Tag: Mayor Durkan

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.

Interim Police Chief Diaz Explains Plan to Transfer 100 Officers to Patrol


By Paul Kiefer

In his first appearance in his new role, Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz joined Mayor Jenny Durkan Wednesday to explain why he’s transferring 100 officers to the 911 response team within the month.

Diaz first announced the move in an SPD Blotter post on Tuesday afternoon, saying his intent is to “better align department resources with our mission statement and community expectations” by emphasizing patrol roles (officers responsible for responding to 911 calls) which he called the “backbone” of the department.

Diaz said today that his goal is to move “at least half” of SPD’s officers to patrol positions, as well as half of the supervisorial staff (lieutenants and sergeants). He explained that about 40% of the 100 officers who will transfer to patrol by September 16th will leave units that currently serve patrol-like functions, including officers in the anti-crime unit, traffic enforcement ,and community policing. The rest of the new patrol officers will come from a variety of the department’s other specialty units,. Those units, Diaz said, were adopted over the past several decades “at the cost of [SPD’s] 911 response,” adding that “considering current personnel and budgets, these specialty units are a model we can no longer afford.”

The dramatic move came just a week after Durkan issued a sharp rebuke of the council’s vision for downsizing SPD by vetoing their midyear budget rebalancing package. That council package included several ordinances that would have cut 100 positions from the department—largely through attrition, but also including targeted cuts in several specialty units, including the harbor patrol, the mounted unit, and the misleadingly named homeland security unit (generally assigned to provide security at large events).

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One of Durkan’s most consistent criticisms of the package was that the job cuts would lead to slow 911 response times to even the most serious crimes, including rape and home invasions. But the council responded by pointing out that 56% of all 911 calls in Seattle are for non-criminal situations; they recommended a more effective protocol for triaging SPD 911 response that would prioritize critical incidents and vulnerable populations, ensuring fast response times when they are most necessary. The council hasn’t yet voted on whether or not to override the mayor’s veto.

According to Durkan, the shift was largely spurred by demands she’s heard from “every neighborhood in the city,” both for faster 911 response times and for greater community engagement. “Officers don’t have the time they need to know the residents and businesses of the neighborhoods they serve,” Durkan said, “and many times it’s because they were responding from call to call.”

She and Diaz both said increasing the number of officers on patrol would allow officers to respond faster and respond to a wider array of calls—including “Priority 2” calls, which SPD defines as “altercations or situations which could escalate if assistance does not arrive soon.” 

Diaz said it would also give officers more time to “identify the underlying issues [on their beats] and start relationships with renters, homeowners, the neighborhood watch, the business owner, and the person living outside.” And while some of the transfers would come from the community policing unit, Diaz’s indicated the new patrol officers would be expected to shoulder some responsibility for community policing themselves.

Durkan brushed off questions from the press about the contrast between the increase in patrol officers and the concerns of the Defund SPD movement about  interactions between SPD and the public, arguing that she’s heard more consistent calls for efficient 911 response. “We know we still need police,” she argued. “We rely on them to provide public safety.”

Durkan and Diaz also said the shift will help cut the department’s overtime costs by scaling down the more overtime-heavy specialized units and increasing the number of patrol shifts.

Durkan pointed to this year’s spike in homicides—up 44% from last year in King County, according to the King County Prosecutor’s Office—as another justification for the reshuffling. She said the move will “help…officers arrive at scenes more quickly, give victims the help they need, help first responders and find perpetrators.” However, she acknowledged that “policing alone cannot and will not solve” the rise in gun violence. She said  “upstream” investments in education and diversionary programs were a key part of the solution, as well as “trusted community partners who can deescalate situations and provide alternatives to the criminal justice system.”

For the time being, Diaz said, he intends to move at most two detectives per specialty unit, such as Domestic Violence or Sexual Assault; those detectives’ caseloads will be transferred to the staff remaining on those specialized units. He said one of his goals is to minimize the effect of these transfers on the department’s case closure rate and the speed of investigations. (Patrol officers do not conduct investigations).

In keeping with the conditions of the Seattle Police Officers Guild contract, Diaz said the first detectives to be reassigned to patrol will be those who most recently joined specialty units, and therefore those who have the most up-to-date training as patrol officers. However, Diaz added that detectives who haven’t been on patrol duty for several years will receive “updated” training during the coming two weeks to learn new patrol rules and procedures.

But Office of Police Accountability Director Andrew Myerberg doesn’t think that last-in, first-out approach to transfers will last, and in fact, could exacerbate a potential officer shortage. “The OPA expects to see SPD staffing shortages for the next year, if not longer,” he said. “And we think we might see a rise in senior officers retiring instead of going back onto patrol,” he said.

