Tag: pedestrian safety

Full 911 Audio Sheds More Light on SPD’s Explanation for Deadly Crash; Bill Expanding Police Pursuits Passes Legislature

1. Unredacted audio of the 911 call to which Seattle police officer Kevin Dave was allegedly responding when he struck and killed student Jaahnavi Kandula in January further confirms that the caller had used cocaine, not opiates, and was breathing heavily but calm when he called 911 to report that he was “freaking out.” PubliCola obtained the audio through a records request.

Police Chief Adrian Diaz has said Dave was responding “as an EMT” to provide medical aid at a Priority 1 overdose call when he hit Kandula. Dave is certified as an EMT, but there is no evidence beyond Diaz’ statement that he was responding as a medic rather than a police officer, and the 911 call itself contradicts that claim.

SPD has also said police need to be present when Fire Department medics are reviving someone from an opiate overdose in order to provide backup if the person is violent when they come to and to keep people from stealing items or intervening while SFD medics are occupied with rescue breathing and other lifesaving measures. However, the full recording of the 911 call makes it clear that the caller had used cocaine, not opiates, and told the dispatcher his symptoms were “starting to go away” by the end of the six-and-a-half-minute call.

In the first moments of the recording, the caller, a man in his 20s, told the dispatcher, “I did cocaine and I don’t know if I’m having an overdose. I think I’m over-amped.” After being transferred to a dispatcher for Medic One, the Seattle Fire Department’s emergency medical response team, the caller added that he was “trying not to freak out” and was standing outside his apartment building. “Do you think you’ve overdosed?” the dispatcher asked. “I looked it up and I think so,” he said. “I’m extremely anxious,” the caller added, and “shaking a little bit.”

The original dispatcher then kept the man on the line, telling him to breathe and getting more information. “Am I going to get in trouble?” the man asked. “Oh, no,” the dispatcher responded. “I’m still just kind of freaking out right now, but it’s starting to go away,” the caller said. By the end of the call, the dispatcher and caller were joking about the weather. “At least it’s not raining today, right?” the dispatcher said. “That’s one way to look at it, yeah,” the caller responded.

SPD is doing an internal investigation into whether Dave was acting within SPD policy when he hit Kandula in a marked and lighted South Lake Union intersection. Three months after the crash, the department has not said when it will conclude its investigation.

2. The state senate gave final approval Monday to a bill that will lower the standard of evidence required for police officers across the state to initiate vehicle pursuits, sending the bill to Governor Jay Inslee’s desk.

Under SB 5352, sponsored by Senator John Lovick (D-44 Lake Stevens), officers will only need to have a “reasonable suspicion” that a driver has committed a violent crime or is driving under the influence. The bill reverses a 2021 change in state law that raised the standard for most offenses, apart from DUI, to a higher “probable cause” standard, which requires more evidence, with the aim of reducing pursuits overall.

The policy change nearly failed to move forward earlier this session, when state house leaders declined to bring their version of the bill to the floor for a vote ahead of a key deadline, prompting state senate leaders, in a dramatic move, to bring the bill to the floor even though it had never received a hearing in that chamber.

“I am asking you to vote no because the people trusted us, and they are disappointed that we are rolling back something that they thought put us on the first step to accountability.” —Debra Entenman (D-47, Covington)

Inslee is expected to sign the bill. “I think we need to move this needle, I think that’s where the public is,” he said in early March. 

The house approved the bill on April 10, with opposition from both Republicans who wanted it to go further and allow more pursuits for non-violent offenses like auto thefts, and from Democrats who say the current policy, which allows fewer pursuits, is saving lives.

Many Democrats view the reversal as a step back for police accountability in Washington. Before the house floor vote earlier this month, Representative Debra Entenman (D-47, Covington) noted that the bill reversed recommendations made by legislative task force created in 2020 in response to nationwide protests over racial injustice.

“I am asking you to vote no because the people trusted us…and they are disappointed that we are rolling back something that they thought put us on the first step to accountability,” she said. 

Last year, the legislature rolled back another 2021 law that prevented police from using force to prevent people from walking away from investigative stops, also known as Terry stops.

A previous version of the pursuit bill included a 2025 sunset date, but that’s no longer in the bill. Some of Washington’s largest police departments, like Seattle and Tacoma, already have policies in place that require a higher standard of evidence to pursue a suspect.

—Erica C. Barnett, Ryan Packer

Caller Was Lucid, Waiting to “Flag Down” Aid Car, When Officer Heading to Scene Struck and Killed Pedestrian Nearby

File:Seattle Fire Department - Aid 2 (Medic One vehicle).jpg
Photo by Joe Mabel; CC by 2.0 license.

By Erica C. Barnett

The 911 call to which Seattle police officer Kevin Dave was allegedly responding when he struck and killed student Jaahnavi Kandula in a marked crosswalk was not, as police and fire officials have implied, an opiate overdose that had to be reversed by paramedics under police supervision. In fact, a single aid car responded to the caller, who was lucid and alert when he dialed 911, and was finished within about 20 minutes. The call came from an apartment building 6th Ave. North, a few blocks from where Dave struck Kandula on Dexter Ave. on the night of January 23.

At first, SPD said Dave (who they did not initially identify) was responding to an emergency “at the request of” Seattle Fire Department first responders; later, they said he was heading to the scene “alongside” SFD. After SPD, in response to questions from PubliCola, said the call was an overdose, the Community Safety and Communications Center told us that police are dispatched to overdoses as a matter of longstanding policy. Later, Police Chief Adrian Diaz said Dave was responding “as an EMT” to a medical emergency.

In mid-February, Fire Chief Harold Scoggins repeated this explanation in a letter to the Community Police Commission, saying “overdose patients can become violent” after an overdose reversal, which can send an overdose victim into withdrawal. Officials from the fire department elaborated on this statement to PubliCola, saying they need police present when responding to overdoses because people revived from opiate ODs may have used stimulants like meth, whose effects come on in full force once the opiate overdose is resolved. They also said that other people on the scene can threaten or steal items from paramedics working to revive an overdose victim.

“I’m just trying to breathe right now and I’m trying to not freak out,” the man says. “It’s hard to think.” The dispatcher says he’s sending an aid car and tells the man to “flag them down” when he sees them.

