Tag: Sara Nelson

Ruling Orders UW to Reinstate Police Patrols at Dorms, COVID Hits Home at SPD and City Hall

1. The state Public Employee Relations Commission, which arbitrates labor disputes within state agencies, reversed a decision that allowed unarmed “campus responders” to provide public safety services at University of Washington residence halls and ordered the UW to restore police patrols, represented by a different union, at the dorms. The ruling orders the UW to reassign campus cops to patrol its residence halls.

The university decided to eliminate armed dorm patrols in 2020 after protests against police violence prompted calls to divest from police across the city and nation.

The divided decision, signed by Commissioners Marilyn Sayan and Kenneth Pedersen, found that the university had failed to bargain in good faith with its campus police union when it eliminated unarmed patrols to the dorms in response to student demands for a “more holistic approach to public safety” in 2020. PubliCola broke the news about the latest PERC decision on Saturday, and covered the original decision, which was issued by a PERC examiner, last year.

The case centered on the question of whether the UW and its president, Ana Mari Cauce, had the authority to replace campus police with civilian responders without negotiating the change with the union representing the officers. The university argued that it had the authority to choose its own campus public safety model, without bargaining the changes with the union; the union argued that the issue was a matter of mandatory bargaining, and that the UW was “skimming” work away from the police department—effectively taking away an opportunity for officers to make money and giving it to new employees represented by a different union.

Although no campus police lost their jobs as the result of the shift in duties (the dissenting opinion by Commissioner Mark Busto notes that the police union “did not present evidence that the CPOs suffered any financial impact from the transfer, such as the loss of overtime”), the PERC ruling orders the UW to “make any eligible bargaining unit employees whole, with interest, by paying them wages and benefits lost as a result of the skimming found in this unfair labor practice complaint.”

2. In COVID news, PubliCola has heard from several sources that Seattle City Councilmember Sara Nelson recently had COVID but failed to inform her coworkers, including at least some council colleagues, about her diagnosis, as the city’s COVID protocols require for all city employees who work outside their homes. Nelson, who often appears on the council dais without a mask, did not respond to a request for comment.

Legislative staff routinely receive exposure notices from Human Resources when someone in their department tests positive and reports it to the city, but there have been significantly more informal reports of COVID than formal notices, meaning that others in the legislative department are not following the policy either. At least two other council members have had COVID, including Councilmember Tammy Morales, who mentioned her diagnosis in a recent public council meeting.

3. Additionally, Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz’ brother, acting Lieutenant Avery Jaycin Diaz, is on extended leave and reportedly plans to retire after refusing to get vaccinated, which SPD policy requires. Although neither SPD nor Chief Diaz would confirm that nonvaccination was the reason for his brother’s departure, an SPD spokesman did confirm that he has not been on active duty for some time. The spokesman said Avery Diaz had not submitted his official retirement paperwork as of mid-July.

PubliCola was unable to reach Avery Diaz, and the police chief declined to comment on the record about his brother’s departure. Property records show that he sold his house in August 2021.

As of mid-July, SPD had only fired four officers for refusing to comply with vaccine mandates, although some have retired or resigned inton lieu of termination. The department has lost around 400 officers since 2020, most due to resignations or retirements, and Mayor Bruce Harrell recently announced a $2 million “recruitment and retention” plan that would providing hiring bonuses of up to $30,000 to new SPD officers.

Proposal Would Prevent Mayors from Burying Complaints Against Police Chief; Nelson Cherry-Picks Study to Claim Forced Treatment Works

1. The actions of Seattle Police Department officers during the protests against police brutality in 2020 led to more than 19,000 complaints against officers and then-police chief Carmen Best, which the city’s Office of Police Accountability subsequently consolidated into just 143 cases.

Most of those cases are now resolved. About 10 are still being processed, with “completion” rates, according to the OPA’s Demonstration Complaint Dashboard, between 75 and 90 percent. Just three complaints remain stalled at 50 percent complete. All are from 2020, and all three name former police chief Carmen Best as a subject.

City law empowers the OPA, which is an independent office within the police department, to decide whether investigating a complaint would create a conflict of interest, which the office did in these three cases involving Chief Best. Because the three complaints would have essentially investigating the boss, OPA referred them to then-mayor Jenny Durkan, who initially wanted the Office of the Inspector General, an independent police accountability agency, to do the investigation.

When the OIG declined, the case went back to the OPA, which asked to assign the investigation to an outside agency. Instead of acting, Durkan apparently sat on the complaints against Best, leaving them to languish until her successor, Bruce Harrell, forwarded them to an outside agency. Harrell’s spokesman, Jamie Housen, said the administration found out about the languishing cases in January and referred them to an external investigator late that month.

Legislation filed by city councilmember Lisa Herbold would prevent the mayor and OPA director from burying complaints against the police chief in the future by setting up a formal process, and deadlines, for the OPA to refer complaints against the police chief to an outside investigator.