That would mean more patrol vacancies, and potentially more transfers from the specialty units to fill those vacancies, which, in turn, would leave the remaining detectives in the specialty units with much larger caseloads. He said his office will play a role in retraining officers for patrol, “understanding that there are going to be officers who come onto patrol for the first time in years.”

Despite her recent veto of the council’s proposed 2020 budget revisions, the mayor said she thinks the council will “respond very positively.”

Lisa Herbold, the chair of the council’s Public Safety Committee, told The C is for Crank that she had the chance to discuss the shifts with Diaz after his announcement. She said she supports his authority to make deployment decisions, and she “appreciate[s] that he wants to do more to improve 911 response time.”

However, she sees some bumps in the road ahead. For instance, Herbold said she supports the idea of increasing the number of shifts, but added that “it was [her] understanding that contract negotiations with SPOG will be necessary” to make those changes.

Herbold said she hopes Diaz’s yet-to-be-disclosed decisions about which specialty units will use officers align with the council’s proposals this year for downsizing some SPD units. “It would have been great to know more about whether the executive and Chief Diaz looked at the specialty units the council identified to be reduced,” she said. “And even if there’s disagreement between the Council and the Executive about whether the Navigation team should exist, I’d hope the mayor and the chief would consider moving some officers off that team.”

In the coming week, SPD is giving officers the opportunity for officers to indicate their preferred assignment before ultimately deciding which officers to reassign to 911 response.

The Council Just Created a Blueprint for Defunding the Police, but Mayor Durkan Isn’t On Board

By Erica C. Barnett

This piece originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

The city council’s budget committee approved package of cuts to the Seattle Police Department budget that would reduce the department’s size by about $3 million, representing around 100 positions, this year;, remove police from the Navigation Team, which removes unauthorized homeless encampments; and start the city on a path to fund new approaches to public safety that don’t involved armed officers. Most of the proposals aren’t direct budget cuts—which the mayor could simply ignore—but budget provisos, which bar the executive branch from spending money in a way other than how the council prescribes.

The council also voted narrowly to dismantle the Navigation Team itself, by laying off or transferring not just the 14 police officers on the team but the system navigators, field coordinators, and other civilian staff who do outreach to encampment residents and remove litter, sharps, and debris. (Those positions would be replaced by contracted service providers, which is how encampment outreach worked before the city brought it in-house last year). And they agreed in principle to $17 million in funding for community organizations, including $3 million to start a participatory budgeting process for 2021. 

Other cuts would eliminate the mounted patrol, cut SPD’s travel budget, eliminate the school resource officer program, and reduce the size of the public affairs department. Some of the 2020 reductions would be achieved be through attrition—eliminating vacant positions or not filling positions when officers leave.

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Another amendment, adopted 5-4, would reduce this year’s pay for SPD’s 13 command staff to the lowest rate allowed in their designated pay bands, a cut that would save around half a million dollars between September and the end of the year, according to sponsor Kshama Sawant. If the cuts were annualized, they would reduce the command staff’s pay by an average of $115,000 a year; police chief Carmen Best, who makes almost $300,000 a year, would see her salary cut to $171,000,.

In response to the council’s vote, a spokesperson for Mayor Jenny Durkan called the council’s proposal “unattainable and unworkable.”

“[With] a few hours’ discussion and without consulting the Chief of Police, City Council has voted to reduce the police force by 105 this year, cut the Chief’s salary by 40 percent, and eliminate the City’s team of specially trained social workers that conduct outreach and address encampments and RVs that pose significant public health and safety concerns,” the spokesperson said. 

The council is assuming that layoffs would have to be bargained with the police union and couldn’t occur until at least November, so the savings from cuts would work out to a higher dollar amount next year, when they would, in theory, be annualized. According to council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda, the cuts and transfers the council is proposing this year would amount to about $170 million in 2021, or about 41 percent of the police department’s budget.

“[With] a few hours’ discussion and without consulting the Chief of Police, City Council has voted to reduce the police force by 105 this year, cut the Chief’s salary by 40 percent, and eliminate the City’s team of specially trained social workers that conduct outreach and address encampments and RVs that pose significant public health and safety concerns.”—Statement from Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office

Taken together, the council’s amendments lay out a path forward for future cuts, and a commitment to reinvesting programs guided by the principles of community groups like the Decriminalize Seattle coalition. It’s important to know, however, that while the council can tell the mayor how it wants her to spend the budget, she is generally free to ignore their direction. (See, for example, the administration’s reluctance to expand the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program to provide hotel rooms and assistance to people living outdoors during the pandemic, or to pay for mobile showers for which funding was allocated last November)

In acknowledgement of this power differential—and the fact that labor negotiations may take longer than three months—each of the provisos includes a caveat ensuring that officers will still get paid if the city fails to reach agreement on specific layoffs by November, when the council majority wants the cuts to go into effect. “In every single one of the provisos that reduce spending … the council acknowledges that the chief may realize reductions differently than what the council is proposing,” public safety committee chair Lisa Herbold said. “These provisos are our recommendation for how to achieve the reductions based on the advice that we’ve received that make it more likely that we will be successful in bargaining.”