But a review of the 911 call that resulted in Dave’s response—which PubliCola obtained, along with the incident report, through a record requests—reveals that the person who called in to report the “overdose” was a man who had walked down from his apartment and into the street to call 911 about what he thought might be a drug-related medical emergency.

In the call, which the fire department partially redacted, the caller is lucid, rational, and a bit frantic; he gives his full address and says he’s “freaking out” and having trouble staying calm. The caller sounds like he’s overstimulated, not overdosing on an opiate like fentanyl, as both police and fire have repeatedly implied.

“I’m just trying to breathe right now and I’m trying to not freak out,” the man says. “It’s hard to think.” After hearing more about the man’s symptoms, the dispatcher asks him if he’s been through this before and if he has any other relevant medical history or complications; the man answers no. Then the dispatcher says he’s sending an aid car and tells the man to “flag them down” when he sees them.

An aid car is the lowest level of response to a drug-related call like this one. A spokesman for the fire department confirmed that the department sends one aid car staffed with EMTs trained in basic life support when a person is having a “suspected overdose” and is awake, as this caller was. The department sends an additional advanced life support medic unit with two additional paramedics when the person is awake and has a “confirmed overdose,” and sends two basic life support units and an advanced life support unit when the overdosing person is “unconscious, unresponsive, and not breathing normally,” the spokesman said.

Overdose deaths from stimulants are less common than deaths due to opiates, but they do happen; last year, according to the King County Department of Public Health, there were 158 stimulant-related overdose deaths, and there have been 18 this year so far.

A police department spokesperson did not respond to questions about SPD’s policy about driving practices when responding to a low-level drug call like this one. Nor have they responded to questions about how fast Dave was driving or whether he was taking reasonable care when he struck and killed Kandula in a marked crosswalk a few blocks away. “I am not able to share any further information than what’s already been shared since this is an open case,” the spokeswoman said.

The man who placed the initial call declined to comment.

More Cops Are Training as Emergency Responders. Is That a Good Thing?

By Erica C. Barnett

The death of pedestrian Jaahnavi Kandula, killed by a police officer driving to respond to a suspected overdose, has revived a longstanding dispute between Seattle’s fire and police departments about who should respond to medical emergencies, particularly overdoses.

Last month, after SPD announced that officer Kevin Dave was rushing to respond to an overdose in his capacity as an emergency medical technician (EMT), SFD union leader Kenny Stuart wrote a letter to Mayor Bruce Harrell objecting to the “troubling trend” of SPD officers “being trained and certified as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and … deployed to medical emergencies in our city.”

The issue with this, Stuart continued, is that the fire department—not SPD—is responsible for emergency medical response as part of the county’s Medic One system; “randomly allowing additional EMTs from other city departments to self-dispatch or to perform EMS functions” has “led to delayed scene security, delayed medical care, decreased continuity and coordination of care, and general confusion in life-threatening emergencies.”

Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office did not immediately respond to an email seeking his response to Stuart’s letter, if any, on Friday.

SPD’s EMS trainings are not funded by the city; instead, the Seattle Police Foundation solicits donations to pay for trainings and equipment. The police foundation website says the police need trained EMTs to respond to life-threatening situations at active crime scenes before it’s safe for fire department medics to enter. The head of the EMS program, SPD officer Tyler Verhaar, did not immediately respond to a request for an interview; we’ll update this post with his comments if we hear back.

“If police continue to respond to [medical calls] unchecked, you will end up with officers who are EMTs jumping calls so they can get some good publicity, and that’s not what it’s about.”—Retired assistant fire chief A.D. Vickery

Stuart, from the firefighters’ union, declined to talk on the record about the union’s opposition to SPD officers responding to medical emergencies. But former SFD assistant chief A.D. Vickery, who started at the department in 1968 and retired in 2020, said he’s heard alarming reports about police officers “racing to the scene, putting everybody at risk, so they can be the first one to the patient.”

“The Fire Department responds to hundreds of thousands of alarms. We are very cautious. There’s lots of people on the rig all working to make sure we get to the scene in a  appropriate period of time without creating a hazard,” Vickery said. “If police continue to respond to [medical calls] unchecked, you will end up with officers who are EMTs jumping calls so they can get some good publicity, and that’s not what it’s about.”

SPD has declined to comment on the circumstances that led to Dave striking and killing Kandula in a crosswalk the night of January 23. Initially, an SPD blog post said the then-unidentified officer was responding to a nearby emergency call “at the request of” the fire department; later, a department spokeswoman updated the post to say SPD was responding “with” Fire. Subsequently, police chief Adrian Diaz said Dave was “responding as an EMT” to the initial 911 call itself.

Many police department officers are equipped with Narcan (naloxone) nasal spray, which can restore breathing by rapidly reversing the effects of opioids like fentanyl, sending a person who is overdosing into abrupt withdrawal. Although fire department EMTs have carried nasal naloxone since July 2022, the department prefers to deliver oxygen first to restore an overdose victim’s breathing.

“With the increase in people using both methamphetamine and fentanyl at the same time, our teams then work to stabilize the patient’s breathing with small doses of naloxone ([which]also avoids a painful opiate withdrawal from excessive naloxone) and reverse the overdose,” SFD medical director Dr. Michael Sayre said.

According to one theory, bringing people back slowly also makes it more likely they’ll agree—in their groggy state—to go to the hospital, where they can access opiate withdrawal meds and learn about treatment options. “Some patients, once recovered from the drug’s effects, may refuse transport. That is a concern because it is a lost opportunity to connect patients with support services… that could be offered through the emergency department,” Sayre said.

Although the fire department doesn’t want SPD responding to medical emergencies themselves, they do want police on site when they respond to overdoses. One reason, which Fire Chief Harold Scoggins cited in a recent letter to the city’s Community Police Commission, is that overdose patients can purportedly “become violent” after they’re revived. A spokeswoman for the fire department said patients who overdose on fentanyl while also using meth, in particular, can “become quite agitated… risking harm to themselves and others around them,” because “when both substances are present, the sedative effects of fentanyl are reversed by naloxone, and the stimulant effects of methamphetamine then predominate.”

