the letterhead of a local attorney’s office, purportedly from a lawyer at that firm, in an attempt to get one-on-one visitation with their son, in violation of the no-contact order against him.
Previously, also according to Pierce County Superior Court records, Toomey had been convicted of negligent driving and unlawful discharge of a firearm. As part of his sentencing for the forgery and protection order violation, Toomey was required to go through treatment for domestic violence and anger management issues, which he completed at a Social Treatment Opportunity Programs in Tacoma in 2005.
In 2010, Toomey successfully went back to court to have his conviction vacated on the grounds that the felony conviction was affecting his opportunities for “employment, and licensing for employment.” One year after Pierce County Superior Court vacated the conviction, in August 2011, the court restored his right to own a gun. In December 2013, Toomey obtained a license from the state Department of Licensing to work as a security guard, and in 2014, he got a separate license as a private investigator—two services he offered out of his home office in Lakewood.
Repeated attempts to contact Toomey directly and through his employer by phone and social media were unsuccessful.
The Magnolia Patrol Association’s website says the reason private security guards are a good alternative to the police is because they don’t have to follow the constitution and can approach anyone at any time, anywhere, for any reason.
“Private security firms have more authority on private property than police,” the MPA site says. “In addition, private security firms represent the property owners. The police, even off duty on special assignment, represent the City, County or State they work for. The police, even off duty, have to follow the guidelines set forth in the 4th and 14th Amendments of the US Constitution.
“The police cannot stop anyone to ask if they live on property, what they are doing, etc. This is a violation of a person’s Constitutional Rights which could open the police or property owner up for a civil suit. The police are not allowed to speak to anyone unless they have a reasonable suspicion that a crime may be afoot. Further, they must be able to articulate this suspicion in clear language. Private security can interact with anyone at any time [b]ecause they do not represent the Government and the Constitution does not apply to private security.”
Whitcomb calls that claim “amazing,” and says private security guards are subject to local, state, and federal laws, including the US Constitution. “You don’t get to deprive other people of their constitutional rights,” he says. “[Private security guards] don’t have police powers. They don’t have the same authority.”
Whitcomb adds the common notion of a “citizen’s arrest” is a lot more complicated than TV shows and movies make it out to be, and that if you see someone committing a crime, you’re better off calling the real police and letting them handle the situation. “Our company line is that the only folks who should be making arrests are those who are trained to do so, because it’s fairly complicated and there’s always the possibility that things can escalate” to the point where someone winds up injured or dead. “Just because someone broke into your car, or your house, that does not mean you get to hit them with a hammer.”
By handcuffing and detaining Harris, Whitcomb says, Toomey “deprived [Harris] of his liberty. To put handcuffs on someone, not by choice or consent, where he’s not free to go—this is why detectives need to look at what happened” in the incident. I have requested the police report to get Toomey’s version of events, but as of Friday, it was not available.
Central Protection general manager Denis Kurdija did not respond to calls and messages for comment. His Facebook account is private and his Instagram account has been taken down. A commenter on Reddit took a screen shot before the latter account disappeared, however, showing Kurdija posing next to one of the white-and-blue Central Protection Hummers, with the caption, “I’m the general, just makin’ sure my soldiers straight #patrol #patrolcar #securitypatrol #mobilepatrol #privatepatrol #mob.”
Magnolia Patrol Association director Joe Villarino declined to comment on the incident or Toomey’s legal history, confirming only that Toomey lives in the Tacoma area.
As you probably have noticed, things have been a little quiet around here in Crank City, and will continue to be so during the holidays as I finish moving (into Council District 3!), travel to the Deep South, and spend a little time grounding myself and making my New Year’s resolutions. Rest assured that I’m still working on plenty of new content for the New Year, though, including pieces on the public records requests that have brought city clerks across the state to their knees; the city’s commitment (or lack thereof) to gender equity; and some other stories involving election law, pot law, and much, much more.
One story I’m really excited to follow is what happens with the new council committees. I’m optimistic that Lorena Gonzalez will do something about pay equity at the newly recharged gender equity committee, although without real money (so far, the city is spending next to nothing on gender equity), those efforts could prove toothless. I’m also looking forward to seeing what former Transportation Choices Coalition director Rob Johnson will do as head of the land use committee–although transportation is obviously Johnson’s forte, he has a background in planning and an understanding of the ways in which land use and transportation work together to promote sustainable, livable cities.
I’m somewhat less thrilled to see Mike O’Brien, who has consistently voted against urbanist policies in favor of rules that protect single-family landowners from change, in charge of transportation and sustainability, because I’m not convinced he gets the connection between the two. By moving sustainability out of land use and putting it under O’Brien’s purview, is the council signaling a shift away from smart land use and toward building a bunch of bike lanes and calling that good? We need bike lanes and transit priority and sidewalks and safer crossings for pedestrians, but we also need the land use and planning guidelines that make all those improvements (which O’Brien will certainly support) functional within a growing city where more people are going to live more closely together.