Across administrations, mayors and councils tend to bicker along predictable lines: The executive branch dismisses the council as ill-informed and naive, while the council accuses the mayor of obstructing progress and ignoring their directives. But the enmity between the two co-equal branches has reached a level under Durkan that many longtime city hall staffers call unprecedented.

Yesterday, for example, Durkan and Best called a press conference to condemn the council’s proposals, one of several they’ve held throughout the council’s budget process. During their prepared remarks, the mayor and chief suggested that cutting the police department would create a “gap in service” for people calling to report major crimes like burglaries and rapes, and accused council members of wanting to lay off officers “by race” because the usual order of layoffs would mean cutting the newest, most diverse cohorts of officers first.

“The mayor does not agree with the city council and a majority of the people of Seattle who believe that we need to substantially reduce the size and scope of the police department, and as a result she is spreading misinformation and fear about what the council intends to do in order to undermine our genuine efforts to transform comm safety in our city.”—Council president Lorena González

The council maintains that the police chief could go to the Public Safety Civil Service Commission to request out-of-order layoffs, but the mayor has argued this wouldn’t be practical on a mass scale. “For over a month, the Chief and Mayor have received guidance from labor relations and law that out-of-order layoffs are unlikely to be finalized in 2020, and will therefore not result in 2020 budget reductions,” the mayor’s spokesperson said.

Council president Lorena González said today that she was “disappointed” that “our labor relations division, which lives in the executive department, [is being] utilized in a politically motivated fashion to advance the goal of never seeing layoffs of badge and gun jobs at the Seattle Police Department.” González suggested the real issue is that Durkan “does not agree with the city council and a majority of the people of Seattle who believe that we need to substantially reduce the size and scope of the police department, and as a result she is spreading misinformation and fear about what the council intends to do in order to undermine our genuine efforts to transform comm safety in our city.”

The council’s unanimous vote for one of the most impactful pieces of defunding legislation—an amendment directing the chief to issue “immediately issue layoff notices” to 32 sworn officers—can be seen as an effort to show a unified front. Or it could be a sign that the often-divided council is in genuine agreement on an approach to defunding SPD. Some of the most surprising remarks this afternoon came from council member Alex Pedersen, whose house has been targeted by protesters urging him to support the goal of defunding SPD by 50 percent. Addressing police officers directly, Pedersen said, “I appreciate the good work so many of you do. At the same time, you’re asked to do too much. You’re sent into complex situations that other professionals in our community might be better equipped to handle.

“You’re also part of a system born out of racism,” Pedersen continued, “and despite progress and reforms, that institutional racism of police departments here and across the nation continues to have a disproportionate negative impact on people of color. By rethinking what public safety really means, by centering Black and Indigenous people and people of color, by taking a thoughtful approach, we can seize this historic opportunity to disrupt institutional racism and achieve real community safety.”

Durkan, Best Decry Council’s Proposed SPD Budget Cuts as Too Fast, “Wrong Year”

By Paul Kiefer

In a joint press conference Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Jenny Durkan responded to the City Council’s proposal to cut the Seattle Police Department’s remaining 2020 budget by about $3 million with backhanded praise, saying the council was “looking in the right places but in the wrong year.”

The majority of the council, with the exception of Kshama Sawant, has united around a plan that would cut 100 positions from SPD’s budget, relying on a combination of attrition and layoffs that would, if all goes according to schedule, start in November. The midyear budget discussions were sparked by an unanticipated 2020 budget shortfall of more than $300 million.

In her remarks, Durkan emphasized that any major reforms to SPD will take a year or more to implement because of the combined challenges of the pandemic, the West Seattle Bridge closure and (ironically) months of protests. “2020 is not the best playing field to discuss further reductions to SPD and reinvestment in community,” Durkan said.

The proposed layoffs, though they would only amount to about half the cuts, have been a point of contention for Best and Durkan, who maintain the council has no legal authority to propose “out of order” layoffs of more-senior officers.

Ordinarily, the least-senior police officers are subject to layoffs first. But this, Durkan and Best said, would “gut” the most diverse group of officers in SPD’s history and reverse progress on improving the diversity of the police department. (Best characterized this possibility as the council proposing “layoffs based on race.”) To get around this problem, the council has proposed “out of order” layoffs targeting officers doing functions the council wants to reduce or eliminate, like SWAT and the Navigation Team.

