Tag: domestic violence

Officers Accused of Domestic Violence Usually Keep Their Jobs. Advocates for Survivors Say That’s a Problem

Seattle Police Department West Precinct; image by Adbar, Creative Commons license

By Paul Kiefer

Last November, a small team of Seattle police officers parked near the home of one of their colleagues, Officer Amy Jean Branham. They were responding to a 911 call from Branham’s estranged (now ex-) wife, who told dispatchers that Branham had attacked her during an argument about their pending divorce.

Branham’s wife told the responding officers that Branham was drunk. She pointed to red marks on her neck and chest, claiming that Branham had placed her in a headlock. But Branham told the officers that the fight began when her wife tried to force her way into the house. She showed her colleagues a red mark on her jaw—evidence, she said, that the fight wasn’t as one-sided as her wife claimed.

Washington law requires police officers who respond to domestic violence calls to arrest the person they determine was the “primary aggressor.” The responding officers decided to arrest Branham’s wife, reasoning that Branham was only trying to prevent her wife from entering the house; the Seattle City Attorney chose not to file charges. Meanwhile, Branham’s wife obtained a protection order, alleging that Branham was prone to violence and stalking.

As part of the protection order, a King County judge ordered Branham to turn over her service weapon, prompting Interim Chief Adrian Diaz to place her on administrative leave. Meanwhile, the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) conducted an investigation of the allegations against Branham. In findings published last month, investigators concluded that Branham violated the department’s professionalism policies by hitting her ex-wife, as well as by following her ex-wife off-hours in a U.S. Department of Homeland Security cruiser, which she had access to as part of a joint task force. She received a written reprimand.

Today, at least six officers who’ve been accused of abuse or domestic violence remain on the force, including in supervisory roles.

The issue of intimate partner violence by officers tends to fly under the radar; the last case that drew significant local attention was in in 2003, when then-Tacoma Police Chief David Brame shot and killed his wife, Crystal Brame, at a Gig Harbor shopping center. In the past five years, SPD has fired three officers for domestic violence or harassment, including Todd Novisedlak, whom former SPD Chief Carmen Best fired in 2019 for beating his former girlfriend and repeatedly using racist slurs to describe his coworkers, and Daniel Amador, a North Precinct sergeant arrested in 2016 for raping and abusing his daughters.

Officers accused of domestic violence or harassment can be found on nearly every level of the department’s hierarchy. Officer Todd Harris, a member of the department’s gun violence reduction squad, was charged by a Snohomish County prosecutor with domestic violence assault in 2012; Sergeant Alfred Warner, whose ex-wife obtained a protection order against him after he allegedly pointed a gun at her during an argument in 2006; and Sergeant Brian Rees, whose ex-wife—at the time, a fellow SPD officer—sought a protection order against him after he allegedly punched her and spent his off-duty time stalking her inside the department’s north precinct building.

Domestic violence allegations are notoriously difficult to prove in court, which survivor advocates say has allowed some Seattle police officers with a history of abuse to avoid accountability and remain in positions of authority within SPD. Today, at least six officers who’ve been accused of abuse or domestic violence remain on the force, including in supervisory roles.

For some survivor advocates, allowing these officers—especially those who received criminal charges—to remain in positions that can involve handling domestic violence calls raises questions about the department’s respect for survivors. A record of abuse, advocates say, could impact the way an officer interacts with people seeking help, including victims of domestic violence, and could reflect on the officer’s ability to control their temper and exercise good judgment.

“Survivors and advocates end up wondering how much weight is given to our voices if we’re dealing with officers who work alongside these people who have been accused of abuse,” said Riddhi Mukhopadhyay, the director of the Sexual Violence Law Center, which provides legal assistance to victims of sexual violence.

Advocates like Mukhopadhyay are especially concerned about officers who’ve risen in the ranks after facing domestic violence charges. Sergeant Domingo Ortiz faced domestic violence-related charges twice before he reached his current rank: in 2000, he received a deferred sentence after punching a man who took his estranged wife to lunch, and in 2004, Pierce County prosecutors charged Ortiz with domestic violence harassment for threatening to hurt his estranged wife “permanently.” (Ortiz was not convicted of the 2004 charge).

Similarly, now-Captain Scott Moss was charged with assault in 2009 for allegedly cutting his then-wife’s hand with a kitchen knife. Ultimately, a King County Superior Court jury acquitted Moss after his attorneys attributed his wife’s injuries to her history of mental illness and self-harm; Moss’ wife chose not to cooperate with the prosecution. It’s fairly common for victims to decide not to cooperate in domestic violence cases, which typically prompts courts to dismiss the charges against the alleged abuser.

Since his acquittal, Moss has received a series of promotions, including a recent stint as the acting captain of SPD’s Special Victim Crimes section, which includes the department’s domestic violence unit.

Most of the officers accused of domestic violence have run into other types of legal trouble during their careers with SPD. Ortiz, for instance, was one of three officers named in a 2010 excessive force lawsuit stemming from a violent arrest at the department’s evidence warehouse; and in 2014, a US district court jury found Rees guilty of excessive force for pepper-spraying a woman while another officer detained her at a May Day protest two years earlier.

Continue reading “Officers Accused of Domestic Violence Usually Keep Their Jobs. Advocates for Survivors Say That’s a Problem”

Domestic Violence Survivors Face Challenges Using Law to Prevent Abuse of Legal System

King County Courthouse (Flickr: Evan Didier)

By Paul Kiefer

When a Washington state law intended to prevent abusive partners from using courts to harass or manipulate domestic violence survivors went into effect in early January, Isabelle Latour was one of the first people to try to put the new law to work. In doing so, she illustrated how difficult it may be for the law to efficiently protect survivors from a tactic known as “abusive litigation.”

Over four years, multiple King County judges ruled on dozens of occasions that Latour’s ex-husband, a Seattle attorney, had used frivolous lawsuits, unfounded complaints about Latour and her attorney, a questionable bankruptcy claim and dozens of other motions filed across multiple courts to drag out their divorce and maintain a form of control over Latour. The endless stream of litigation forced Latour to spend countless hours and thousands of dollars battling her ex’s efforts to re-litigate their divorce.

“After surviving a lot of abuse, I got pulled onto Zoom call after Zoom call—it became like a second job,” she said. “It was a heavy cloud hanging over me. I wanted to move on with my life, but I had to keep revisiting my trauma.”

When state Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-23, Bainbridge Island) began drafting legislation targeting abusive litigation for the state legislature’s 2019-2020 session, Latour and other survivors provided input. A version of the legislation that passed in 2020 empowered judges to limit an abuser’s ability to file or continue litigation against their victim; it also required the abuser to pay the court and attorneys’ fees. A court can only impose those restrictions on someone who a court has previously found to have committed domestic violence, and the restrictions expire after four to six years.

But the law’s impact depends on survivors, who need to petition a judge to consider whether to impose restrictions on their abuser’s rights to file litigation.

Because of the fragmented nature of Washington’s superior court system, it’s difficult to know how many survivors have tried to use the law so far. Of the half-dozen attorneys who spoke with PubliCola, only Latour’s attorney—Karma Zaike—has represented a client who successfully petitioned a court to stop their abuser from filing new litigation.