Under the proposed new process, which Harrell supports, if the OPA decided a complaint against the police chief merited an investigation, the bill would require the OPA director to decide whether the complaint should be investigated by the city’s Department of Human Resources or an entity completely outside the city.  The OIG would review OPA’s recommendation and decide where to route the complaint, based on a process laid out in the legislation. The proposal would also give the OIG a stronger oversight role in complaints and investigations involving the police chief.

The first of the three cases the city failed to investigate involves Chief Best’s claim (later retracted) that armed people were running an extortion racket at the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) during the protests. As the South Seattle Emerald reported this week, Best apparently knew the claim was a hoax when she repeated it to officers in a videotaped statement to officers working at the protests.

The second unresolved case accuses Best of lying about errors made by Seattle police and fire officials that prevented emergency responders from reaching a man who had been shot in the protest zone; Best told reporters (falsely, according to reporting by KUOW) that protesters had blocked the path of emergency vehicles, contributing to the man’s death.

The final case involves the police department’s use of tear gas against demonstrators in early June, 2020, after Seattle Federal District Judge Richard Jones granted a temporary restraining order against the department.

One goal of the bill is to “protect against any abuse of discretion that might occur if the Mayor or OPA Director are involved in the complaint or seek to conceal the complaint” in the future, according to the bill text.

A spokesperson for the OPA declined to comment for this story. The outside investigation into the three cases is reportedly wrapping up.

2. City Councilmember Sara Nelson told a constituent in an email last week that her own experience going to treatment convinced her that mandatory treatment is an effective response to homeless people who commit crimes because of their addiction—and “less expensive than most housing options,” too.

The email, which Nelson forwarded to all her council colleagues, came in response to a constituent who sent a link to a study finding that out of 160 people in an employment-based treatment program, the 131 who were required to go to treatment by a court were more likely to complete treatment than the 29 who went voluntarily.

“If a person stays sober for even six months, that’s less expensive than most housing options and far less deleterious to a person’s ability to find future housing and employment than having a record.”—City Councilmember Sara Nelson

“I’m not surprised by its argument that mandating (or ‘stipulating’ as used in the paper) treatment is more effective than commonly thought because I’m in recovery myself and when I went to a residential treatment program, I met many people who were in treatment for the first time and only because court-ordered,” Nelson wrote, adding that about half of the people she kept up with from treatment were still sober.

“A month of private in-patient or 6 months of outpatient treatment costs about $10,000,” Nelson continued. “If a person stays sober for even six months, that’s less expensive than most housing options and far less deleterious to a person’s ability to find future housing and employment than having a record. And treatment leads to better health outcomes than jail.” Continue reading “Proposal Would Prevent Mayors from Burying Complaints Against Police Chief; Nelson Cherry-Picks Study to Claim Forced Treatment Works”

Nelson, Breaking from Frequent Ally Pedersen, Says Landlords Shouldn’t Have to Divulge Rents

City Councilmembers Alex Pedersen (l) and Sara Nelson (r)
City Councilmembers Alex Pedersen (l) and Sara Nelson (r)

By Erica C. Barnett

When City Councilmember Alex Pedersen proposed legislation that would require landlords to report basic information about their rental units, such as the size of each unit they own and how much it rents for, twice a year, his intent wasn’t to make it harder for small landlords to stay in business.

In fact, one of the goals of the proposal was to provide data to demonstrate the value of protecting so-called “naturally occurring affordable housing”—private, nonsubsidized apartments that rent below market rate—against development, through limits on density in areas that might otherwise be redeveloped into high-rise apartments.

So it was somewhat surprising when, earlier this month, Pedersen’s frequent ally Sara Nelson accused him of trying to impose onerous regulations that would “burden small landlords” who are “really struggling to deal with the impacts of the pandemic on their businesses.” Comparing housing to consumer goods, Nelson said the legislation would force landlords to divulge “proprietary” information that other types of businesses don’t have to disclose.

“We don’t ask other small business owners for this kind of detailed information,” Nelson said during a May 20 meeting of the council’s renter’s rights committee. “For example, we don’t ask all produce vendors to submit the kinds of vegetables they sell and the prices they charge.” (Actually, we do, and on a much larger scale.)

Pedersen, seeming a bit startled by the analogy, pointed out that “the current prices of products are publicly available, whereas we don’t know what the current contract rents are for an apartment project.”

“The problem here is that the price of housing is not known,” added committee chair Kshama Sawant, who supports Pedersen’s legislation. “I don’t understand how it is a burden to disclose the amount of rent you charge—it seems to be the most basic form of information that landlords should be required to share.”

In response, Nelson said people can find out what rents landlords are charging, “kind of, when you’re looking for units,” and that if the city wants to know more about rents they should hire a contractor to do a study. Then she said supporters of the legislation should be honest and acknowledge that “this information is going to be used for other political purposes, such as rent control.”