According to Durkan, while a Public Safety Civil Service Commission (PSCSC) rule allowing the police chief to request out-of-order layoffs has been used in the past for individual cases, doing so on the scale suggested by the city council would require Chief Best to “justify every single decision,” which would draw out the layoff process well past the end of the year. I have followed up with the mayor’s office for clarification about the legal reasoning behind this claim.

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Best also criticized the council for proposing that her department lay off dozens of officers “basically overnight,” arguing that there would be a “service gap” while the city researches and organizes alternative emergency response teams. This gap could mean, she claimed, that when someone called 911 at midnight to report a rape or robbery in process, an officer might not be able to respond right away. None of the specific positions the council has proposed cutting are patrol officers who respond to 911 calls.

Durkan and Best did not accurately characterize several of the council’s other proposals, including their plan to civilianize data-driven policing by transferring this division—which analyzes policing data and makes much of it available to the public— from SPD to the Department of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS). Although the council has said they proposed the move to put police data in more objective civilian hands, Best said the council believed that “we would be better off as a police department if we do not use data.”

In another instance, Best said the council’s proposed layoffs would completely eliminate SPD’s public affairs unit, forcing the media to submit all questions to the separate public records division. In fact, although one council amendment would result in the layoffs of all four sworn staff in the department’s Public Affairs Unit, that proviso would not affect the unit’s civilian staff, who also respond to press questions.

Similarly, Mayor Durkan accused the council of proposing the complete elimination of implicit bias training from the department. In reality, the council’s proposal would withhold funding for implicit bias trainings “until the Executive submits a report describing the effectiveness of shifting officer behavior through implicit bias trainings,” and would direct the department to look into online trainings as a cheaper option. 

Durkan has already proposed $76 million in cuts to SPD budget in 2021, but most of those savings would result from transferring some functions, like the 911 call center and the Office of Police Accountability, out of SPD. Only $20 million would come from cuts to the SPD budget, mostly through attrition, leaving positions vacant, and cutting the budget for security at special events.

The council will take up the budget proposals—including council member Kshama Sawant’s competing package, which calls for much deeper and more immediate cuts—tomorrow morning at 10am.

 

Poll: Most Seattle Voters Support Police Defunding

A poll conducted by EMC Research found that a slight majority of likely voters in the upcoming mayoral election support the concept of defunding the Seattle Police Department, although they were divided on how fast and how to make that happen.

The live phone poll, taken between July 22 and July 27, found that 53 percent of likely voters supported the general idea of a plan that would “permanently cut the Seattle Police Department’s budget by 50% and shift that money to social services and community-based programs,” with 36 percent saying they strongly support such a plan. Forty-five percent said they opposed the idea, with 29 percent strongly opposed.

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By wide margins, poll respondents said they trusted Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best over any Seattle elected official, or the “Defund the Police movement,” to make “fundamental changes to SPD while protecting public safety”—61 percent said they trusted Best, compared to 49 percent who said they trusted Mayor Jenny Durkan and 47 percent who said they trusted the City Council or the defunding movement. Interestingly, just 42 percent said they trusted “the Seattle Police Department,” as opposed to Best, to make fundamental changes to SPD.

Researchers also polled people on two messages, one ostensibly representing the perspective of the city council and one ostensibly representing the perspective of the mayor, as well as a third message of general opposition to any cuts to SPD at all. Based on the wording of those messages, people were more likely to agree with the mayor’s purported point of view (“the city council is rushing ahead without any concrete plans”) than the council’s (“he only way to create meaningful change is to dismantle and rebuild SPD from the ground up.”)

However, both statements are misleading in ways that could make people more likely to side with the mayor’s go-slow point of view. The council has not actually proposed cutting the police department in half right away, as the question implies (nor would this be possible, given bargaining requirements and the federal consent decree), nor does the mayor’s current plan propose “fund[ing] alternative approaches to policing including social services and community-based programs.” Instead, the cuts the mayor has proposed would either be on-paper shifts of responsibilities to other departments or savings that would be used to help plug an immediate $300-million-plus budget hole.

I’ve asked EMC to provide more information about the poll, including any additional questions that weren’t included in their nine-page presentation, and will update this post if I hear back.

A separate poll earlier this month, conducted by Patinkin Research on behalf of UFCW Local 21, found that Durkan had a net favorability rating (the difference between the percentage of voters with favorable and unfavorable opinions) of 5 percent, and compared that number unfavorably to an EMC poll from 2018 that showed Durkan with net favorability rating of 38 percent. Since polls of different groups of voters by different firms are not directly comparable, additional information from EMC could shed light on how voters view the mayor now compared to two years ago.