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By the time the law went into effect on January 1, 2021, Latour believed that her motion to stop her ex-husband’s litigation would be an open-and-shut case. Zaike was so confident that a judge would approve Latour’s request that she tried to schedule a hearing on January 4.

Instead, Latour struggled to find a judge to hear her case; then, once she landed before King County Superior Court Judge Johana Bender, she endured four more hearings over Zoom. According to Latour and Zaike, the new hearings gave Latour’s ex additional opportunities to denounce his ex-wife and her attorney with allegations of dishonesty, and to argue that his lengthy history as a litigant was justified.

Latour’s ex-husband did not respond when PubliCola attempted to contact him.

Because restricting someone’s right to file litigation is a serious imposition by a court, judges like Bender often allow an accused abuser to argue their case at length before deciding whether to issue an anti-abusive litigation order. “A lot of abusers are very persistent—they won’t give up easily,” said Antoinette Bonsignore, an attorney who volunteers with Seattle-based women’s rights group Legal Voice who has advocated for protections against abusive litigation.

Continue reading “Domestic Violence Survivors Face Challenges Using Law to Prevent Abuse of Legal System”

State Legislation Could Improve Daunting Protection Order Process

(Source: King County Superior Court)

By Paul Kiefer

Brenda recognized the sound of her daughter’s abuser’s truck as he sped past their small family home on a residential street in Tacoma. When he reached the end of the block, he turned around and did it again. Brenda opened the curtains to watch him pass. “He slowed down,” she recalled, “and he stared at me.”

This was far from Brenda’s first run-in with the man who has tormented her daughter for more than a year. But after his harassment forced her daughter to move back home—he fired a flare gun into one apartment where she lived and tore the door off another—Brenda decided it was time to request a protection order from a court.

A civil protection order temporarily forbids an abuser from contacting or following their victim; if the abuser violates the order, they could face fines or jail time.  If a prosecutor chooses not to file charges against an abuser or if the victim decides not to file criminal charges, the victim can turn to a civil court as an alternative source of relief. Courts in Washington can issue six kinds of civil protection orders, each geared toward different types of abuse or harassment.

The harassment had been too overwhelming for her daughter to request a protection order on her own; once the abuser began to harass and intimidate her entire family, Brenda saw an opportunity to ask a court for help. For Brenda, an anti-harassment order was the only option: Because the abuser was her daughter’s former partner, not her own, Brenda couldn’t request a domestic violence protection order. Most civil protection orders are short-term; in some cases, people experiencing abuse can petition for the orders to be effective for a year or longer.

But in counties across Washington, victims of harassment, sexual assault and domestic violence have to navigate a disorienting—and disheartening—bureaucratic maze to receive a protection order. For Brenda, who owns a car, works from home, and could afford the $90 filing fee, the process was still disorienting and time-consuming, though she ultimately received a two-year protection order. For many other people who have experienced domestic violence and their families in Washington, the barriers to filing a protection order have been insurmountable.

“I’ve been at hearings where victims had to stand three to five feet away from someone who may have been trying to kill them for years,” Maria Pintar, a former legal advocate for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, said.

These barriers primarily impact women: nationally, women are roughly twice as likely as men to experience intimate partner violence, and more than twice as likely to experience stalking; the vast majority of abusers are men. Low-income women, Indigenous women and women born outside of the United States are particularly vulnerable to all forms of harassment and abuse, and the same groups also face the most significant barriers to accessing civil protection orders.

Lawmakers in the Washington State Senate are considering a bill that many survivors and advocates hope could remedy some of the longstanding flaws in the civil protection order system. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Roger Goodman (D-45, Kirkland) and Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-45), would streamline the process for courts to consider and grant protection orders. “At its core,” Goodman told PubliCola, “this is about improving access to justice.”

Goodman argues that the proposed law would address an array of obstacles to protection orders simultaneously. If passed, the bill would replace the web of state laws that currently govern the civil protection order process with a single law that standardizes not only the procedures for petitioning a court for a protection order, but the paperwork itself: Goodman described a “master petition” that would lighten the workload for petitioners.

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Currently, each type of protection order is governed by separate state laws; those laws determine how a victim can petition for a protection order, the court in which they file the petition—either district or superior court—and how courts can modify, extend or terminate protection orders, among other details. The quantity and type of evidence needed for each type of protection order also varies: someone petitioning for a sexual assault protection order would need to divulge the details of the assault, while a person seeking an anti-harassment order does not need to provide a comparable amount of personal information.

Before the pandemic, people seeking domestic violence protection orders in King County faced an uphill battle. “There are only two [superior] courthouses in King County—the thirteenth largest county in the country,” said Mary Ellen Stone, the director of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center. “Someone might need to take two buses to get to court. It has to be easier than that.” For people in rural counties without a car or reliable public transit, traveling to and from a county courthouse could verge on impossible. Continue reading “State Legislation Could Improve Daunting Protection Order Process”

Domestic Violence Intervention Project Experiments with Restorative Justice for A Stigmatized Group

Image via seattle.gov.

By Paul Kiefer

In early November, in a hallway on the tenth floor of the Seattle Justice Center, a middle-aged man in an untucked polo shirt waited for his name to be called. In the courtroom next to him, Seattle Municipal Court Judge Adam Eisenberg was wrapping up a string of DUI probation hearings; in the hallway, defense attorneys mingled with anxious probationers, none of whom looked pleased to be there on a Monday afternoon.

Judge Eisenberg spoke to the DUI defendants in a firm, measured tone. “We’re very excited that you’ll be going to law school,” he told a young man who turned up in a tidy suit, “but it’s also a little alarming that you’re here.”

But the judge’s demeanor softened when the man in the polo shirt walked through the courtroom’s double doors and took his place at the defendant’s table. “How are you feeling? How is everything going?” he asked. Immediately, the interaction felt far more personal than the hearings that preceded it.

The man is one of roughly 60 participants in the court’s Domestic Violence Intervention Program (DVIP), a treatment program for defendants with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions that provides court monitoring, group and individual counseling, and referrals to substance abuse or mental health treatment providers as necessary. The program, which is still in its pilot stage, has been operating with little publicity or fanfare since June 2018. However, with alternatives to policing and incarceration front-and-center in Seattle’s political discourse, DVIP has taken on new significance as one of several promising experimental public safety programs in the city.

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Unlike people facing charges for misdemeanors like shoplifting or drug possession, domestic violence defendants haven’t received much attention—or sympathy—in recent discussions of alternatives to policing and incarceration. The belief that domestic abusers are best held accountable through probation or incarceration has not disappeared, but the shift towards a rehabilitative approach is relatively widespread. And while domestic violence offender treatment programs have existed for decades in the United States, until the past decade, most of those programs treated domestic abusers as fundamentally different from other criminal defendants.

“For a long time, domestic violence was siloed,” said Tara Richards, a professor of criminology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha who is leading an independent review of Seattle’s DVIP. Domestic abusers, she said, were typically treated as unique among violent offenders; as a consequence, they rarely received attention in conversations about rehabilitation. Continue reading “Domestic Violence Intervention Project Experiments with Restorative Justice for A Stigmatized Group”

Cuts to SPD’s Domestic Violence Unit Could Undermine DV Investigations, Experts Say

Image by zeraien via Wikimedia Commons.