Curious how often first responders actually encounter hostile situations from bystanders, I requested the fire department’s database of assault reports from EMS calls. In 2022, first responders logged 135 such incidents, which ranged from verbal abuse and threats to punches, “donkey kicks,” and a “wrestling match”; one person threw a hamburger at a fire truck.

But the main reason fire EMS wants police at the scene of overdoses, according to Vickery, is to “control the scene to allow the EMTs or the medical personnel to do their jobs” without having to worry about bystanders or opportunistic thieves. “The environment that the overdoses take place in now is a much more hostile environment,” Vickery said. “In 1968, you might have an overdose in a particular area and it really was isolated to the room and the people that knew them, but there was not this the hostility that exists today.” Overdoses often occur on streets or in encampments, including many that first responders won’t enter without SPD backup.

Curious how often first responders actually encounter hostile situations from bystanders, I requested the fire department’s database of assault reports from EMS calls, which only includes incidents that involved formal reports (in other words, it isn’t comprehensive). In 2022, first responders logged 135 such incidents, which ranged from verbal abuse and threats (“Stated that he was going to kill us and that we were ‘motherf***ers””) to punches, “donkey kicks,” and a “wrestling match”; one person threw a hamburger at a fire truck.

Only a few of the reported incidents involved people brought back from an overdose with naloxone who were “combative” afterward and had to be restrained.

Overall, the reports unsurprisingly include many people in obvious crisis—like the person who was “slamming his head against the sidewalk several times before being restrained by SFD crews for his own safety as well as ours,” or the “well-known [patient]” who threw water on fire fighters before “barricading himself” inside a bathroom.

The tension between police and fire about their roles as first responders isn’t going away, as the police foundation continues to solicit donations for “training, certification, and medical supplies” for cops to respond to emergency calls. Vickery says he has no problem with police officers getting EMT certification on their own time, but says “there needs to be clear delineation” between the role of police providing backup at medical emergencies and fire personnel responding to those emergencies as EMTs. “The fire department doesn’t arrest people—stay within the realm of what your responsibilities are and support each other,” he said.

Defensive Vision Zero “Top to Bottom Review” Recommends More of the Same

graph showing increase in Seattle traffic deaths from 2015-2021By Erica C. Barnett

Last July, incoming Seattle Department of Transportation director Greg Spotts promised a “top-to-bottom review” of the city’s Vision Zero program—a set of strategies, adopted in 2015, that are supposed to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. Six months later, that review—titled, rather unimaginatively, “SDOT Vision Zero Top to Bottom Review”—is here. The diagnosis: Seattle is doing lots of great stuff, but if it wants to do better, it needs to do even more of the same—but only to the extent that it can, given all the obstacles that are outside the city’s control.

The review, a 37-page report supplemented by a graphics-heavy 22-page “overview,” includes exactly 100 recommendations—a nice round number that suggests padding. And indeed, almost a quarter of the strategies the report suggests are things SDOT is already doing—for example, “[c]ontinue to clarify and measure desired outcomes of educational programs. Many others are vague to the point of abstraction. What does it mean, for example, for a road engineering department to “[b]e willing to reduce vehicle travel speeds and convenience to improve safety,” or to “[b]uild SDOT Senior Team capacity as ambassadors for Vision Zero”? It’s understandable that this review doesn’t include specific project recommendations for specific streets; what’s perplexing is how few of the recommendations involve quantifiable results: Improve how? Build capacity in what sense? Accelerate how much, and by when?

The overview that accompanies the report does is a bit more specific, highlighting five “momentum-building actions” for 2023. This year, the report says, SDOT should phase in more No Turn on Red signs in downtown Seattle “in time for tourist season and the MLB All-Star Game”; add more leading pedestrian intervals—crosswalk signs that switch to “walk” before cars start moving—”where existing signal systems can support” the change; continue working with Sound Transit to improve safety along light rail in Southeast Seattle; address equity concerns about automatic traffic cameras; and change the role and title of SDOT’s chief engineer to include a focus on safety.

All these goals are limited in scope, either explicitly (protecting downtown tourists but not the rest of the city) or by caveats; they also fail to incorporate measurable goals or milestones that might allow Seattle residents to determine, at the end of the year, whether SDOT did what it said it would do. How many new no-right-turn signs is “more”? Who decides how many pedestrianized intersections are possible, and where? How will we know if the city has addressed equity concerns and is ready to move on to installing cameras to stop people from speeding through school zones?

Lowering the speed limit to 25 mph is fairly meaningless if you design roads to function like highways—as anyone who has tried to cross the street on Rainier Ave. South, where traffic lights are frequently more than a quarter-mile apart, can attest.

The report also fails to address safety on the broadest level, emphasizing individual behavior over the systems that enable and encourage dangerous driving. This echoes Seattle’s previous reports on Vision Zero, including a June 2022 presentation that contains many of the same graphics and recommendations as the new “Top To Bottom Review.” The 2022 report, presented just before Spotts arrived in Seattle, was actually more explicit than the new report in calling out road design as a central issue in traffic deaths, but it also suggested drivers just need to act differently: “We need people driving to slow down,” it implored.

Map showing traffic deaths and serious injuries in Seattle

Careless driving does involve individual choice, but being a “safe driver” is much easier in a system that doesn’t encourage going 60 mph in a 25 mph zone. Lowering the speed limit to 25 mph, for that matter, is fairly meaningless if you design roads to function like highways—as anyone who has tried to cross the street on Rainier Ave. South, where traffic lights are frequently more than a quarter-mile apart, can attest. 

To its credit, the report does note that traffic deaths happen most often on big, busy arterial roads, and acknowledges that crashes “often occur as a result of the way our transportation system has been designed.” However, it fails to recommend meaningful, immediate changes that might reverse bad past design decisions, such as narrowing streets and slowing down traffic to make collisions between cars and other road users less frequent and less deadly.

“One safety treatment is to analyze a street and see if reconfiguring lanes could improve safety and keep people and goods moving,” the report says, referring to the once-controversial idea of restriping roads to reduce the number of lanes. But the “safety treatment,” in reality, isn’t “analyzing” and “seeing if” highway-style city roads would benefit from conversion to slower streets; more than 12 years after the city’s first “road diet,” the concept is proven and does not need more study and analysis. We could just do it!

