Tag: drug policy

Finally Addressing Blake Decision, Legislature Passes Punitive Drug Possession Bill

by Andrew Engelson

On Tuesday, during the special legislative session called by Gov. Jay Inslee, and after hours of emotional testimony, the legislature passed a new drug possession bill.

The legislation was a response to the state supreme court’s 2021 Blake ruling, a landmark decision that invalidated the state law which historically defined drug possession as a felony. Legislators, set on addressing the court’s decision, failed to pass a bill during the regular session. Yesterday, however, Democrats passed their compromise, which focuses on criminal penalties and coercive treatment over a harm reduction-centered approach. The bill was actually less punitive than a previous version that failed to pass, but is still centered on the threat of jail time for drug users.

The vote was 43 to 6 in the Senate, with Democratic senators Bob Hasegawa (D-11, Seattle), Jamie Pedersen (D-43, Seattle), and Rebecca Saldaña (D-37, Seattle) and three Republican senators voting no. The House passed the bill 83 to 13 and sent it to Inslee, who signed it the same afternoon. The House “nay” votes included several Republicans and nine Democrats, all from Seattle or Shoreline: Reps. Emily Alvarado, Frank Chopp, Lauren Davis, Nicole Macri, Gerry Pollet, Cindy Ryu, Sharon Tomiko Santos, Darya Farivar, and Chipalo Street.

“Is this bill perfect? Absolutely not,” the bill’s original sponsor, Sen. June Robinson (D-38, Everett), said before the vote, adding that she believed the compromises were necessary to pass uniform, statewide rules for drug use and possession.

“This legislation offers a balance between accountability and compassion,” said Rep. Peter Abbarno, (R-20, Centralia) who did not vote for a previous version in the House but supported Tuesday’s bill.

Rep. Lauren Davis (D-32, Shoreline), who voted “no,” called the bill ““bad drug policy” on the house floor before the vote. “Harm reduction programs meet people where they are, they don’t leave people where they are. No one can recover if they’re dead.”

In an attempt to win support from left-leaning reformers, the bill does tone down punishment. The bill defines drug possession – and a new offense of public drug use – as gross misdemeanors, but rather than the standard maximum of 364 days in jail, it limits the maximum sentence that can be imposed for each charge to 180 days for the first two convictions, and 364 days for the third or additional convictions. Fines for each instance are limited to $1,000. The bill also encourages local authorities to offer pre-arrest referral services such as LEAD and the state’s Recovery Navigator Program, and also encourages and describes a process for prosecutors to employ post-conviction diversion programs.

“I personally would like to get to a place where we can decriminalize drugs. But I’m also pragmatic and I don’t just represent myself, I represent a district.” —Rep. Tarra Simmons (D-23, Bremerton), who voted “yes.” 

But ultimately, it defers to local prosecutors to decide whether to press criminal charges for drug possession.

“The prosecutors really insisted that they be the gatekeepers and that they be the party that consents to the diversion,” said Rep Roger Goodman, (D-45, Kirkland) who chairs the house Safety, Justice, and Reentry committee and who was a key player in the negotiations that led to the current bill.

Goodman, who in his career as an attorney has worked to shift drug policy from a criminal justice issue to a public health issue, said, “As the chair of the committee, my role was to manage this process, and move through a piece of legislation that’s politically tenable. In doing so, I have permanently tarnished my drug policy reform credentials. But this is only a step in the continued evolution of our drug policy.”

“I’m grateful for the negotiators from all four caucuses for reducing the amount of incarceration,” said Rep. Tarra Simmons, (D-23, Bremerton) in a floor speech. Simmons, who once served time in prison for a drug possession conviction, voted no on the previous version of the bill because she thought its penalties were too harsh, but reluctantly supported today’s version. “I personally would like to get to a place where we can decriminalize drugs,” Simmons said, “But I’m also pragmatic and I don’t just represent myself, I represent a district.”

The state budget, which Inslee also signed Tuesday afternoon, includes nearly $1 billion for behavioral health services, treatment services, supportive housing, and harm reduction for people with substance use disorders. Notably, that operating budget also includes $300,000 to create a “work group” tasked with studying how the state might create a safe supply system that would provide drug users with medical-grade sources of controlled substances such as opioids and stimulants.

A new work group will evaluate “potential models for safe supply services and make recommendations on inclusion of a safe supply framework in the Washington state substance use recovery services plan to provide a regulated, tested supply of controlled substances to individuals at risk of drug overdose

Creating a safe supply work group was one of the few recommendations from the state’s Substance Use Recovery Services Advisory Committee (SURSAC) report issued late last year that survived the current legislative session.