By Paul Kiefer

As part of the staffing transfers that Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz announced last Tuesday, the Seattle Police Department is in the process of moving 88 officers to patrol duties, with more transfers to follow. Those reductions include 29 Community Policing Team members, five members of the department’s Intelligence Unit (used to identify crime hot spots and to determine where patrol officers will be deployed), and five members of the department’s Domestic Violence Unit—nearly a quarter of that unit’s staff.

Despite assurances from both Chief Diaz and Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office that the department is working to ensure that the staffing transfers don’t limit the domestic violence unit’s efficiency and capacity, sources both outside SPD and inside the unit itself are raising concerns that the move will undermine domestic violence investigations.

“Of course I’m concerned,” said David Martin, the head of the King County Prosecutor’s Domestic Violence Unit, which works with the SPD unit on felony cases. “It’s hard to imagine this not increasing the caseloads for the remaining detectives, and that can take a toll on the thoroughness or speed of the investigations.” That increase in caseloads would have happened this year even without the staff transfers, he said, given the recent surge in domestic violence cases in the county.

“A 911 response never resolves a domestic violence incident. Relying on police response to address domestic violence lacks understanding of what survivors experience when they encounter the legal system because neither the domestic violence nor the legal process ends with that 911 call.” – Judy Lin, King County Bar Association

According to the King County Prosecutor’s Office, as of the end of July, the county saw a 17 percent increase in domestic violence felony case filings compared to last year. So far this year, there have been 11 domestic violence homicide incidents in King County, accounting for 15 deaths (which include two murder-suicides and one incident with multiple victims)—twice as many as in all of 2019. Another eight murders were committed by convicted domestic violence offenders; because the victims in those cases weren’t intimate partners of the perpetrators, they aren’t counted as domestic violence homicides.

According to Martin, SPD’s Domestic Violence Unit plays a crucial role not only in investigating domestic violence cases, but in conducting follow-up with offenders, including serving protection orders and removing guns from offenders’ homes. In fact, SPD’s Domestic Violence unit was created specifically to shift those duties away from patrol and into a specialized unit trained specifically in managing domestic violence cases.

The SPD Domestic Violence Unit is also a part of King County’s Regional Domestic Violence Firearms Enforcement Unit (RDVFEU)—a collaboration between county and city prosecutors, the sheriff’s office, and the SPD unit; the SPD detectives are responsible for serving protection orders and removing guns from the domestic violence offenders within city limits. The RDVFEU has recovered 30 percent more firearms this year than they had by the same time last year and has seen a 104% increase in Extreme Risk Protection Order filings, which mandate the removal of a firearm from domestic violence offenders.

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Retired judge Anne Levinson, who led the effort to establish the regional firearms unit, is worried that the cuts to SPD’s domestic violence unit will undermine the department’s commitments to their regional partners. “My concerns are both the ability to swiftly and strongly enforce the law and the importance of quickly serving protection orders and removing firearms when those orders are served,” Levinson said. “Both those are put at risk by those cuts.”

An officer who works in SPD’s Domestic Violence Unit, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, echoed the concerns of Martin and Levinson, saying they can’t fathom how their colleagues will be able to process ever-growing caseloads with fewer investigators. The officer said they are especially concerned about the unit’s Elder Crimes division, which will lose two of its three officers. The division is responsible for investigating physical abuse, neglect, or financial abuse involving senior citizens.

Mirroring the broader surge in domestic violence filings, the officer said, the elder abuse unit has also seen their caseloads increase during the past year, which they credit to pandemic-related isolation. “The elder abuse team’s numbers are always increasing,” they explained, “and during the pandemic, there’s less supervision of elders because people don’t want to infect them, so they can be hugely vulnerable to abuse.”

In his press conference last week, Interim Chief Diaz said that increasing the number of patrol officers will enable faster 911 responses;  that distributing patrol duties between a larger number of officers will reduce on-the-job stress and allow those officers more time to build relationships with community members; and that decreasing the number of officers assigned to special units—who Diaz said often work more overtime—will lower the department’s overtime spending.

Durkan spokeswoman Kelsey Nyland said Durkan supports the transfers because they serve Diaz’s goal to “focus the culture of SPD— including patrol—on community and neighborhood policing” and “lay the groundwork to create a department that is less centered around individual, siloed specialty units and instead can handle a total collection of incidents.”

As for concerns about the ability of SPD’s Domestic Violence Unit to investigate cases, aid in prosecutions, and provide follow-up for victims, the mayor’s office doubled down on last week’s assurance that “SPD will be closely monitoring the data for any potential negative impacts and making data-informed decisions about staffing and allocation of resources.” Nyland added, “If SPD doesn’t have enough officers in patrol to be quickly dispatched to initial incidents of domestic violence, then the subsequent detective work loses much of its purpose.”

But according to Judy Lin, the Senior Managing Attorney for the pro bono family law programs at the King County Bar Association (which deals with domestic violence cases), improving 911 response times to domestic violence incidents does less to ensure the safety of victims than the follow-up work provided by the Domestic Violence Unit.

“A 911 response never resolves a domestic violence incident. What you’re dealing with are survivors who have a relationship with the abuser involving a pattern of coercive control,” Lin said. “Relying on police response to address domestic violence lacks understanding of what survivors experience when they encounter the legal system because neither the domestic violence nor the legal process ends with that 911 call.”  If the reduced Domestic Violence Unit struggles to keep up with casework, she said, “it is more likely that abusers will not be held accountable… Without [an efficient Domestic Violence Unit] there are so many reasons for survivors to not follow through with the criminal case when they assess the risks of doing so to their safety and that of their children.” 

Lin also added that patrol officers responding to domestic violence incidents can actually make victims less safe. “If survivors reach out to law enforcement who don’t have specialized training, it can increase the risk of harm and lethality,” she said.

And elder abuse cases often don’t involve a 911 call at all, said Nadia Armstrong-Green, a Senior Rights Assistance administrator with Sound Generations, a King County nonprofit that serves older adults and adults with disabilities. “A lot of elder crimes involve some form of financial abuse,” she said, “and I often advise people to get the police involved, but many of our clients are reluctant to do that. Most people don’t see fraud or identity as an emergency.”

According to the Domestic Violence Unit detective, problems may also arise from transferring detectives who haven’t been on patrol in several years without adequately preparing them for their new patrol positions. One of the domestic violence detectives who will be transferred, they say, hasn’t been in the field for nearly a decade. “I’d think [they] would need some kind of modified field training before [they] would be prepared to work as a single officer unit. There have been technological changes, policy changes… a lot has evolved for patrol officers.” Instead, they say, the transfers will receive only about a week of training before they are deployed on patrol on September 16.