And even the recommendations that gesture at future changes to road design focus on the need to educate drivers on what they’ll lose, presenting a reduction in “convenience” (speed) as a negative result of greater safety. If SDOT is going to make roads safer, the report says, it has to let drivers know about the “expected impacts” to their “travel.” It also says that any changes to streets, such as restriping, must “maintain[…] transit and freight networks.” That could be a problem on dangerous arterials like Rainier Ave. S., which serves as a major transit and freight corridor (and is one of the most deadly streets in the city.) Pitting “convenience” against safety is also a false choice; there’s nothing convenient about shutting down a road because another driver has struck and killed another pedestrian.

Besides focusing on driver behavior, the review often uses old data to reach conclusions that may be less applicable in a post-lockdown world. For example, the report concludes that reducing speed limits on arterial streets to 25 mph is a Vision Zero success story, using data from 2018 and 2019 data to show that “lowering speed limits and increasing sign density alone—without any marketing campaigns, additional enforcement, re-timed signals, or engineering changes to the street—resulted in lower speeds and fewer crashes.” But that date all comes from before the pandemic, when fatalities spiked nationwide as people drove faster on emptier streets, disregarding speed limits and driving impaired more frequently.

City Councilmember Tammy Morales represents Southeast Seattle, where roughly half the traffic deaths in the city occur. Last week, she expressed dismay that the city’s Vision Zero report failed to call for “dramatic or swift action to combat the unprecedented number of collisions, injuries, and fatalities on our streets, particularly in District 2. Changing signal timing and adding leading pedestrian intervals will not change the geometry of our streets, and as a result, will likely not change the behavior of users on these dangerous stretches of roadway. These actions are a start, but we need to fundamentally change our streets to address this crisis.”

The Vision Zero Top To Bottom Review indicates that, at an unspecified point in the future, the department will be releasing a formal Vision Zero Action Plan to implement concrete steps to reduce traffic deaths and injuries. For those impacted directly or indirectly by traffic violence, the time for action was years ago.

Bill to Allow More Police Pursuits Would Sunset in 2025

By Ryan Packer

Two years ago, as part of a slate of police reform bills, state legislators passed a law barring police officers from pursuing people who fail to pull over when an officer directs them to do so. The only exceptions were if the officer had probable cause to believe the person had committed a violent or sexual crime, or when the officer had reasonable suspicion—a lower standard—to believe they were driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

On Thursday, the House’s House Community Safety, Justice, and Reentry committee advanced an amended version of House Bill 1363, which would allow pursuits under the lower reasonable suspicion standard for a broad number of offenses, including any violent offense, but would not allow police pursuits for any non-violent property crimes. Organizations like the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs have blamed the change in the law has been blamed for a spike in property thefts statewide, particularly stolen vehicles. Law enforcement agencies across the state had been putting their weight behind the original version of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Alicia Rule (D-42, Blaine), that would have allowed pursuits for all criminal offenses. 

Committee chair Roger Goodman (D-45, Redmond) put forward the new version of the bill, which he said is intended to “limit the scope of this bill, but also to keep the conversation going.” The bill includes a 2025 expiration date; if the legislature doesn’t adopt new pursuit rules before then, the rules for pursuits would automatically revert to the 2021 law. 

Only one member of the committee, Rep. Darya Farivar (D-46, Seattle), voted against advancing HB 1363, saying she wants to make long-term changes to the current law this year. While 1363 moves forward on the House side, Democrats in the state senate are advancing a proposal to take a broader look at pursuits.

“I’ve never seen, in my 31 years of law enforcement, the state and the condition of our state when it comes to open lawlessness and complete disregard for our laws that keep the community safe.”—Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla

When they passed police pursuit law in 2021 reform, legislators said they wanted to reduce the number of high-speed police pursuits because of the risk they posed to the public, including pedestrians. According to an analysis by retired University of Washington researcher Dr. Martina Morris, just three people (all bystanders) have been killed as the result of police pursuits since the new law went into effect in July 2021, compared to nine in a comparable period immediately pre-reform.

Advocates for changing the law, including multiple mayors (though not Bruce Harrell), the Association of Washington Cities (AWC), and the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said the new law resulted in significant numbers of people taking advantage of it to flee police.

Many cities (though not Seattle) included the issue at the top of their official legislative agenda for 2023. “In 2021, AWC was an engaged supporter on many of the police reforms that the Legislature adopted, but we understand that law enforcement is complex and that sometimes legislation needs revising when the impacts become clearer,” the AWC more than 200 local elected officials said in a letter to legislators this week. ”In the case of the limits adopted on police pursuits, we think revisions are necessary to improve public safety outcomes in our communities.”

“I’ve never seen, in my 31 years of law enforcement, the state and the condition of our state when it comes to open lawlessness and complete disregard for our laws that keep the community safe,” Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla told the House Community Safety, Justice, & Reentry committee last month.

Police accountability advocates argue that rolling back the law would erase progress toward reform. “From our view, we’ve got something that’s working. It’s not fun, it’s not comfortable, we have a lot of work to do as a society to figure this stuff out. This bill absolutely does not represent what that positive change and momentum needs to be,” Kurtis Robinson, president of the Spokane NAACP speaking on behalf of the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability, told that committee.

Morris’ analysis found that the law has been effective. (An earlier version of the analysis included two deaths caused by a driver who believed he was being pursued. Morris removed that incident during a review of all the pursuit incidents after its inclusion was questioned.)

“Estimates are that on the order of 30 percent of all pursuits end in an accident. When I’m talking about the fatalities, these were the key thing we were interested in, but it’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of the damage that’s caused by pursuits.”—Retired UW researcher Dr. Martina Morris

Morris told PubliCola the benefits of reducing police pursuits go beyond lives saved. “There are public safety risks from pursuits. Fatalities are just one of the parts of the collateral damage with these vehicle pursuits,” she said. “There are also injuries, property damage, and estimates are that on the order of 30 percent of all pursuits end in an accident. When I’m talking about the fatalities, these were the key thing we were interested in, but it’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of the damage that’s caused by pursuits.”