Like SURSAC, the safe supply work group will include representatives from public health agencies, elected officials, prosecutors, law enforcement agencies, harm reduction organizations, housing and treatment service providers, and active and former drug users.

The group will be tasked with evaluating “potential models for safe supply services and make recommendations on inclusion of a safe supply framework in the Washington state substance use recovery services plan to provide a regulated, tested supply of controlled substances to individuals at risk of drug overdose.” The group must present a final report to the legislature by December 2024.

“In order to help people be in recovery, you have to make sure they’re alive,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra, (D-45, Redmond), who chairs the Law and Justice committee and included the work group in an earlier version of the drug possession bill. “I think it’s important to have those conversations about how we can keep people alive so we can help them recover. This work group is going to help us with that discussion.”

Caleb Banta-Green, a research professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine, says safe supply isn’t a radical notion if you’re trying to prevent overdose deaths, of which there have already been 524 in King County this year.

“We have a fundamentally unsafe supply, to put it very simply. That is obviously true of fentanyl,” Banta Green said, noting that the state currently has a safe supply system for alcohol, cannabis, and treatments for opioid addiction. “We’ve had methadone for 50 years and buprenorphine for 20 years. And those are forms of safe supply.”

The drug possession/public use bill that passed Tuesday was much less centered around harm reduction. To attract Republican votes, the bill included a provision that allows local jurisdictions to outlaw or restrict harm reduction services. It does, however, decriminalize drug paraphernalia such as syringes and smoking supplies statewide, when used in harm reduction efforts.

“There’s no evidence that a criminal charge is going to help. And there’s lots of evidence that criminal charges and incarceration all have negative consequences, both in the short term and the long term.  I’m saddened.” —Seattle Rep. Nicole Macri, who voted “No.”

The bill also allows those convicted of either possession or public use to vacate their convictions, but only if they enter treatment for substance use disorder and can show six months of “substantial compliance” with those treatment programs. In addition, prosecutors cannot press charges for both possession and use for the same instance, preventing “stacking” of charges for one incident.

Another concession that House Republicans asked for and got was a provision requiring the state let local media know when a methadone clinic or other opioid treatment facility is opening. Such notices can often inflame public opinion: late last year, a new opioid treatment center in Lynnwood faced furious opposition from local residents before it opened in January.

The bill that passed today replaces a temporary bill passed in 2021 that had set possession at a simple misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail. The temporary law was prompted by the Washington State v. Blake ruling, which tossed out the former statute which defined possession as a felony over a fairly narrow question of “knowing” possession. That temporary law was set to expire in July, thus forcing the legislature to take action this session.

“I wish there were no criminal charges,” Rep. Nicole Macri (D-43, Seattle), who voted against the final version of the bill, told PubliCola, “There’s no evidence that a criminal charge is going to help. And there’s lots of evidence that criminal charges and incarceration all have negative consequences, both in the short term and the long term. And so, I’m saddened.”

The drug bill also includes $62.9 million ($19.6 million more than the previous version of the bill) in spending on an array of services and programs including housing, recovery and treatment services, diversion programs, new mobile methadone clinics, creating pilot “health hubs” designed to lower barriers to treatment and services, and funding to boost the number of public defenders.

Alison Holcomb, political director for the ACLU of Washington, which has been supportive of decriminalization and investigating a safe supply system, says her organization is disappointed in Democrats—who control both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office—for failing to end the war on drugs in Washington state.

“It’s fairly heartbreaking that legislators who negotiated this bill prioritized partisan compromise over what modern science tells us can save lives,” Holcomb said. “We’re continuing the same strategy of holding punishment over people’s heads as a motivator to coerce them into treatment that is of a finite length of time. And both the coercive feature of that approach and the notion that treatment is something that we can get done in 28 days, six months, or even a year, contravenes modern science.”

Holcomb pointed out that a fiscal note prepared for a previous version of the drug possession bill that set drug possession as a gross misdemeanor estimated that 12,000 new cases will be filed each year in district and municipal courts across the state because of the bill.

Rep. Goodman, who described the negotiating process over the final bill as collegial but akin to being “subjected to a series of small surgeries,” said he’s hopeful this won’t be the last time the legislature reworks its approach to drug use. “The conversation on the failure of the war on drugs will continue to progress,” he said. “I think we’ll be demonstrating through these policies that harm reduction works. So I’m not too disappointed. But I’m not living in a fantasy world.”

In Seattle on Tuesday, council members Sara Nelson and Alex Pedersen, alongside city attorney Ann Davison, announced they would introduce a new version of their legislation to criminalize public drug use that will put that proposal in line with the state’s new drug possession and public use laws.