The C Is for Crank Interviews: City Attorney Candidate Scott Lindsay

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Scott Lindsay, the onetime public safety advisor to former mayor Ed Murray who is challenging City Attorney Pete Holmes, was in the news a few weeks ago for leaking draft legislation that would offer limited amnesty from fines and impoundment to people living in cars and RVs and create dozens of small safe lots for people to park their vehicles around the city. Lindsay released an early version of the bill, sponsored by city council member Mike O’Brien, last month, forcing O’Brien to quickly amend and release the proposal and to hold a hasty press conference to walk back some of the more controversial elements of the draft Lindsay leaked. Lindsay’s reputation as the guy who defended Murray’s encampment sweeps, and his efforts to kill legislation reviled by neighborhood activists, like O’Brien’s RV bill, helped earn him the endorsement of the Seattle Times, which effused about his “tougher,” “stronger,” more “aggressive” approach to homelessness and drug addiction. But Lindsay has also won endorsements from onetime Holmes supporters like Harriet Walden and Lisa Daugaard, two members of the Community Police Commission and longtime advocates for police accountability and reform. The CPC soured on Holmes when he proposed delaying police reform legislation earlier this year.

I sat down with Lindsay at Cupcake Royale in Madrona.

The C Is for Crank [ECB]: When we set up this interview, you said you could make a strong case that people who lean further left should vote for you. From what I’ve seen so far, most of your support has been coming from the right, from places like the Seattle Times editorial board and neighborhood groups like Safe Seattle. If you’re the candidate for the left, why are those groups so convinced that you’re their guy?

Scott Lindsay [SL]: I have no idea what their impressions are. I’ve clashed in very public ways with them. What makes me different, and maybe what they might find attractive, is, I’m willing to go talk to them, and I’m actively trying to convince them that fighting supervised [drug] consumption [sites] is maybe not the smartest use of their resources. The thing that also may differentiate me is that I do think we have some public safety issues in the city of Seattle, and I’m willing to acknowledge that. I think  we’ve heard a lot of talk about a progressive approach to public safety. We have not seen action and we have definitely not seen results, and I’m a guy who is going to not only say it but do it.

ECB: What are some of the places where we haven’t seen results?

SL: Holmes, and in fact all of the Seattle political establishment, talks as if we have implemented significant criminal justice reforms in Seattle when we’ve not. We’ve not. The [Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program has been in existence for five and a half years, and it’s barely grown outside of downtown into Capitol Hill. [Eligibility for LEAD] has not yet expanded out of the narrow classification of [criminal] charges that we started with. That program is touching just some tiny portion of the population that actually needs it. Holmes says that the cosponsored LEAD, but I haven’t seen any evidence of his engagement over the last three years. We’re not delivering on that program. We’re not delivering on  criminal justice reform within the court  system. And so the result is, people are cycling through the system repeatedly, and reoffending to a significant degree.

ECB: What do you say to neighborhoods when they’re already worried about Navigation Centers bringing more homeless people into their communities? It sounds like you’re saying to them, ‘We’re going to take people directly out of jail and bring them into your neighborhood.’

SL: Well, they’re going directly out of jail and into your neighborhood anyway.

What I told the Seattle Times is, I laid out a specific plan and I said we need to address the intersection of criminally involved individuals who are suffering from addiction and suffering from homelessness. And I brought to them specific data about how that population makes up the bulk of people currently being prosecuted by the city attorney and how we’re getting very crappy results in terms of trying to change the behavior of that population.

ECB: Do you believe that the population of homeless people with addiction is primarily responsible for crimes like car prowls and break-ins?

SL: Absolutely.

ECB: What makes you so confident?

SL: Because that’s what our data tells us, and that’s what our police tell us, and that’s what our courts tell us. Go to SPD and they will say that virtually 100 percent of the car prowls in the North Precinct are committed by people whose underlying issue is addiction, principally heroin and methamphetamine.

ECB: I find addiction as a contributing factor easy to believe. What I don’t know, and what I’m asking, is how many of the people committing property crimes are homeless. I have heard many people in the neighborhoods express the opinion that by cracking down on homeless people, the city will solve the problem of property times, and I’m wondering if you think that’s true.

SL: I am the first to say that we are not talking about all homeless. The county has done good work on this. What we know is, it’s people with addiction and who are unsheltered who are currently going through  the system. That does not mean that the vast bulk of homeless individuals are criminally involved or that they’re struggling with addiction, but the folks who are in the  criminal justice  system are very substantially homeless and suffering from addiction.

This is our status quo—the streets-to-jail cycle—right now. We’ve got a lot of folks who are coming out of the criminal justice system right back onto the streets, right back into homelessness, right back into drug addiction. So we have to go and do proactive outreach to folks where they are. The Navigation Team is a form of proactive outreach that’s trying to find low-barrier housing and services for folks to get them out of the cycle before they enter into  criminal justice  system.

The second [intervention] is diversion after arrest. That means expanding LEAD citywide and expanding the total number of qualifying crimes for LEAD. If somebody’s committing a car prowl right now, and they are arrested right here, and their underlying issue is addiction and homelessness, that would be a perfect client for LEAD. And yet because we’re outside of the geographic boundary [of LEAD] and car prowl is not a qualifying crime, they are not eligible to be diverted. Then, if we arrest somebody whose underlying issue is addiction and homelessness [and the case goes to court], we should tie that judge into the Navigation Team, into LEAD, and have, in effect, a street court that is oriented around a harm reduction approach.

And then, in jail, we have to have treatment options. The second somebody on a Seattle Municipal Court charge is booked into a jail and if they [have heroin] addiction,  we need to be offering them counseling and, if not methadone treatment, which can be more involved, then at the very least suboxone.

And finally, we need to have a serious warm handoff. Instead of pushing folks [leaving jail] out onto the street who we know came in homeless, came in with addiction, let’s crate warm handoffs, all tied into the Navigation Center and the Navigation Team.

ECB: So is idea they would exit jail and go straight into the Navigation Center?

SL: I think so, yes—or in a setting similar to the Navigation Center facility.

ECB: It seems like that would require a scaling up of our shelter facilities that isn’t anticipated in the Pathways Home plan (which proposes a shift from shelter to permanent housing) or in the city budget.

SL: This is a four-year plan, but absolutely, if we’re going to be serious about these things, we need to have a vision, have an architecture, and then fund these things appropriately.

ECB: What do you say to neighborhoods when they’re already worried about Navigation Centers bringing more homeless people into their communities? It sounds like you’re saying to them, ‘We’re going to take people directly out of jail and bring them into your neighborhood.’

SL: Well, they’re going directly out of jail and into your neighborhood anyway. And so the question is, can we do something to reduce the impact of that? We already have a lot of transitional and halfway housing around Seattle. We’ve been able to manage this in the past. The Navigation Center is a temporary way station on the way toward, hopefully, more permanent options.

ECB: Would you have released the draft [of Mike O’Brien’s RV legislation] if you were city attorney?

SL: Not if they were seeking my attorney-client privileged legal advice.

ECB: What if they weren’t, and you just didn’t like a piece of legislation and you wanted to slow it down?

SL: I think the city attorney should speak publicly on issues of significant importance to the city.

ECB: Why did you leak O’Brien’s RV legislation—or do you dispute the term ‘leak’?

SL: I dispute the term ‘leak.’

ECB: Okay, how come?