The data primarily comes from the website fatalencounters.org, a database created by researchers at the University of Southern California to track all types of deaths occurring nationwide where police officers are involved. Individual police departments are not required to provide information on these events on their own, so the information has to be obtained through media reports.

An alternative to HB 1363 is currently working its way through the state senate. Senate Bill 5533, sponsored by former Washington State Trooper John Lovick (D-44, Lake Stevens) would keep current state law in place until 2024 while a work group within the state’s Criminal Justice Training Commission, comes up with a model pursuit policy for the state to adopt, and do so by fall of 2024. This proposed model policy would outline exactly when police should be able to pursue suspects, and would be created in coordination with representatives of the state’s law enforcement groups.

Any model policy would likely only be binding on police departments who wanted to adopt a more loose pursuit policy; cities like Seattle, which had more stringent requirements on when officers could pursue, would be able to leave those policies in place, leaving open the possibility that some departments could decide to stick with current state law.

But the bill creating a model policy has come under fire by some Republicans, like Sen. John Braun (R-20, Centralia) who said it would be “letting legislative Democrats off the hook” in an op-ed in the Seattle Times last week. Braun is pushing for an immediate fix.

But waiting would also provide additional time for Washington to see how the current law is impacting public safety— whether Dr. Morris’s conclusions continue to bear out. “I can’t create more time for this law to have been in place,” she said of the relatively small sample size at the heart of her study. “But the legislature can.”


“Overdose Patients Can Become Violent”: Fire and Police Respond to Questions About Pedestrian Death

File:Seattle fire department medic 80.jpg
Atomic Taco, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Erica C. Barnett

On Wednesday, the Seattle Police and Fire Departments responded to questions from the Community Police Commission about some of the circumstances that may have contributed to the death of Jaahnavi Kandula, a 23-year-old pedestrian who was killed in a marked crosswalk by SPD Officer Kevin Dave. Dave was driving to join Seattle Fire Department EMTs at a suspected overdose in South Lake Union. According to the response from Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins, Seattle Fire Department policy requires police to be present when SFD responds to overdoses, because “overdose patients can become violent during treatment to reverse the overdose.”

The CPC asked the Fire Department to explain the reason it requires police officers to be present when Fire responds to overdose calls, posing four questions about the policy, how it came about, and “What percentage of drug overdose calls prior to the implementation of this policy included compromised safety, assaults, and/or injuries to SFD personnel related to reversing the effects of an overdose?”

In his response, Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said that the requirement “goes back at least 20 years and is designed to provide scene safety for firefighters and paramedics as overdose patients can become violent during treatment to reverse the overdose.” He did not answer the CPC’s question about how common it is for people coming out of overdoses to be violent, saying only that “[e]ncountering combative patients or bystanders on emergency responses has unfortunately become a reality for firefighters and paramedics.”

Narcan (or naloxone), the widely available overdose reversal drug, is used daily by non-emergency responders, including drug users themselves, and other public employees are trained to use it in the absence of paramedics or any armed response. In 2019,  then-Washington state health officer Kathy Lofy signed a “standing order” that made Narcan available over the counter without a prescription to any person who wants it, calling it a “very safe,” life-saving medication.

“When weighing the decision to respond using emergency driving, officers must consider if the incident is life threatening, road conditions, vehicle and pedestrian traffic, weather, speed, lighting, and their own driving abilities.”—Police Chief Adrian Diaz

In his letter, Scoggins said SFD has developed a “new method for tracking assaults and threatening behavior experienced by firefighters in the field,” in general, and has begun reporting this information. PubliCola has asked SFD for this data and will update this post with additional information when we receive it.

Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz also responded to the CPC’s questions. After describing the training officers receive in “emergency driving”—driving under emergency circumstances, such as a high-priority call where someone’s life is at risk—Diaz said officers are justified in taking “risks [that] “can result in severe consequences for the public and the officer. … When weighing the decision to respond using emergency driving…. [o]fficers must consider if the incident is life threatening, road conditions, vehicle and pedestrian traffic, weather, speed, lighting, and their own driving abilities.”

Diaz said the fact that the overdose was a Priority 1 call would not, in itself, necessitate emergency driving. “The priority level is a factor to consider but is not generally controlling,” Diaz wrote. “While many Priority 1 calls would warrant emergency driving under our current policy and training, not all do and officers are expected to consider the totality of the circumstances.”

PubliCola has filed a records request the audio from the initial 911 call; SPD categorically denied a separate request for all recorded audio related to the Kandula’s death, citing their ongoing investigation into the incident.

In a conversation with PubliCola last week, SPD Chief Adrian Diaz noted that Dave is a licensed EMT who was headed to the scene of a medical emergency, implying that he was on the way to respond to the reported overdose, not to provide security for the Fire Department. On February 6, the head of the Seattle Fire Fighters Union, Kenny Stuart, expressed frustration about SPD officers getting trained as EMTs and responding to medical emergencies like overdoses directly, saying this was the responsibility of the fire department, not SPD. (It’s a longstanding, ongoing issue.)

“Our EMS delivery system under the Medic One program is arguably the best in the country, and randomly allowing additional EMTs from other city departments to self-dispatch or to perform EMS functions at an incident does not improve or support the level of care we demand from this program,” Stuart wrote. “In fact, it unnecessarily complicates our response and diminishes the service that the public depends on and expects.”

Seattle Fire Department firefighters and paramedics are “the only personnel that are dispatched as EMTs” to medical emergencies, Stuart continued, “and they should be the only personnel who deliver EMS to the people of Seattle. We need our police officers to provide scene security and protect us so we can do our jobs effectively.”

Several years ago, SFD’s medical director told PubliCola the fire department preferred to use rescue breathing—a method to restore breathing in overdose victims without Narcan—followed by intravenous naloxone to facilitate a slower return to normal breathing without putting a person into instant opiate withdrawal. We’ve asked SFD whether this is still the department’s policy, and how the emergence of fentanyl has impacted overdose response, and will update this post when we hear back.

PubliCola has also reached out to Stuart.

SPD Confirms Name of Officer Who Killed Student in Crosswalk; Seattle Councilmember Mosqueda May Run for County Council

1. SPD has confirmed that the name of the officer who killed a 23-year-old student in a crosswalk earlier this month is Kevin Austin Dave, who joined the department in 2019. Divest SPD, the police watchdog group, first reported Dave’s name on Twitter Monday morning; they described the process they used to figure out his identity on Twitter and in a Substack post.