In April, the three proposed a new ban on public drug use at the city level in response to the legislature’s failure to pass a Blake-related drug bill. In a press release, Nelson said, “Now that Olympia has appropriated resources for treatment and adopted a fix for Blake, we’re bringing our legislation into alignment to remove any further cause for inaction on the most critical public health and public safety issue of our time.”

Late Morning Crank: New Homelessness Policies and New Streetcar Claims

1. Update: The mayor’s office says they have been briefing council members on the four elements of its homelessness strategy (spending and accountability, crisis response/creating safer spaces, regional coordination, and affordable housing) but is not rolling out any major new policies. Mayoral spokeswoman Stephanie Formas says rumors around ramped-up enforcement could be related to the previously announced additional $500,000 the city plans to spend on its Navigation Teams. As for the idea that the city plans to implement involuntary commitment to detox for addicted people who decline assistance from Navigation Team members, Formas pointed to a letter to the co-chairs of the One Table task force signed by the mayors of Auburn, Renton, Kent, Bellevue, and Kirkland suggesting that the leaders of the regional initiative (which has been dormant for months but is meeting again next week), should consider “involuntary treatment for those presenting an imminent likelihood of serious harm to self or others, or who are gravely disabled as a result of substance use disorder” and who refuse to go to treatment. Should this become an element of the One Table implementation strategy, it would mean forcing people into short-term detox, which has not been shown to be effective for treating severe addiction.

Original item: Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office has reportedly been briefing city council members on a new policy related to homelessness that, rumor has it, involves more strenuous enforcement of the city’s anti-trespassing and no-camping laws. Conversations with folks on the second floor and advocates working on homelessness-related issues indicate that the new policy could involve involuntary commitments for people suffering from addiction under Ricky’s Law, which allows adults to beheld for up to 17 days in “secure withdrawal management and stabilization facilities,” AKA secure detox, if they are available; since the state and King County would ultimately be responsible for actually funding detox beds, this could be a way of putting pressure on the county for ramping up detox funding. Currently, there are only a few dozen detox beds available in all of King County, including a recently opened facility on Beacon Hill that filled an existing gap in care left by the closure of Recovery Centers of King County; that facility has 32 beds for patients needing detox. Formas said they would be “doing some action items on homelessness and affordability next week.”

So far, according to council log-in sheets, the mayor’s office has met with council public safety committee chair Lorena Gonzalez, council president Bruce Harrell (both yesterday), and council members Mike O’Brien  and Sally Bagshaw (this morning). I will update as I learn more.

2. I reported last week on the Freedom Foundation’s lawsuit challenging a tiny house village” encampment in South Lake Union on the grounds that it violates state environmental rules. One thing I didn’t discuss in detail is the fact that the reason the city has been able to authorize so many tiny house villages—seven, at the moment, or four more than are allowed under a city ordinance limiting the total number of authorized encampments to three—is that each of the new authorized camps has been approved on a rolling conditional basis under what’s known as a “type 1 permit.” Such permits, which must be renewed every four weeks, are meant for temporary uses such as temporary fire and police station relocations or farmers’ markets, as well as any other temporary use that’s meant to last four weeks or less. Type 1 permits can be approved administratively, meaning that they don’t have to go through a lengthy public hearing process or the usual environmental review. (The Freedom Foundation’s lawsuit challenges this premise, and also argues that temporary encampments should be Type 2 decisions, which require more process and are more involved.)


This struck me as a peculiar way of permitting encampments, given that the city has decided as a matter of policy and law that only three encampments should be allowed citywide. I’m no lawyer, but it also seems like an area where the city could be legally vulnerable—if the city wants to allow more than three encampments, then why not do so through the legislative process, by changing the law, instead of using this workaround? The city attorney’s office had no comment on the legal ramifications of using Type 1 four-week permits to allow tiny house villages.  Wendy Shark, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections, says temporary permits are only for “encampments that are also in the process of applying for the 6-month temporary use permit.  In every case, encampments needing temporary use permits are applying for the 6-month permit or will soon apply.  Since the 6-month permit is a ‘Type II’ application involving public notice and opportunity to appeal to the City’s Hearing Examiner, the Type I four-week permit is a means to establish an encampment in the short term while the longer public process occurs.”

However, since city law currently restricts the total number of longer-term encampments to three, Shark adds that “legislation will be needed to change the current number of interim use encampments that are permitted.”