City Considered, and Rejected, “Voluntary Relocation” Policy for Homeless Encampments

An encampment on South King Street, just prior to removal. Within days, tents had popped up a block away on South Jackson Street.

Seattle’s Navigation Team, a group of Human Services Department staffers and Seattle police officers that removes homeless encampments from parks and other public spaces, considered formally adopting a new policy under which homeless people removed from one location would be told to “voluntarily relocate” to another spot, either “self-selected” or identified by the city, internal memos and emails obtained through a records request reveal.

The discussions took place in April, as HSD, the parks department, and the mayor’s office discussed how to deal with an encampment near the Navigation Center, a low-barrier shelter that is perennially full.

In an April 16 memo to deputy mayor Casey Sixkiller, HSD director Jason Johnson laid out a plan in which the Navigation Team would “encourage and support individuals residing on the [Navigation Center] stairs to accept shelter resources or to voluntarily relocate to a wide stretch of sidewalk at S Dearborn St & 10th Ave S.”

Congregate shelters at Garfield and Miller Community Centers, and at the Southwest Teen Life Center in West Seattle, are scheduled to shut down on August 24, and it’s currently unclear where the homeless men (Miller), women (Garfield) and young adults (Teen Life) will go.

The site was chosen, according to the memo, because it was wide enough to allow some pedestrian access, close to a proposed hygiene station, and accessible for emergency and sanitation workers. (Other emails indicate that the Navigation Team also considered identifying “a large parking lot that people can be directed to camp in” after being removed from around the Navigation center). In an email to Navigation Team members and HSD staffers expanding on the memo, Navigation Team director Tara Beck indicated that people living in encampments slated for removal would be told to “self-select areas to relocate to”—a more politic way of saying, “Move along.”

Before the pandemic, the Navigation Team removed dozens of encampments every month, avoiding a legal requirement that they provide advance notice and offer shelter and services to every encampment resident by designating most encampments as “obstructions,” which are exempt from those requirements.

Since mid-March, in recognition of the fact that moving people from place to place could accelerate the spread of the virus, the team has only conducted a handful of large-scale encampment removals. After each such operation, the city has said that every unsheltered person remaining at a location on the day of a swee received a legitimate offer of shelter that was accessible and appropriate for their specific circumstances. Nonetheless, it’s an easily observable fact that encampments tend to come back after they’re removed, a sign that people either aren’t actually showing up in shelter or aren’t staying there.

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The proposal to formalize the city’s informal practice of shuffling people from place to place, had it been adopted, would have been a rare, if tacit, admission that the city can’t accommodate the needs of all the people living on its streets within the current shelter system. Moreover, by conceding that the best they are able to offer many homeless people is a different camping spot, the city would have also had to acknowledge that it would rather have people living in tents on sidewalks during the COVID-19 pandemic than offer them space in vacant motel rooms, as many other cities across the country—but not Seattle—have done.

Ultimately, the city decided not to adopt the new “voluntary relocation” policy. According to HSD spokesman Will Lemke, in the case of the Navigation Center encampment, HSD “opted to offer shelter and service rather than suggest that people move nearby.” But the discussions that took place back then shine a light on the city’s early thinking about how to deal with encampments at a time when they are temporarily unable to simply declare encampments “obstructions” and remove them.

The tension over how to deal with the 8,000 people experiencing homelessness in Seattle—a number that could soon swell as unemployment benefits dry up and eviction moratoriums end—isn’t going to let up. Currently, the Navigation Team has exclusive referral rights to most of the 95 new shelter and tiny house village beds that opened in response to the pandemic. If encampment removals start up again in earnest, those 95 beds won’t just be inadequate—they’ll be overrun.

As the pandemic drags on into its seventh month, the city is actually preparing to close shelters at community centers that were originally opened as “redistribution” sites for existing shelters where conditions were too crowded. Congregate shelters at Garfield and Miller Community Centers, and at the Southwest Teen Life Center in West Seattle, are scheduled to shut down on August 24, and it’s currently unclear where the homeless men (Miller), women (Garfield) and young adults (Teen Life) will go.

The proposal to formalize the city’s informal practice of shuffling people from place to place, had it been adopted, would have been a rare, if tacit, admission that the city can’t accommodate the needs of all the people living on its streets

One place they won’t be moving is to the enormous “shelter tent” that deputy mayor Sixkiller said was coming back in April. The tent was supposed to provide shelter for up to 250 clients of the Salvation Army, which is currently operating shelters out of City Hall and in Seattle Center.