Dave, who is in his mid-30s, was driving to provide backup to Seattle Fire Department first responders at the scene of a suspected overdose in South Lake Union when he hit Jaahnavi Kundala, who was crossing Dexter Ave. in a marked crosswalk at Thomas Street. As PubliCola reported, the city had planned to install Seattle’s first protected crosswalk at the intersection, but Mayor Bruce Harrell canceled this safety project in his 2023 budget, citing financial constraints.

Court records, obtained through a records request, confirm another detail Divest SPD posted on Twitter:  Dave received a ticket for running a red light in Puyallup in late December 2017. Documents show that he didn’t pay his $124 fine, and the ticket went into collections last year.

Initially, in response to a request to confirm Dave’s identity, an SPD spokesperson sent PubliCola to a statement published on the department’s blog on January 26, which reads in part: “for purposes of both preserving the integrity of the investigation and respecting the family’s right to privacy, [SPD] will not be putting out information over and beyond what has already been provided.” In an email confirming Dave’s identity, the spokesperson said, “We are still exploring what—if any—additional details we can release and may be able to provide more information soon.”

PubliCola has requested information about how fast Dave was driving, whether he stopped after hitting Kandula or went on to his destination a few blocks away, and whether SPD is pursuing a criminal investigation.

2. City council member Teresa Mosqueda is seriously considering a run for the King County Council District 8 seat being vacated next year by longtime County Councilmember Joe McDermott, according to numerous sources—in fact, the will she/won’t she chatter about Mosqueda’s electoral plans make this the worst-kept secret in Seattle politics right now.

Mosqueda, who lives in West Seattle, wouldn’t confirm or deny the rumors. But a run for county council would make sense on a number of levels. First, the county council is simultaneously lower-profile than the city council and has a broader scope—encompassing issues that the city doesn’t deal with directly, such as health policy and transit service. Second: It’s no secret that the Seattle City Council has become a toxic place to work; becoming a council member means accepting an endless barrage of verbal abuse, along with occasional protesters at your home. Four council members have already said they won’t seek reelection this year.

Mosqueda, like her colleagues, has to be acutely aware that the job is both riskier and less rewarding than it used to be. (One of her colleagues who is stepping down, District 1 Councilmember Lisa Herbold, for example, had a brick thrown through her window while she was home and was later among the targets of a violent “protest” encouraged by the late right-wing radio provocateur Dori Monson.)

It also makes sense that, if Mosqueda plans to eventually run for higher office, such as Congress, she might want to put some distance between herself and the eternally unpopular city council.

Two others who we heard were considering a bid for the seat Jeanne Kohl-Welles is leaving, Seattle City Councilmembers Andrew Lewis and Dan Strauss, said they aren’t running; Lewis has announced he’s seeking reelection to the city council, and Strauss told PubliCola by text, “Love my job representing D6!”

If Mosqueda was elected to county council this year, the council would have to appoint her replacement, since her citywide council seat won’t be on the ballot until 2025.

Other rumored) candidates for McDermott’s current seat include West Seattle attorney Rob Saka, who has also considered a run for the District 1 city council seat Lisa Herbold is leaving; Burien Deputy Mayor Kevin Schilling; and Burien City Councilmember Jimmy Matta. The district includes much of downtown Seattle, West Seattle, Burien, part of Tukwila, and Vashon Island.

Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who represents Ballard, Queen Anne, and Magnolia also announced that she plans to leave her seat after her term ends this year. So far, only one candidate—managing assistant state attorney general Sarah Reyneveld, who ran for the 36th District state House seat in 2020, losing to Liz Barry—has announced in that race. Two others who we heard were considering a bid for the seat Jeanne Kohl-Welles is leaving, Seattle City Councilmembers Andrew Lewis and Dan Strauss, said they aren’t running; Lewis has announced he’s seeking reelection to the city council, and Strauss told PubliCola by text, “Love my job representing D6!”

SDOT Decries Tactical Urbanism While Allowing Eco-Blocks All Over the City

By Erica C. Barnett

The Seattle Department of Transportation forgot the first rule of holes when its social media rep posted a testy defense of SDOT’s decision to swiftly eliminate an unauthorized crosswalk at a dangerous Capitol Hill intersection.

Responding to a person who posted a photo of an SDOT crew power-washing the guerrilla crosswalk away, SDOT wrote, “We are always interested in working with residents and businesses on ways to make walking safer and more comfortable and will evaluate the intersection to see how we might replace the unauthorized crosswalk. In the meantime, it will have to be removed. Improperly painted crosswalks give a false sense of safety which puts pedestrians in danger. There are better ways for people to work w/ us to indicate crossing improvement needs & to make sure changes achieve what is intended—get people to their destinations safely.”

In response, hundreds of Seattle residents piled on with stories about their own often-futile attempts to get SDOT to improve pedestrian safety in their neighborhoods, mocked (and interrogated) the idea that “unofficial” paint makes crosswalks less safe, and questioned why the department leaped into action to remove the guerrilla crosswalk while telling Seattle residents that their requests for safety improvements would need to go through the years-long Seattle Process.

Then, amid the furor, Mayor Bruce Harrell’s new SDOT director jumped in the thread, lashing out at one poster (among many) who suggested that SDOT’s primary mission is to make the city safe for cars (a pretty common charge against city transportation departments nationwide.) “There is not a single person at SDOT who comes to work hoping fewer people cross the street. This is a propagandistic comment that is pure disinformation,” Spotts wrote.

“Political participation is not the same as altering the public right of way yourself. Folks are invited to participate in all sorts of ways and we are listening.”—SDOT director Greg Spotts, responding to tweets supporting a guerrilla crosswalk on Capitol Hill

Down that thread, Spotts responded to a tweet about SDOT’s utter indifference to the illegal placement of “eco blocks” to prevent homeless people from parking in public rights-of-way around the city. “Placing of ecoblocks is not acceptable And “I’m unwilling to pull SDOT crews off important safety projects to remove ecoblocks,” Spotts wrote. (In other words—as SDOT has told this publication before—it is actually acceptable, in the sense that SDOT will continue to accept it.) Even further downthread, Spotts mentioned another issue with unauthorized crosswalks, one not directly related to safety: “Liability.”