3. Local transportation Twitter was buzzing this week over a couple of articles about Seattle projects aimed at improving mobility for cyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders. I covered the first, a Crosscut editorial claiming that bike lanes are only for rich white people,  on Wednesday. The second, an article by Times reporter David Gutman, repeated claims from Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office that the delayed downtown streetcar may be too bulky, and use the wrong track gauge, to connect to the existing South Lake Union and First Hill lines. I reported on the same claims in a brief item Wednesday morning, noting that if the claims turned out to be true, it would represent a significant embarrassment for the city along the lines of the time when Sound Transit had to go in and remove tracks installed by King County Metro in the downtown transit tunnel because they were the wrong size for light rail.

Yesterday, however, transit advocates began to dispute the mayor’s claims, and Gutman’s story, pointing out that both of the two types of streetcar bodies that would run along the connected line use the same standard gauge (1435-millimeter) track, and that the difference in the car widths is relatively trivial. The new cars, built by CAF USA, would be about ten feet longer than existing streetcars, which were manufactured by Inekon. The print and current online editions of Gutman’s story include context about the likely actual size of the vehicles and the fact that the gauge of the tracks is compatible with both cars, contrary to what Durkan implied in her statement, which suggested that the city does not even know if “the new vehicles [are] compatible with the current track gauge.”

However, the story that the  Times initially ran online did not include any of that information. After it went up, both FOX News and local conservative radio host Dori Monson latched on to what FOX calls the “streetcar fiasco,” which FOX described, in typical FOX fashion, as the latest setback for a left-wing mayor trying to raise her national profile with “fervent attacks against the Trump administration over immigration, climate change and abortion.”  Monson, meanwhile, suggested that former SDOT director Scott Kubly “should be in prison” and that former King County executive Ron Sims is a fake “man of God” who is destined for hell.

When I asked mayoral spokeswoman Stephanie Formas about the mayor’s statement Tuesday night, she said, “we do know that the cars are heavier, wider, and longer than the current cars, but engineers are looking at all the facts in the context of these cars running on the full system.” On Wednesday, Formas followed up with more details, acknowledging that the tracks are technically compatible with the new cars and that the new vehicles are actually slightly narrower than the existing streetcars, but adding that “evaluation of the existing conditions related to track gauge is necessary to provide accurate data to CAF so that they can account for these differences in the design of the track and wheel profile for the CAF vehicle.”

In addition to concerns about whether the new streetcars would fit into the existing maintenance barn, Formas said that the “dynamic envelope” of the streetcar, which includes both width and length, raised concerns about the vehicles “hit[ting] other elements in the ROW, such as trees, signage, curbs, and poles as they travel along the track.” The streetcar will be still about six inches narrower than a typical King County Metro bus, which are eight and a half feet wide (compared to eight feet, .038 inches for the new streetcars and eight feet, .085 inches for the existing ones.)

Morning Crank: “Clearly An Undisclosed Pledge”

1. Last week, former mayoral candidate Cary Moon wrote her campaign a check for $207,000, bringing the total she contributed to her own campaign to nearly $400,000—the largest amount spent by any self-financed candidate in Seattle history.

The campaign for now-Mayor Jenny Durkan now argues that the contribution confirms what they predicted in two complaints they filed last year, alleging that Moon was engaging in a campaign-finance “shell game,” accepting a loan-on-paper from her campaign consultant Moxie Media with a promise to pay Moxie back after the campaign was over.

Shortly before the November election, the Durkan campaign filed a complaint with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission against the Moon campaign, charging that Moon had unlawfully contributed tens of thousands of dollars to her own campaign within 21 days of the election, in violation of a state law prohibiting candidates from giving more than $5,000 to their own campaigns within that period, or had promised to repay a large loan to her campaign during that period, which, they argue, would also violate a city election rule prohibiting vendors from extending credit to campaigns in a way that is outside the “ordinary course of business.” A week later, the campaign filed a separate, similar complaint at the state Public Disclosure Commission, charging that the campaign’s final report before the election “clearly indicates that Moxie Media is relying on Ms. Moon to cover debts that are clearly beyond the pace of their other fundraising efforts. The increase in debt by $77,459.18 [over the last two weeks of October] is clearly an undisclosed pledge from Ms. Moon and is over 15 times the amount that Ms. Moon can pledge during the 21 days before the election.”

According to the SEEC complaint, “A close look at the Moon campaigns [sic] filings indicates that one of two things, both illegal, is going on: either her campaign’s vendors are making tens of thousands of dollars in illegal in-kind donations to her campaign, or Moon is contributing (or promising to contribute) tens of thousands of  dollars to her own campaign in direct contravention of the 21-day self-contribution limit,” the complaint alleges.