SL: So O’Brien had created his [vehicular living task force]. They’d made their recommendations in April. He then worked up the legislation and his office spread it to a lot of stakeholders. They briefed it to some other council members. They briefed it to city departments. And it spread to series of stakeholders. His office then put out an email out 15 to 20 stakeholders that they were introducing that version of the legislation imminently and it was in the law department for a final review—with minor revisions, but they made clear that it was final. That version of the legislation was in the hands of 50 to 100 people. It was not closely held. In that email, they said, we are introducing it imminently and we’re going to have two hearings on it his month and vote it out of committee right after Labor Day. It was a very truncated legislative process right in the middle of August, when a lot of people aren’t paying attention. That had me very concerned, because I thought the legislation was deeply flawed in a legal sense and a policy sense, and that O’Brien was going to try to shove it through at the wrong time. I wasn’t going to do anything with it until his office said they were introducing it imminently. Once they said they were doing that and on such a truncated timeline, I made it public.

ECB: Would you have released the draft if you were city attorney, rather than a candidate for city attorney?

SL: Not if they were seeking my attorney-client privileged legal advice.

ECB: What if they weren’t, and you just didn’t like a piece of legislation and you wanted to slow it down?

SL: I think the city attorney should speak publicly on issues of significant importance to the city. I have very specific experience with this. I was the guy who created the RV safe lots [a safe RV parking program that the city abandoned after deciding it cost too much.] I tried to make those work. I saw what the challenges were. So I have experience. I’ve also seen how Mike O’Brien’s program, Road to Housing, which we spent several hundreds of thousands of dollars on, was a serious flop. [Road to Housing was a program that encouraged churches to allow people living in vehicles to park in their lots. Ultimately, it only created a dozen safe parking spots]. So I’m not coming at this as, ‘Oh, I got a special document and I’m just going to throw it out there.’

“They had a small group of investigators that were able to make sure the domestic violence cases were able to be filed right away. Holmes says domestic violence is a top priority, but he took away these investigators. SPD’s domestic violence unit is telling me, ‘Here’s why we’re getting shitty results out of our domestic violence cases.'”

ECB: Why did you think O’Brien’s plan wouldn’t work? What was the issue?

SL: I think the blanket amnesty [from fines and towing] is just a very legally problematic policy. The thought that we could create 50-some safe lots is unfortunate—it’s counterproductive because we already have experience with this. At the end of the day, what we found was that trying to serve people in their vehicles and to help them stay in their vehicles is the most expensive way to try to service this population.

ECB: So what is a more effective and affordable solution?

SL: I think we need to vastly ramp up the outreach, and outreach to somewhere. Just going and sending an outreach worker alone and cold to a situating and saying, ‘Hey, would you like services?’—the answer is almost always ‘No, thank you.’ Having a police officer try to resolve the legal issues and the social and health issues at the same time is a more effective model.

ECB: You said that ‘blanket amnesty’ isn’t workable from a legal perspective. It seems to me that from a ‘managing homelessness’ perspective, towing people’s vehicles away isn’t working either, since they go from being homeless people in cars to being homeless people in tents and doorways.

SL: There’s a way to do this with appropriate controls and forgiveness, where we say, if your vehicle’s broken down and you received tickets and all you need is $250 for a new starter, we’re going to forgive the tickets and we’ll help you with the starter, but you have to get your vehicles back into basic legal compliance. We absolutely should not be towing somebody’s vehicle away if it’s just a matter of some basic economics. At the same time, to say that there’s blanket amnesty if you’re living in a vehicle creates a whole host of significant issues.

Go under Spokane Street. We had massive fire hazards. We had major public health problems. We had widespread exploitation of women. We had serious drug dealing and other issues. And we had a homicide just three weeks ago. How is the city going to manage the impacts of significant accumulations of vehicles in one location if there’s a blanket amnesty?

ECB: Let’s shift gears and talk about domestic violence. You accuse Pete of declining to file more DV cases than any city attorney in recent history. His counter is that he’s been boosting more DV cases to felony status, which goes through the county court system, and that the number of DV cases that come before the city attorney are cyclical. How do you respond?

SL: The decline rate, at which they refuse to file cases up front, is 65 percent. That is the highest that it’s been in Seattle’s history. In 2009, it was under 50 percent. So, per the city attorney’s own stats, they are declining to file more cases than they ever have in the history of Seattle. [Ed: The city attorney can decline to file a domestic case for prosecution for many reasons, including a victim who is unwilling to testify, incomplete or unclear paperwork, or an accuser who decides it’s safer not to press charges; charges that are boosted to felonies also show up as declines].

One of the major problems is that Pete Holmes has been shuffling and reshuffling the criminal division and moving people around. They had a small group of investigators that were able to make sure the domestic violence cases were able to be filed right away. Holmes says domestic violence is a top priority, but he took away these investigators. SPD’s domestic violence unit is telling me, ‘Here’s why we’re getting shitty results out of our domestic violence cases.’ It used to be the case that when there was some missing information, the investigators would complete that—no problem, it’s a little Google search, boom, complete. Now the city attorney’s office says, ‘Okay, SPD, this case isn’t ready to file,’ and they send it back to the officer who’s out on the street. And that officer may be on vacation, or maybe he has a really full workload. Maybe it gets pushed to the back of pile, and they maybe complete it a week, two weeks later. The case gets more and more stale.

Domestic violence cases are hard, but they haven’t fundamentally changed in the last 30 years, and Holmes has a burden to explain why, if you are an abuse survivor in the city of Seattle, the prospect of you making it through  this process and holding your abuser accountable is slim to none. He says it’s a priority. Those numbers don’t show that. Those numbers show that, in fact, we are badly failing survivors.

Read my pre-primary interview with Lindsay, where we discussed even more issues, including the role of the Community Police Commission in police reform, here; and check out both my recent conversations with City Attorney Pete Holmes here.

The C Is for Crank Interviews: City Attorney Pete Holmes

Image result for pete holmes city attorneyCity 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 allowing domestic violence cases to founder, ignoring crimes committed by homeless people and people with substance use disorders, and failing to implement criminal justice reform.

I sat down with Holmes last month to discuss his record, Lindsay’s accusations, and issues ranging from health care to homeless RV residents to downtown disorder.

The C Is for Crank [ECB]: Your opponent, Scott Lindsay, has accused you of deprioritizing domestic violence cases in your eight years in office, pointing to stats that show a steady decline in the number of cases filed. How do you respond to this allegation?

Pete Holmes [PH]: That is simply, unequivocally wrong. And it’s unfortunate because, without getting defensive, it is quite easy for someone smart like Scott to take the stats out of context and give them a spin that is at best misleading and at worst, intentionally creates a completely false impression that is, in fact, diametrically opposed to what my policies are and what the performance has been. In truth, domestic violence referrals from SPD, as well as [case] filings, have been cyclical. They have gone up and down over the last 10 years.

What happens immediately in every case is that advocates reach out to the victim and assess whether or not a case needs to be filed. Sometimes the victim doesn’t want it to happen. What’s best for the victim is always assessed early in a case. Frankly, we’re making better decisions [on which cases to file.] A referral to the county for prosecution as a felony case, instead of  filing as a misdemeanor, will show up as a decline. That’s really what a really good  domestic violence section does, is to do triage. We don’t have the resources to file every case, nor would you want to.