In all, Spotts responded to dozens of tweets, defending SDOT’s decision and suggesting that people go through official participation channels rather than engaging in tactical urbanism. “Political participation is not the same as altering the public right of way yourself. Folks are invited to participate in all sorts of ways and we are listening,” Spotts wrote.

In the past, when citizens have altered crosswalks to represent their neighborhood—including a Pride flag on Broadway and a Pan-African black, red, and green crosswalk in the Central District—previous SDOT directors responded much differently, working with communities to paint the crosswalks in ways that make them more durable and visible to drivers. (Until 2017, there was even an official Department of Neighborhoods website for neighbors to apply for non-traditional crosswalks.) This administration, in contrast, seems intent on digging in its heels.

In response to the backlash, SDOT issued a statement that continued in the same chiding tone. “We have heard the message loudly and clearly that the public wants more crossing and safety improvements.  We appreciate the passion which has driven someone to paint their own crosswalk, however this is not the right way to voice your desire for change,” the statement reads. “There are standards which we are legally required to follow when painting a crosswalk. The unauthorized markings at E Olive Way and Harvard Ave E have been removed because they do not comply with city standards.”

Eco-blocks, which also do not comply with city law (and which residents use explicitly to deprive people of places to live), apparently do not rise to the level of urgency created by unauthorized lines on the ground.

The Story Behind Those Ads on Rainier Instructing Pedestrians: “Don’t Blend In”


When the billboards and bus-stop ads started appearing along Rainier Ave. South, pedestrian and bicycling safety advocates took notice. “Best place to wear neon: Rainier Ave. S,” the billboards blared. “Rainier Ave. S averages more crashes per day than anywhere else in Seattle.” “BE ALERT. BE AWARE. BE SAFE.”

The signs are visually striking, featuring real members of the Rainier Valley community—black and brown, young and old, gay and straight and trans—decked out in arresting neon colors as they strike poses and cross the street. The intent of the ad campaign, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation, was to “encourage and empower pedestrians and bicyclists to wear bright-colored clothing that stands out” to avoid being hit.

Hundreds of pedestrians are hit by drivers on Rainier Ave. S. every year, many of them trying to cross a street where you can walk almost half a mile without coming upon a signaled crosswalk—and dozens have been killed. No other street in Seattle is nearly as dangerous—Aurora Ave. N., the runner-up, has less than half the collisions per mile, a statistic that has held steady for years despite urgent calls for the city to take action.

Safe-streets advocates resented the implication that driver-pedestrian crashes on Rainier—a city street whose highway-like design contributes massively to speeding and collisions—were somehow the fault of the people being hit. 

“You do not need special clothes to walk around your neighborhood, and we should stand up against a public agency trying to say otherwise,” Seattle Bike Blog wrote. “And if someone wearing a black jacket is hit while crossing a street with a long history of speeding and collisions, that person’s fashion choice is not the problem. The street with a long history of speeding and collisions is the problem.”

“I’m not sure that’s the way I would have started [a safety campaign] if it had been up to me. But if that’s the mandate, getting folks in the community to be sharing this message of their own volition is the most effective way to message.” —Natasha Marin, NONWHITEWORKS

Ethan Bergerson, a spokesman with SDOT, says the campaign wasn’t just billboards—it also included a series of community events featuring messages about safe driving habits (along with an art project aimed at getting kids to stop staring at their phones while crossing the street). As for the billboards, he said they came out of a process of “community engagement” with “historically underrepresented communities who live near Rainier Valley. This engagement effort resulted in the advertisement you inquired about.”

But Natasha Marin, the anti-racism marketing consultant whose firm NONWHITEWORKS designed the ads and ran the outreach events, says the decision to target safety messaging at pedestrians, rather than drivers, was “SDOT’s call” and came long before she got involved in the project. When she suggested that the campaign might want to target people driving through the Rainier Valley, rather than the community members being hit and sometimes killed by those drivers, “the response I got back was, ‘No, we want to educate, not implicate.'”

“I’m not sure that’s the way I would have started [a safety campaign] if it had been up to me,” Marin says. “But if that’s the mandate, getting folks in the community to be sharing this message of their own volition is the most effective way to message. … Frankly, I don’t recall a time where I saw SDOT put up billboards on Rainier featuring black and POC and gay and trans people. That’s awesome, and definitely the direction we need to go in terms of visual marketing.”

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“I don’t know that everybody in Seattle realizes that Rainier Ave. S is the worst place to be” for pedestrians and cyclists, Marin says. “I think if that were more commonly known, probably it would affect people’s driving and attention spans.” Continue reading “The Story Behind Those Ads on Rainier Instructing Pedestrians: “Don’t Blend In””

Morning Crank: Prohibitive and Frustrating

1. Marty Kaplan, the Queen Anne activist who has filed multiple legal challenges to delay new rules that would allow homeowners to add up to two additional units to their property, is reviewing the final environmental impact statement (EIS) on the proposal and deciding whether to press on with his appeal, according to an email he sent to members of the Queen Anne Community Council last week.

In the email, Kaplan notes that the group has until October 18 to file an appeal, and suggests that they adopt the following motion: “If the ADU FEIS is found by Martin Kaplan to be deficient in representing a comprehensive environmental study as required by the Hearing Examiner in our former appeal and outlined with our letter of comment pertaining to the ADU DEIS, then Martin Kaplan is hereby authorized to file an appeal on behalf of our QACC.” Kaplan has not said whether he plans to continue pursuing his case against the city, or whether thousands of Seattle homeowners will finally be able to build secondary units on their properties.