I’m hoping O’Brien will make the connection between density, transportation, and livability, but in order to do so, he’ll have to stop listening to the loudest NIMBY voices who claim rights that they don’t have, such as the “right” to free parking and a lawn that isn’t shadowed by the presence of lower-income apartment dwellers next door.
And speaking of NIMBYs, I’ll leave you with a recent petition posted by some folks in O’Brien’s own district, who fashion themselves, rather grandly, as “The Citizens of Queen Anne, Magnolia, Fremont and Ballard.” (Magnolia, where citizens have hired a private police force in Humvees to patrol their quiet streets, figures prominently in the comments.)
The petition reads, in part:
It is apparent that these neighborhoods have experienced a significant and dramatic increase in criminal activity in recent months. Many of our neighbors and businesses report being victims of or witnessing crimes including home break-ins (some while occupied), stolen vehicles, stolen bicycles and other property, various property crimes, illegal narcotic distribution, known narcotic distribution sites, burglary, trespassing, and an overall concerning increase in suspicious activity.
Many residents in these neighborhoods are no longer feeling protected and safe, and are concerned for their children and their own safety. Slow or no response to citizens’ calls regarding criminal activity and a expressed de-prioritization of property and drug crimes by the Mayor’s office have appeared to increase criminal activity in these neighborhoods as “safe to commit crime zones” instead of “safe from crime zones” which the tax payers in these neighborhoods deserve.
“Known narcotic distribution sites”? Bring me to the fainting couch! As a resident of a neighborhood with actual crime issues beyond car prowls and the visible existence of people whose problems some homeowners find unsightly, I find it hard to see the argument for deprioritizing the city’s actual crime problems so that Magnolia residents don’t have to look at people shooting up.
Once again, the city and Downtown Seattle Association have proposed a new initiative, called Urban Parks, to “clean up” downtown Seattle. Last time, it was the nine-and-a-half blocks centered around Third and Pine, where the city addressed a longstanding open-air drug market by moving bus stops to less-convenient locations, closing down several public alleys (belying the city’s much-praised efforts to “activate” vacant alleys downtown), and arresting more than 100 drug dealers and users.
This time, the city and the downtown merchants’ group is focused on Westlake and Occidental Parks, which, as a KOMO story on the new effort put it, are “not the most comfortable” places for people (you know, normal people like you and me) to walk through—”as anyone who’s been there has likely noticed.”
Speaking of Westlake Park, KOMO continued, “The city would like to get rid of the the park’s dirt and grime and shady elements and replace them with things like food trucks, lunchtime music, and ping pong tables.”
That’s kind of a weird reason to spend more money since the city has already done all those things, but apparently they weren’t enough to eliminate the “shady elements” who congregate in the city’s public spaces, so the DSA and city plan to spend another $700,000 and hand over management of the two parks to DSA to tackle the problem.
They aren’t the only ones trying to push “shady” people out of sight of downtown’s public spaces. (During the announcement, Murray emphasized that he wanted Westlake and Occidental Parks to be welcoming to homeless people, but not the kind that make people uncomfortable). In the absence of complete cleanup at Westlake, some local residents are taking matters into their own hands.
The condo owners’ association at the Seaboard Building, a historic landmark structure that anchors the northwest edge of Westlake Park, recently installed a noisemaking box called a Mosquito on the outside of one of its lower floors. According to the website of Moving Sound Technologies, the company that manufactures the device, the box emits a high-pitched noise that is undetectable to people older than about 25 (non-ruffians) but is unbearably shrill to people 25 and under. (Ruffians. The company has also started making an all-ages Mosquito box.)
Matt Griffin, head of the Pine Street Group, which owns the Seaboard Building, says Westlake “was a pretty scary place” before the city implemented its nine-and-a-half-block strategy. “I was accosted one night and threatened [with stabbing] with a knife right at the entrance to the Seaboard Building,” Griffin says.
“The problem with the park at that point was a number of people who were younger who were in the park. You may remember the story, a couple of years ago, when we had a concierge beat up.” The concierge, Joseph Crudo, was standing outside the Seaboard Building. “It was urban youth who did it,” Griffin says.
Neither DSA nor city’s Department of Planning and Development (which oversees permits) or police department (which enforces the city’s noise ordinance) knew anything about the machine or had received any complaints about it.
Maybe that’s because most adults can’t hear it. I know I can’t. So one recent afternoon, I picked several younger-looking people who happened to be wandering through the park to describe what it sounded like. “Unbearable!” said one. “Really shrill,” said another, covering his ears. At any rate, city officials told me that if it doesn’t exceed maximum decibel limits (the issue with the machine is the pitch, not the loudness) , it doesn’t violate the noise code.
At any rate, the machine, which costs about $1,000, could be coming down. Griffin says the city’s efforts have been making so much difference in downtown disorder, “maybe we should reevaluate” whether the machine is necessary anymore.