If there is a follow-up investigation required for a misdemeanor, there are next to no resources available for that. In fact, for years, SPD had no detective support whatsoever for any misdemeanor  domestic violence referrals. So, in other words, whatever the patrol officer got that evening on response is all we have. Today, as we speak, we have one [full-time] detective at SPD that’s handing an average of about 1,500 cases. And this is not a criticism of SPD. They’re managing resource problems in the same way that we are. They do have a team that’s dedicated to felony domestic violence investigations. If it’s a felony, they get full backup support, and we have to get in line and wait. So that’s why our triage is even more important. This is something that I have talked about with every police chief since chief [John] Diaz: ‘Please make sure that this stays on your radar. We need misdemeanor support.’

“I know that the one thing even council members with whom I have had strong disagreements over the years, and there have been many will, tell you is that even when they’ve disagreed with Pete, they have never feared that Pete is going to somehow rat them out or put them in a false light.”

ECB: And nothing has improved since Diaz?

PH: Well, it comes and goes. The domestic violence unit under Captain Deanna Nollette is hugely supportive. It’s not a criticism. I recognize that we’re all struggling to get the job done, and we’re always using triage. That’s true with SPD as well as our office.

That’s the other thing that’s so disappointing when Scott pulls these stats and does not give the full story. This shouldn’t be a finger-pointing exercise. When you go public with stats like this, it’s not unlike if you leak an early draft of an ordinance. [Lindsay released an early version of city council member Mike O’Brien’s legislation creating protections for people living in their vehicles.] That’s not a good way to encourage collaboration.

ECB: Since you brought it up, what do you think was the impact of Scott leaking the RV legislation?

PH: That’s a great question for you to ask the council members. I know that the one thing even council members with whom I have had strong disagreements over the years, and there have been many will, tell you is that even when they’ve disagreed with Pete, they have never feared that Pete is going to somehow rat them out or put them in a false light. Because all these things have a lengthy, deliberative fact-gathering process, and arriving at the best policy is not waking up one morning and saying, ‘We should have an ordinance that says this.’ It’s going, ‘This is a problem. How should we address this?’ And you go through a lot of iterations. I don’t want to get in [O’Brien’s] head and say whether he felt pressured to get it out, but I don’t see how it was avoidable, frankly. And that’s why you shouldn’t do attention-grabbing stunts like that, especially if you’re going to be an ethical lawyer. That is precisely the wrong way to have a mature debate about a lightning-rod issue. If you want to throw red meat, if you want play on people’s fears and prejudices and anger, that’s Page 1 in Donald Trump’s playbook, and it only lends itself to poor, poor policy making.

ECB: What do you think of the legislation itself, which proposes opening dozens of small lots for people living in their vehicles and granting amnesty from parking tickets and fines for people living in their vehicles who agree to participate in a program?

PH: I’m not going to comment on that, except to say that under Scott’s tenure, the executive tried the approach of having these car camps, these designated parking spots, and I think the results speak for themselves on that. [The city abandoned the “safe lot” and “safe zone” program after concluding that the “safe lots” cost too much and the unmonitored “safe zones” resulted in too many public safety risks]. It doesn’t mean the problem went away. There are litter and human waste issues. The allegations of criminality at least have to be investigated. But when you ask people, ‘What would you like to do?’ that’s when usually people start to be quiet and say, ‘Well, seriously—is the tow truck driver going to tow away the camper that’s got a family in it?’ Perhaps there are some really hardened tow truck drivers who will do that, but are you comfortable with that if you’re in the position of authority and authorizing that?

“If you want to throw red meat, if you want play on people’s fears and prejudices and anger, that’s Page 1 in Donald Trump’s playbook, and it only lends itself to poor, poor policy making.”

So, a, the problem hasn’t gone away. B, the only thing you can do is to attempt to address it. And c, when you criticize early efforts in that way, especially in this office, it is so wrong-headed. It should be self-evident, but if you are simply walking into a room of people who are angry about homelessness for whatever reason—maybe they feel genuine distress about the plight of the homeless, maybe they just don’t like the blight of their city, whatever their reason, they’re angry about it—having a shouting match is just not going to lend itself to really good decision-making.

ECB: Your opponent talks a lot about how he came up with the idea for Navigation Teams [groups of police and social service providers who offer services before sweeping homeless encampments] when he worked at the mayor’s office. Do you think the teams are an improvement on the way the city used to do encampment sweeps?

PH: To an extent. I certainly have been impressed by the officers and the teams that include social service providers. That has been a much better response than the status quo, which was: Send out a cop to make an arrest. They are now actually engaged in bona fide problem-solving. I think it’s the right approach. But the big question is, are there sufficient resources for the Navigation Team to refer people to, and that’s always going to be the question.

There is also an issue about how the resources of the executive compare to the resources of the city attorney. If you’re running for this office, you need to make sure that you correct any misimpressions about just what it is you can do. You can promise that you’ll cure rain in Seattle. It does beg the question, how are you going to do that? It seems like [Lindsay] really got ahead of himself and doubled down when he said [to the Seattle Times editorial board] that he was the only person in the mayor’s office working on homelessness. That’s not true on its face, and it ignores that the mayor is the executive who appoints all the department heads—like human services, like SDOT, like the chief of police. All of those are subject to mayoral direction and that includes spending of resources the actual general fund. So the city attorney, in that case, is very much in a supportive role.

I think the city attorney’s role is also to say, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Point Person for the Mayor [Lindsay], if you’re going to use prison labor to clean up an unauthorized encampment, that is a nonstarter from a liability perspective. I would like to think that you have enough just social justice chops in your body to understand that that’s a stupid thing to do—a heartless thing to do—but if you don’t, here’s the legal analysis. If one of these guys gets pricked by a used needle without the proper equipment by a used needle we are on the hook. So if you don’t understand common sense, here’s a legal analysis for you.’ That’s what the city attorney does.

ECB: What do you think of the merits of the lawsuit against Initiative 27, which would ban supervised consumption sites throughout King County?

PH: I can’t get into [the merits] because I’m looking at a response right now to the initiative. But it’s completely wrongheaded policy, and it’s an example of what I’m talking about. What’s disappointing about my race is that Scott is effectively playing into that same angry narrative. He is going after the people who want to just call a cop and ‘clean up these people, clean that tent, send these people packing on their way. What do you mean you’re going to allow people to shoot up? Are you crazy?’ And these are people that have done zero research, have probably next to no public health qualifications, and it is emblematic of how we backslide.

We do, at best, an ineffective job of trying to get policy headed in the right direction—that is, a public health approach to a public health problem. I think Scott is playing into that, and that is so disingenuous. It’s so cynical. That approach is simply going to mean that, well, the pendulum may just swing back the other way, which is, call the cops. Maybe we’ll renew the debate over whether we should have a  municipal jail, because there are consequences to every policy decision you make. So if we decide we’re going to go back to a law enforcement approach, a  criminal justice approach, to a public health problem, then you’re going to overtax the criminal justice system. You may find us having a difficult time maintaining the reforms under the federal consent decree when you start asking cops to go deal with addicts. That approach has failed. We can’t have backsliding right now, and the thing that’s going to make us most susceptible to backsliding right now is pandering.