Documents obtained through a second records request show the enormous cost and size of the tent, which would have been provided by Volo Events, “a leading producer of live events and experiential marketing agency” and cost nearly $1 million—just for the tent—for two months. The 30,000-square-foot tent was going to be set up inside another structure—most likely Memorial Stadium.

Battle Over Budget Transparency Illustrates Deeper Rifts Between Seattle Mayor and Council

It’s probably another sign of the frayed relationship between most members of the Seattle City Council and Mayor Jenny Durkan that the big meta-budget dispute playing out in council chambers right now is how much the mayor and her budget office know about the details of midyear cuts the mayor is proposing and how much they’re telling the council, which has to approve a final package of midyear budget cuts based on more than a dozen pieces of legislation the mayor sent them earlier this month.

Yes, how much to cut the police department (and whether the mayor’s proposed “cuts,” for this year and next, are meaningful or merely cosmetic) remains the most pressing single budget issue. But the cuts the city has to make this year—and then replicat and expand in 2021—are largely in other departments that aren’t currently in the headlines, and the debate over the mayor’s proposals is also a debate about discretion and how much of the budget is actually on the table for the council to tinker with.

On Thursday morning, city council central staff director Kirsten Arestad said central staff will develop a new budget tool—essentially, a balancing worksheet—that will show exactly what is in the mayor’s midyear budget-cutting package, including “administrative cuts” the mayor has made that are not reflected in the legislation she sent to the council. The tool will also take a baseline forecast (the June revenue forecast, which added another $11.4 million deficit to the May forecast on which Durkan’s balancing packaged is based) and use it as the basis of the balancing package. The worksheet will also indicate more clearly the gap between revenues (including COVID-related federal funding) and expenditures (including unanticipated costs related to the pandemic), Arestad said.

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One reason all this extra work is necessary, according to Arestad, is because not all of the cuts Durkan made to the budget show up in the legislation she sent the council, which only includes cuts the council has to act on, making it “difficult to clearly see the full picture” of the budget and “almost impossible for individual council members to determine, as they’re making amendments, ‘Where can I take money, is this being double counted, how does this impact other fund balances, the levy exchanges, how we dip into the emergency funds, and so forth’.”

The budget office doesn’t see it this way. They say they have provided all the information the council has asked for—including not just specific line-item cuts but a list of cuts the mayor considered and rejected (scroll down)—and that the disagreement is actually more fundamental than a simple question of transparency. “We did not and were not intending to send down an entire new budget proposal,” budget director Ben Noble says, or relitigate the entire 2020 budget. But that, he argues, is exactly what the council is trying to do.

So why is this debate ultimately more illustrative than substantive? For one thing, a council that had a healthy relationship with the mayor could have communicated their confusion and need for more information behind the scenes, instead of having the director of Central Staff read a letter for the record; and a mayor who had a healthy relationship with the council could have figured out what information the council wanted and figure out a way to provide it, instead of sending down a dozen pieces of legislation that included gaps that were sure to frustrate a council primed to look for budget trickery.

The second reason this debate is largely symbolic is that the line items the council wants to add (and make up for by cutting from other parts of the budget) are—again, setting the police budget aside—relatively minor strictly from a spending perspective, and many of them will depend on departments (which answer to the mayor) agreeing to voluntarily start the hiring process this year for positions that have been frozen since March, at the risk of having to lay them off at the beginning of next year. Continue reading “Battle Over Budget Transparency Illustrates Deeper Rifts Between Seattle Mayor and Council”

Seattle Mayor’s Proposal To Move Police Investigations Out of SPD Could Have Unintended Consequences

As calls to defund the Seattle Police Department continue, Mayor Jenny Durkan has proposed moving about $56 million out of the Seattle Police Department’s budget into other parts of the city budget—a ledger swap that could actually cost the city more money than the current system and could, advocates say, actually weaken the accountability system.

When announcing the transfers, Durkan’s office described the changes as “actions to transform the Seattle Police Department and reimagine community safety” by responding to requests from community stakeholders. However, it’s unclear where the impetus for the specific changes the mayor proposed—moving 911 dispatch, the Office of Police Accountability, and the Office of Emergency Management out of SPD—came from.

OPA is the city agency that conducts police misconduct investigations. Under the mayor’s proposal, it would move out of SPD and become its own department, most likely reporting “directly to the Executive and Council,” a spokeswoman for Durkan, Kelsey Nyland, says. “Our hope is that by making them a separate office from SPD, there will be an increase in community confidence in their independence from SPD.”

When asked where the mayor got the idea to move OPA of SPD, specifically, Nyland pointed to the “Blueprint for Divestment” produced by King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle, which includes these three items at the end of a long list that includes a hiring freeze, the elimination of the Navigation Team, the elimination of community outreach implicit bias training, and communications, and the elimination of overtime pay.