The complaints zeroed in on tens of thousands of dollars campaign consultant Moxie Media spent in the final weeks of the campaign on up-front expenses like postage, which can’t be deferred until after the campaign is over. In the last two weeks of October, according to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, the campaign’s debt increased by more than $85,000, to $186,000 (the election was November 7). This amount of last-minute debt, the Durkan campaign suggests, violates the spirit of the ban on late contributions. “If these actions by the Moon campaign and Moxie Media are acceptable, then there are essentially no limits to the amount that a campaign consultant can spend out of their own funds on media, mail or other paid communication buys on behalf of a wealthy candidate for whom they work, under the assumption that the candidate can reimburse them for all of those up front payments after election day, when campaign contribution limits (like the 21-day restriction on candidate self-contradictions [sic]) no longer apply,” the state complaint says.

Moon’s camp says the loan (or pledge) was completely within the normal course of business, and notes that Durkan’s own debt increased by about $45,000 in the same period, to $98,000. They also point out that the debt was hardly a secret—the campaign reported it on every election filing.

Moxie Media’s Lisa MacLean did not return a call for comment.

Although consultants are allowed to extend credit to candidates for 90 days, the complaint charged that the Moon campaign and its consultant, Moxie Media, were aware that the debt would ultimately be paid by Moon, not other campaign contributors. At the time of the complaint, October 25 of last year, the campaign was reporting more than $125,000 in debt, which was almost as much as Moon had raised from individual donors at that point in the race, raising questions about her ability to generate enough in donations after the election to pay back that debt without using her own money. By the end of November, three weeks after Moon had lost the election, campaign finance reports indicated her campaign was $206,000 in the red.

If the SEEC tosses the complaint, the Durkan campaign says, it will essentially be saying that there is are no limitations on campaign contributions by self-financed candidates, opening the floodgates for candidates to make massive loans to struggling campaigns in the hopes that a big last-minute financial push will make up for a lack of grassroots support. (The PDC will consider the campaign’s complaint, too, but on a much slower timeline because the agency is working its way through a huge backlog caused primarily by a single conservative activist who has filed dozens of complaints against local Democratic Party districts alleging various reporting violations.)

But officials with the SEEC and the state PDC say this is the direction the courts seem to be going already. In addition to Buckley v. Valeo, in which the Supreme Court ruled that limiting a candidate’s spending on her own campaign violated the First Amendment, there’s Family PAC v. McKenna, in which the Ninth Circuit district court ruled that a 21-day limit on large contributions to ballot initiatives (though not individual candidates) was unconstitutional.

The direction the courts are going, in other words, is in favor of unlimited spending and contributions by wealthy candidates to their own campaigns. This may mean more self-financed campaigns in the future, but it may also mean more laws meant to encourage candidates to raise their money from individual donors, like the initiative that provided each voter $100 in “democracy vouchers” to spend on city council campaigns this past election. There’s also the distinct possibility that Moon—a candidate whose consultant, Moxie Media, bragged was “well-resourced” before she had even declared she was running—was simply an outlier in Seattle politics: A progressive candidate with deep pockets who failed to win the imagination of the public (Moon received 1,088 individual contributions to Durkan’s 4,210) yet was able to eke out a second-place primary election finish in a very crowded (21-candidate) field. A big test for the viability of non-wealthy candidates will come in 2021, when democracy vouchers go into effect for mayoral candidates. Although vouchers do not include restrictions on self-financing, they do place other limitations on candidates, such as spending limits, in exchange for public funds.

2. At 10:00 this morning, the state Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee will hold a public hearing on a bill, SB 6150, that would update the state’s current abstinence-first approach to opiate addiction and require the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to promote the use of medication-assisted treatment and other evidence-based approaches to opiate addiction. Currently, state law says explicitly that there is no fundamental right to medication-assisted treatment for addiction, that total abstinence from all opiates should be the “primary goal” of any opiate addiction treatment, and that if a doctor does prescribe medication, it should only be a stopgap measure on the way to total abstinence.

Overwhelming evidence has concluded that medication-assisted treatment with opiates is effective at saving lives, reducing the harm caused by buying and consuming illegal drugs, and reducing or eliminating the use of harmful opiates. There is still some debate about whether people should continue taking replacement drugs like suboxone for the rest of their lives—they are opiates, and do cause dependency—but there’s no question that punitive, abstinence-only policies result in more deaths and ruined lives than compassionate, evidence-based approaches like medication-assisted treatment, and it’s high time that state law reflected that.

The bill would also declare the opiate epidemic a public health crisis, seek a waiver from federal Medicare and Medicaid rules to allow opiate addiction treatment in prison, and develop a plan for purchasing and distributing naloxone, the overdose-reversal drug, throughout the state.

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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.

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