“I think the city attorney’s role is also to say, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Point Person for the Mayor [Lindsay], if you’re going to use prison labor to clean up an unauthorized encampment, that is a nonstarter from a liability perspective.”

ECB: Are the existing therapeutic courts sufficient to deal with all the people coming into the criminal justice system needing help with mental illness and addiction?

PH: Anything that is resource-oriented is insufficient. I can tell you, we simply don’t have enough resources. The criminal justice system is a bad place to deliver public health services. That said, there aren’t enough resources that we actually can refer people to and say instead of going to jail, I’m going to refer you to counseling or inpatient treatment or whatever. We can only do that now if we invoke the involuntary commitment act, where you’ve actually got someone who is not competent to stand trial and is a danger to themselves or others.

The preference would be that we upstream all these things and avoid the criminality in the first place. That’s the problem. Say you’ve got someone who’s not a criminal, who’s an addict, or you’ve got someone who’s mentally ill, and then we try to say, ‘Well, we’re going to force you to get that treatment.’ We obviously need to do that when that’s the only option we have, and we need more resources to do that, but where I struggle and where the policy debate needs more calm discussion is, how are we going to allocate more policy resources upstream? Every time you say, ‘We’re going to call the cops and make an arrest,’ that’s some money that can’t go upstream. The pie ain’t getting any bigger.

“We can’t have backsliding right now, and the thing that’s going to make us most susceptible to backsliding right now is pandering.”

ECB: What would you consider to be upstream of even programs like [Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, the pre-filing diversion program for low-level offenders] or arrest?

PH: It would be wonderful if we had universal health care, but if we were able to do as much as we can to compensate for the lack of universal health care, that alone would be a huge  public safety advance.

ECB: Would you support a program along the lines of Healthy San Francisco, which provides health care to people who don’t qualify for Medicaid but also can’t afford or access insurance?

PH: Again, it begs the resources question. It’s going to cost money. Obviously, it makes sense to me, because it’s going to get you the better solution, but I can just sit here and hear the counter-arguments—that, ‘Oh, it’s Freeattle all over again. You’re going to offer these services and attract more people.’ That’s going to be the debate, and it’s going to be so unhelpful. The role of the city attorney  is to make it more likely that that debate is going to happen and happen in a productive way, and I would support having that debate.

Read my pre-primary interview with Holmes, where we discussed even more issues, including encampment cleanups and the role of the Community Police Commission in police reform, here.

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 doing interviews like this one, which take an average of about 8-10 hours from start to finish. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers like you. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

What Can Cities Do For Women? Let’s Ask San Francisco

Last week, I mentioned (with some consternation) that in a 45-minute speech focusing on actions the city can take to mitigate the impacts of Trump Administration policies, Mayor Ed Murray did not find time to suggest a single policy that would benefit women. The omission was particularly galling given that just last a few weeks earlier, 170,000-plus Seattle women and allies marched from Judkins Park to downtown Seattle denouncing the administration’s proposals to repeal the Affordable Care Act (leaving more women uninsured and reverting to a system that allowed insurance companies to charge women more for insurance just for being women), defund Planned Parenthood, overturn a rule that ensures access to affordable birth control, and gut the Violence Against Women Act. (Murray mentioned the march in his speech as an example of “a surge of action across the nation,” but did not follow up with any policy proposals that might have responded to that action.)

After the speech, I talked to Murray spokesman Benton Strong a couple of times about the mayor’s omission of women from his agenda. Strong made the point that the State of the City isn’t a policy speech—the mayor usually announces big policy initiatives in his budget speech, which happens in September. Fair, but Murray’s state of the city did include a number of concrete proposals to protect immigrants and refugees, to improve outcomes for young black men, and to close the educational achievement gap. And none of Murray’s three budget speeches so far have included specific proposals to help or benefit women, so any new proposals in this year’s budget would represent a departure from precedent for Murray.

Strong also argued, reasonably enough, that ensuring health care access and funding for family planning is generally the responsibility of the state and county. He also asked me what I would propose the city to do protect women’s health care, promote pay equity, or ensure that women can take time off to care for a new baby or a family member. To quote April Ryan, I’m just a reporter, but I decided to look to see if other cities are doing anything that we could emulate. Turns out, I didn’t have to look that far. Just two states south, San Francisco has adopted quite a few policies to improve women’s equality in that city. Here are a few ideas for Mayor Murray to consider.

1. Paid parental leave

Taking time off after the birth or adoption of a new baby is vitally important to the wellbeing of both parents (particularly birth mothers) and their children, yet the US is the only developed nation that doesn’t guarantee a single day of paid parental leave. Low-income women and those with part-time or unstable jobs are hit hardest by this national failure, because they often have to return to work immediately after giving birth, giving them no time to recover or bond with their new baby. Last year, San Francisco became the first US city to address this national failure, by passing a law that requires all companies with 20 or more employees to provide six weeks of parental leave, fully paid, to new parents. (The policy complements a state law that provides six weeks of leave paid at 55 percent of a new parent’s original salary). Washington, D.C. also recently adopted a generous paid leave law, which requires companies to pay workers 90 percent of their salaries for up to eight weeks. Council member Lorena Gonzalez is currently meeting with business leaders in a series of closed-door roundtables to hear their concerns about a city-level paid-leave mandate.

pay-equity-report2. Equal Pay

Seattle still has one of the biggest pay gaps between men and women in the nation, with women earning 73 cents on the male dollar for doing the same work. Seattle has taken some action toward closing the 10-cent pay gap in city employment—a number that obscures the fact that women are underrepresented in the highest-paying city jobs—but so far has done nothing to close the yawning gulf between what private employers pay men and women for doing the same work.

This might seem like a good place for the state to step in, imposing penalties on employers who discriminate by paying women less than men. So far, though, they haven’t (and with the state senate controlled by Republicans, they won’t), so it might be up to cities to step in. San Francisco has already taken steps in that direction, by passing an Equal Pay Ordinance that requires companies that contract with the city to prove that they pay men and women equally by filing annual pay equity reports with the city’s Human Rights Commission. The commission has the authority to penalize contractors who pay women less than men. It’s not a perfect law—requiring private employers to publish what they pay their workers by race and gender would go further toward promoting pay equity in the long run—but it’s a step in the right direction, one that Seattle hasn’t taken (yet)

3. Family-friendly workplace policies

One issue that often comes up for new and expecting parents, particularly women (who still tend to be the primary caregivers) is the need to take time off to deal with family obligations—from prenatal visits to caring for a sick child or family member to daycare pickups and parent-teacher conferences. Yet many caregivers are reluctant to ask for flexible schedules or other accommodations for fear of losing their job or other retaliation. San Francisco has attempted to address this problem with its Family-Friendly Workplace Ordinance, which gives employees the explicit right to request special arrangements, such as a change in start times, part-time and part-year schedules, telecommuting and schedule predictability. Employers don’t have to grant every request, but they do have to provide a reason for refusing to provide flexibility, and can’t retaliate against workers who make such requests. The law, which applies to companies with 20 or more employees, took effect in 2013.