The FEIS, released last week, added a fourth, preferred, option to the three alternatives in the draft document, which I covered in depth in May.  If the city adopts the preferred option, homeowners will be able to build up to two accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on their property—two attached (mother-in-law) units, or one attached unit and one detached apartment, subject to maximum rear lot coverage of 60 percent. (The total maximum lot coverage—35 percent for lots over 5,000 square feet, or 15 percent plus 1,000 square feet for lots under 5,000 square feet—will remain the same). The minimum lot size for building an additional unit will be reduced from the current 4,000 square feet to 3,200 square feet, and rules requiring homeowners to build an extra parking spot for each unit, and to live on the property at least six months a year, will be lifted. However, in an odd concession to opponents like Kaplan, homeowners who want to build a second ADU won’t be allowed to do so until they’ve owned the property for at least a year. Both attached and detached units could be up to 1,000 square feet—up from the current 800—and up to 12 unrelated people could live on a lot with three units, allowing (for example) a house, basement apartment, and backyard cottage with four roommates each on a single lot. (This has been a particular sticking point with single-family activists who say so many unrelated people shouldn’t be allowed to live on a single lot). Unlike one of the alternatives the city originally considered, the preferred alternative would not require homeowners to pay into a city affordable housing fund if they want to build a second accessory unit.

Finally, in an attempt to mitigate the spread of new McMansions in Seattle’s single-family areas (and encourage homeowners to add density instead), the proposed new rules limit new houses to just 2,500 square feet or a 50 percent floor-area ratio (FAR), whichever is larger. FAR is the ratio of the square footage of a building to the lot that it’s on. A 2,500-square-foot house on a 5,000-square-foot lot would have a floor-area ratio of 0.5, even if that 2,500 square feet is spread over two stories; so would a 3,600-square-foot house on a 7,200-square-foot lot, and so on.

Because the the city used slightly different assumptions in calculating the number of second and third units that will be produced if the new rules move forward (assuming, for example, that homeowners will have access to pre-approved standard plans for accessory units, and that the city will lower other regulatory barriers that drive of the cost of adding extra units), the new preferred alternative is expected to lead to slightly more units than any of the options the city previously considered. Overall, the preferred alternative would produce about 2,460 more accessory units than the no-action alternative (a total of 4,430), which would correspond to about 3,960 additional residents in single-family areas, spread across Seattle (6,645, compared to 2,955 under the do-nothing alternative.)

2. Saul Spady—the grandson of Dick Spady, of Dick’s Burgers, and one of the most vocal opponents of the “head tax” for homelessness that was overturned earlier this year—has been busy. Since September, Spady has reportedly been meeting with prospective city council candidates for 2019, including Erika Nagy of Speak Out Seattle and Ari Hoffman, who unsuccessfully sought for $230,000 in “homeless-related damages” to a cemetery in North Seattle. On Friday, Hoffman officially filed to run for council in District 2, the South Seattle council seat currently held by three-term incumbent Bruce Harrell. Spady, whose parents spend decades advocating for charter schools,  sent out an email in September seeking funds to defeat the upcoming Families and Education Levy renewal and to recruit “common sense candidates” to defeat council incumbents—a solicitation that could put him at odds with city and state election  laws.

In addition to his work recruiting local candidates, Spady has an upcoming speaking engagement in front of members of the Washington Policy Center, a conservative/libertarian-leaning think tank. The group’s annual Young Professionals Dinner includes speeches and “exclusive Q&A sessions” with two keynote speakers: Spady, and former US House Speaker-turned-Trump apologist Newt Gingrich. Non-member tickets start at $75.


3. Speaking of potential council candidates: A few other names that are starting to circulate in the rumor mill for 2019: Former Nick Licata campaign manager Andrew Lewis (District 7, currently held by Sally Bagshaw); former Seattle police chief Jim Pugel, also in District 7; Beto Yarce, a onetime undocumented immigrant and entrepreneur who now runs a nonprofit that helps launch small businesses (District 3, held by Kshama Sawant); and community organizer Tammy Morales, who came within 400 votes of beating District 2 incumbent Bruce Harrell in 2015 and is widely expected to run for his seat this year. Bagshaw is widely expected to step down this year, as is District 4 council member Rob Johnson. Sawant has given no indication that she won’t seek reelection, and Harrell’s plans are currently anybody’s guess.

4. Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed 2019 transportation budget includes new investments in “adaptive signal” technology—a term that typically describes systems that monitor where vehicle traffic is heavy and adjust light cycles to give traffic more time to get through crowded intersections. Seattle has a system like this in place on Mercer Street in South Lake Union, which “detects cars in each lane at every intersection … determines traffic levels, predicts the flow of traffic, and adjusts the amount of time available to each movement through the intersection.” These marginal drive time improvements often come at the expense of pedestrians, who are forced to endure long waits as the city gives cars extra time to drive through intersections (and to dash across the street on short walk cycles designed for maximum vehicle movement), which is one reason the National Association of City Transportation Officials says that “long signal cycles … can make crossing a street or walking even a short distance prohibitive and frustrating, [which] discourages walking altogether,” and recommends adaptive signals only for suburban areas.

However, the new budget also includes funding for a pilot project at the University of Washington that could at least start to restore the balance between pedestrians and cyclists and the almighty car. The project, which will also be funded by the UW and the Federal Highway Administration, will test passive pedestrian detection and pedestrian counting—technologies that could eliminate the need for walkers to push a “beg button” to cross the street and allow longer crossing times for large groups of pedestrians, respectively. (One way to obviate the need for a beg button, of course, would be to assume there are always pedestrians trying to cross the street in busy areas like South Lake Union and the U District and provide a walk cycle during every green light, as pedestrian advocates across the country have been requesting for years, but baby steps.)

The pilot project will also test an app that will enable cyclists to trigger signals at intersections that equipped with weight-sensitive sensors in streets, which don’t detect vehicles lighter than cars. Cyclists (and, presumably, motorcyclists, who are also usually too light to trip pavement-embedded signals) will be able to download an app that will notify any signals equipped with the new technology that a bike is present, causing the light to change even if there aren’t any cars around. This “solution,” of course, will only work in the limited number of signals near the University of Washington that are equipped with detectors, and for cyclists who download the app and have it running on their phones when they approach those intersections.

This post has been edited to reflect that maximum lot coverage rules will remain the same under all accessory dwelling unit options; the change is to maximum rear yard coverage, which would increase to 60 percent for new detached accessory dwelling units.

This post has been updated (March 25, 2019) to reflect the fact that Ari Hoffman submitted a claim to the city for $230,000 in “homeless-related damages”; he did not, as KIRO Radio originally reported at the link provided in this article, which has since been altered, sue the city.)