The agencies that deal with police accountability, including the Community Police Commission—an independent oversight body—and the OPA itself, were apparently not consulted about the change or asked whether they had concerns. (The CPC only received notice about the changes the mayor was proposing a few minutes before her public announcement). But three years ago, when police accountability advocates like the CPC, the ACLU, and the Public Defender Association were crafting a sweeping police accountability bill, they explicitly kept OPA under SPD’s aegis because doing so allowed them direct access to unredacted SPD files and to SPD personnel.

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Retired judge Anne Levinson, the former OPA auditor whose recommendations for improvements to the accountability system were endorsed by the CPC in 2014 and incorporated into the 2017 accountability legislation, says the point of that ordinance was to create a firewall between the accountability agencies and SPD while preserving their direct access to data and records, case management systems, 911 calls, and other records.

“The usual progressive position is that in order to accomplish that, they also need to be totally outside of the department,” Levinson says—”not under the department’s organizational umbrella. But when we looked at others across the country, we frequently saw not only were they not well-resourced, but they did not have full, , immediate, and unfettered access to all the information they needed to do thorough investigations. Some have to issue subpoenas or public records requests just to get basic evidence. So we said that until the City can ensure no loss in full, direct, and unfettered access to systems and evidence, OPA should not be moved to a stand-alone City agency. It makes a very significant difference.”

Nyland says that maintaining “unfettered access to SPD data and case files” is the “north star” for Durkan, one that could potentially be achieved by by creating a new “data-sharing system between SPD and OPA” and amending the accountability ordinance.

Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard, who served on the CPC and worked on the 2017 law, says that “similar civilian-led oversight bodies in other cities have had extreme difficulty getting access” to records in a timely fashion and have had to resort to subpoenas. “Subpoena power still leaves the agency at arm’s length and taking a shot in the dark about what to ask for,” she says. “It’s extremely helpful that OPA can access the records and data it needs from within the organizational structure.”

OPA director Andrew Myerberg, who at the city attorney’s office in 2017 and worked on the bill, recalls that “the decision was made unanimously [in 2017] to keep OPA in SPD” in order “to preserve access to data and people.”

Myerberg says that not only would the changes likely be subject to collective bargaining (something Durkan acknowledged in her announcement), they would also require approval under a federal consent decree and amendments to the 2017 ordinance. For example, although moving OPA out of SPD could increase community confidence in its independence, Myerberg says, the legitimacy of OPA decisions might be called into question if no one from SPD is in the room when OPA is reviewing investigations. Continue reading “Seattle Mayor’s Proposal To Move Police Investigations Out of SPD Could Have Unintended Consequences”

Seattle Police Chief to Mayor: Take Cops Out of the Process for Diversion Referrals

LEAD has identified a number of potential clients for its COVID-era hotel-based program living in tents along 2nd Ave. Ext. S.

For months, the Public Defender Association’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, which has pivoted during the COVID pandemic to a hotel-based model (called Co-LEAD) that connects unsheltered people to resources, have been unable to enroll living in encampments in Seattle, although they have had success in Burien and with people leaving the King County Jail. The reason for the lengthy delay is that the Seattle Police Department, which serves a gatekeeper role for most LEAD functions, has not signed off on the list of people LEAD wants to enroll. As a result, dozens of hotel rooms that could shelter new LEAD clients have been sitting empty for months while LEAD has waited for SPD’s approval.

SPD isn’t happy with their role in this process, either. Last week, Police Chief Carmen Best joined the chorus of advocates asking Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan to remove police from LEAD referrals and let LEAD enroll clients directly. In an email to Durkan’s homelessness advisor, Tess Colby, Best wrote:

“I’m interested in reconsidering the requirement that police OK every referral to LEAD and Co-LEAD services. These services are needed throughout our community, and it doesn’t seem sensible to require us to approve it before people get the help they need.

“In any event, due to staffing pressures and COVID-19 health constraints, we aren’t likely to be able to prioritize this for the indefinite future. But beyond that, this is the type of work most people in Seattle think the police don’t need to take the lead on. I’d appreciate seeing this change.

“Currently, we do not have the capacity to keep the level of response that we would like toward the LEAD program based on the current environment.

“I’m sure you understand the complexity and gravity without further explanation, but call me if there is a question.”

During last week’s budget committee meeting, council public safety chair (and longtime LEAD ally) Lisa Herbold said she was drafting a budget proviso to withhold funding for LEAD if police approval continues to be required for enrollment in the program.