4. Transitional housing for domestic-violence victims

As I’ve reported, the mayor has announced sweeping plans to eliminate funding for transitional-housing programs, shifting those dollars to “rapid rehousing” programs that provide short-term vouchers for homeless Seattleites to rent housing on the private market, with the understanding that once the vouchers run out in three to 12 months, the rent will revert to market rate, currently around $2,000 a month for the average apartment in Seattle. But transitional housing for women fleeing domestic violence is also vulnerable, because the new system gives special priority to people who have been homeless the longest, meaning that abused women who aren’t already plugged into the formal domestic-violence “system” (which is already overburdened) may slip through the cracks.

San Francisco, which is also revamping its homeless-services system but relies less heavily on the federal grants that have accelerated Seattle’s shift to rapid rehousing, has a special grant program dedicated to preventing violence against women and helping female victims of domestic violence; in 2014, the last year for which data is available, the program funded nearly 12,000 bed-hours in transitional and permanent housing programs for women and children fleeing domestic violence.

5. And how about a whole department? 

Seattle has the Seattle Women’s Commission, a volunteer commission that meets once a month and advises the city on policies that impact women. San Francisco has an entire Department on the Status of Women, which focuses on advancing women’s human rights, preventing and addressing violence against women, and promoting gender equity in the workplace. A city’s values and priorities are reflected not just in policy or speeches, but in where it invests its resources, and the city of San Francisco has cemented its commitment to women by creating not just a commission made up of women who volunteer their time, but an entire department with a $7 million annual budget whose entire purpose is promoting women’s equality. Seattle should consider doing the same.

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.

Pathways Home for Whom? Advocates Say Sober Housing, Domestic Violence Victims Could Lose Out

Merril Cousin, director of the Coalition Ending Gender-Based Violence, testifies at last week’s council budget hearing.

For all the Poppe report’s specificity about the need for “efficiencies,” emphasis on “performance-based strategies,” and laser focus on housing those who are “literally homeless” and have been so the longest, it (along with Mayor Ed Murray’s related Pathways Home proposal) is notably silent on what will happen to those who don’t fall into the category of “long-term homeless,” or who use transitional housing programs designed for specific vulnerable populations, such as domestic violence victims and people struggling with addiction who want to live in clean and sober housing.

Both types of programs could be cut under the Pathways Home/Poppe plan, which would move the city away from transitional housing (a category that includes sober houses and housing for domestic violence survivors) toward “rapid rehousing” on the private market.

Domestic violence victims and sober addicts and alcoholics aren’t the only people who will potentially lose services under the mayor’s plan (as the Seattle Human Services Coalition noted in an analysis they released last week, housing for veterans, refugee families, and girls under 18 could also be cut)  but they are among the most vulnerable—domestic violence survivors to their abusers, and people struggling with addiction to relapse.

Transitional housing for people who want to stop drinking or using generally consists of supportive group housing in a community of people who hold each other accountable. “Sober houses,” both those that receive subsidies and those that do not, require strict abstinence from drugs and alcohol, and often require random urinalysis (UA) tests to enforce the rules. Because sobriety is strictly enforced, they’re at the opposite end of the spectrum from the “housing first” approach (which seeks to lower barriers to permanent housing), but for some who want to stop using and need structure and a support system, sober housing can be literally a lifesaver.

Flo Beaumon, associate director of the Archdiocesan Housing Authority (Catholic Community Services), says “clean and sober” housing like the CCS-run Aloha Inn on Aurora, which houses people for up to two years and provides services like counseling, recovery support, and housing search assistance, is a vital part of the housing spectrum “for people who choose it who are in recovery and personally need to be in a clean and sober environment to maintain their recovery.”

“I personally know plenty of people who need the clean and sober environment to be able to succeed,” Beaumon says. “They can’t be around people who are using.”

Beaumon worries about what will happen to those clients if abstinence-based recovery housing loses its funding under Pathways Home. “The direction that All Home [the group that manages homelessness policy in King County] is going with now is saying that they support recovery housing, but they aren’t willing [to support] programs to enforce sobriety,” Beaumon says. “Well, what do you do about relapse? Our experience is that relapse is contagious. If somebody starts using and doesn’t immediately do a u-turn and get back on the wagon, it can become a dangerous environment for other people who are in a very fragile state of recovery, because it’s new and they’ve been homeless.”

Sharon Lee, director of the Low-Income Housing Institute, says LIHI has already “phased out” some of its clean and sober housing, because “we’ve been asked by the city to reduce the barriers for people getting in.” Lee says LIHI used to run three houses for people in recovery in Seattle, and two in King County, which are no longer operated as sober housing.

Daniel Malone, director of the housing-first-focused Downtown Emergency Service Center, is skeptical that abstinence-based housing is necessary for people to stay clean and sober (and don’t get him started on the term “recovery housing,” which he thinks unjustly excludes current drug and alcohol users who consider themselves to be “in a recovery process”). And he dismisses the “strongly held contention—I might call it a myth—that someone who’s got a substance use problem, and wants to not use, must be in an environment with no one who is using and otherwise will not be able to remain abstinent.”

That said, Malone adds that he doesn’t see funding for sober housing going anywhere, because, he argues, it has powerful advocates. “I would be shocked if the system does not maintain some allowance for abstinence housing in the continuum,  because there are a lot of constituencies for that kind of housing—organizations that promote it defend it and want to see it continue.” But he acknowledges that agencies that provide sober housing might have to shift from transitional to permanent housing, because “transitional is going away.” According to homeless advocates, transitional sober housing can serve three times as many people per year as a permanent housing program.

Victims of domestic violence could also be deprioritized under the mayor’s proposal, because existing transitional housing for survivors (which has a temporary waiver from the county’s coordinated-entry program, through which people experiencing homelessness are documented and assigned levels of priority) may lack the capacity to accommodate everyone who has suffered from domestic violence but isn’t currently plugged in to the DV “system.” Merril Cousin, director of the King County Coalition Ending Gender Violence, says that many homeless women who currently use shelters and transitional housing services have been victims of domestic violence, and may fall to the bottom of the triage list under the new criteria because they haven’t been homeless long enough, or aren’t “literally homeless” yet because they’re living in their cars.

Cousins worries that a system that prioritizes people who have been homeless longer could push women fleeing their abusers to the bottom of the list, making them more likely to stay in dangerous home environments or lose custody of their kids as they move down the rungs of poverty. Alternatively, she says, they might seek services in the domestic-violence system only to find long waiting lists as these programs get overburdened by an influx of women who are no longer at the top of the list for programs serving the general homeless population.

“Domestic violence assistance programs get five to 20 applicants for every one position that they have, and that’s now,” Cousin says. “What we’re concerned about is [that] if the prioritization for housing placement moves to [one that’s] totally based on the length of time someone’s homeless, as opposed to to their vulnerability, it’s going to increase the number of people they refer to domestic violence programs

For example, says says, if “somebody calls and says, ‘I slept in my car last night because my partner threatened me with a knife,’ the way it is right now, we can refer you to domestic violence programs.” Under Pathways Home, Cousin says, “it might be, ‘You just slept in your car one night and now you’re at the bottom of the list.”

The council will continue to discuss the mayor’s proposed budget, which includes just under half a million dollars in 2017 and 2018 to “staff Pathways Home Implementation,” through the middle of November.