LEAD began as a pre-arrest diversion program for people involved in low-level drug and prostitution crimes—to “interrupt the flow of people at  mass scale into jails and prisons and courts, and instead connect them to really high-quality care,” PDA director Lisa Daugaard says. Over time, though, the program evolved to the point that police are no longer needed to “intercept” potential clients, and in fact can be an impediment to enrolling people in a low-barrier, trauma-informed social service program.

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In the COVID era, Daugaard says, police “just don’t have the bandwidth to play that [gatekeeping] role at the volume that would be required, and to create that bandwidth, they would have to move in the exact opposite direction as the community conversation [about defunding the police] would suggest, which is to have more police involvement for no other reason than the system’s own needs.”

Mayor Durkan has consistently opposed LEAD’s requests for additional funding and authority. During the most recent budget cycle, Durkan declined to provide LEAD with the funding the program needed to fulfill an expansion mandate from the city, then, after losing that budget battle withheld the additional funding for months, leaving LEAD without a contract well into the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, the mayor has continued to quietly stymie the program, declining to approve a list of people living unsheltered in Pioneer Square for the program. Instead, the city provided a months-old old list of so-called “prolific offenders,” whose current locations are unknown, and gave LEAD permission to enroll those people in the new COVID-specific program.

The mayor’s office did not respond to emails sent Wednesday and this afternoon. I’ll update this post if I hear back.

Mayor’s Office: Cutting Police by 50% This Year Would “Require the City to Abolish the Department”

On Wednesday morning, just before the council discussed options for cutting the Seattle Police Department budget by as much as 50 percent, senior deputy mayor Mike Fong sent a letter to council members urging them against such “blunt efforts.” Instead, Fong said, the council should approach the process of “re-envisioning policing” in a more “thoughtful” way, with a process of “structural reform” that would stretch well into 2021 and beyond.

“SPD has already spent half of its $400 million annual budget by now, so a $200 million cut (or 50% of SPD’s budget) would leave the department with zero budget remaining for 2020 and require the City to abolish the department,” Fong wrote.

A “$100 million reduction (or 25% of SPD’s budget),” he continued, “would mean immediate layoffs of up to 1,000 personnel leaving [police] Chief [Carmen] Best and the Seattle Police Department unable to conduct basic functions.  In addition, it would be irresponsible to make immediate cuts without any conceivable mechanism to stand up alternative models to achieve community safety. …  [T]he Executive does not think that simply making target cuts in SPD’s budget, without looking at the work or personnel being done/cut or the ability to have others do the work, will advance community safety.”

Durkan has consistently responded to demands that the city defund SPD by promising to “reimagine” the role of the police and brushed off protesters’ three high-level demands—immediately defund SPD by at least 50 percent, reinvest that money in community-based approaches to safety, and release all jailed protesters—as naive or unrealistic. Fong’s email, for example, says the cuts advocates are proposing are “not informed by any analysis or considerations of the underlying functions and services that SPD currently delivers.”

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Instead of immediate cuts, Durkan has proposed a multi-step process before making any kind of structural changes to the department, including community “engagement and further [interdepartmental] analysis [that] will lead to additional recommendations for SPD reforms and alternative models for service delivery,” as Fong’s letter puts it.

This commitment to further “reform” and a process of community engagement led by the city is unlikely to satisfy advocates and abolitionists pushing for immediate cuts and systemic changes. Nor is it likely to satisfy the council, which was talking on Wednesday about phasing in cuts of perhaps $85 million—”the back of the envelope figure,” according to council budget committee chair Teresa Mosqueda—to be coupled with investments in community-based programs, including a new 911 system that would replace police with community responders on non-criminal calls.

By arguing for a slower approach and emphasizing reform and “re-envisioning” (as Fong’s letter puts it), the mayor’s office is committed to an incrementalism that many on the council—which amends and approves the mayor’s budget—have already rejected. Durkan’s proposal to cut $20 million from the police budget this year, as I’ve reported, only represents an additional cut of $4 million over what she proposed to the council before protests against police violence broke out in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in May. As SPD has acknowledged, the department has already met all its hiring goals for 2020, so Durkan’s proposed cuts won’t impact the number of police on the streets.

Like most police departments, SPD is a unionized institution of highly paid workers who are generally resistant to cuts or policy changes. Even getting officers to move so-called “mourning bands,” black tape strips used to signify the death of a colleague (in this case, a member of the State Patrol who died in March), to a place where they do not obscure badge numbers has apparently been a major challenge, despite legislation requiring them to do so.

In his letter, Fong suggests that union rules that protect officers with seniority would lead to the department cutting “some of our younger and most diverse officers” first, “defeating the hard work done to recruit officers that reflect and serve their communities.” Advocates coming forward with proposals for systemic change are unlikely to be moved by such arguments, especially when they imply that community organizations have not thought their own priorities and proposals through.