Sawant, a socialist, supports rent control; Pedersen, a former aide to onetime City Council member Tim Burgess, does not. Continue reading “Nelson, Breaking from Frequent Ally Pedersen, Says Landlords Shouldn’t Have to Divulge Rents”

Conservative Group With Ties to Assistant City Attorney Launches Pro-Davison Effort; Mayor’s Office Said He Didn’t OK Police Hiring Bill, Contradicting Council Member

1. Change Washington, a “strategic communications organization” launched by a right-wing nonprofit called Project 42 in 2019, has repeatedly provided a platform for the tough-on-crime views of now-assistant city attorney Scott Lindsay (including this evocatively titled promotional piece, “Ann Davison’s Plan to Eliminate Repeat Offenders“). On Wednesday, it issued an explicit call to action on Davison’s (and Lindsay’s) behalf.

“Ann Davison Needs Your Help!” screams the headline above an blog post imploring readers to contact Davison and King County Department of Public Defense director Anita Khandelwal to support banning so-called “high utilizers” of the criminal justice system from Seattle Community Court. The link for Davison is her generic city email address; the link for Khandelwal goes to a listing for her direct phone line, effectively encouraging Davison’s supporters to harass a county employee with no control over Seattle’s community court.

“[T]he Seattle Community Court has already failed regarding these criminals, because if the program was working as intended those serial offenders wouldn’t exist, and Davison’s initiative wouldn’t be necessary,” the blog post says. (All bolds in original).

This isn’t the first time Change Washington has encouraged people to flood officials’ emails and phone lines to support an agenda directly promoted by Deputy City Attorney Lindsay. Dann Mead Smith, who heads up Project 42, credited a post Lindsay wrote on Change Washington’s website with “stopping the proposal to do away with misdemeanor crimes in Seattle by activating its list of 35,000 subscribers and flooding the council with emails and comments.”

As we reported last week, Davison’s office sent a letter to all seven Seattle Municipal Court judges asking them to overrule the community court judge, Damon Shadid, who has been negotiating with Davison’s office over her demand to exclude people from community court who meet her “high utilizers” criteria. Community court is the municipal court’s therapeutic, less-punitive option for people accused of certain low-level, nonviolent misdemeanors.

Davison’s high-utilizers list (like similar lists Lindsay has made over the years, including the “high impact offenders” list that was the basis of KOMO News’ “Seattle Is Dying” video) is made up largely of people who are homeless and those who’ve been through court-ordered evaluations to determine their competency to stand trial. Or, as Change Washington puts it, people who are “not interested in living honest lives like the rest of us even when offered a helping hand to accomplish it.”

Change Washington headlines and stories about Ann Davison and her agenda

This isn’t the first time Change Washington has encouraged people to flood public officials’ emails and phone lines to support an agenda directly promoted by Lindsay. Dann Mead Smith, the former head of the libertarian Washington Policy Center who now heads up Project 42, credited a post Lindsay wrote on Change Washington’s website with “stopping the proposal to do away with misdemeanor crimes in Seattle by activating its list of 35,000 subscribers and flooding the council with emails and comments.” (That proposal would have allowed defendants to say they committed a crime, such as shoplifting, to meet a basic human need as part of their defense; it would not have “legalized” any crimes.) Project 42’s latest corporate filing indicates the group had revenues of more than $500,000 last year.

Change Washington’s post on community court lists all seven municipal court judges’ names along with a warning: “We won’t forget their names when they’re up for reelection. The time of judges flying under the radar with regards to criminal coddling and degrading the City’s public safety is coming to an end.”

It’s possible that conservative groups will recruit challengers for municipal court judges—the entire court is up for reelection, and has a history of liberal-conservative swings—but historically, most Seattle Municipal Court elections go uncontested and largely unnoticed amid higher-profile campaigns in Congressional election years.

2. Earlier this week, Seattle City Councilmember Sara Nelson said both Mayor Bruce Harrell and Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell had given her the “thumbs up” to propose a bill that would lift restrictions on $4.5 million of the Seattle Police Department’s 2022 budget, allowing SPD to spend the full amount, or any portion of it, on financial incentives to recruit new officers. Because we hadn’t heard anything about either Harrell explicitly supporting Nelson’s contentious proposal, we reached out to the mayor’s office to hear their version of the story.

According to a Harrell spokesman, Jamie Housen, both Harrells’ conversations with Nelson about hiring incentives took place “before this ordinance was even contemplated. Councilmember Nelson informed the mayor of her plan to sponsor a resolution in support of staffing bonuses, generally. The mayor let her know she was welcome to put it forward and that doing so would not create an issue with the Mayor’s Office,” Housen said.

“Similarly, when Councilmember Nelson asked to discuss police recruiting with Senior Deputy Mayor Harrell, the Senior Deputy Mayor encouraged her to explore potential solutions to SPD staffing challenges from the legislative level, which might include incentive pay or relocation costs as potential options.”

Herbold, who chairs the public safety committee, has proposed releasing $650,000 of the restricted money to pay for relocation expenses for officers moving to Seattle from out of town and to hire a professional recruiter for SPD.

New Councilmember Sara Nelson at Center of Debates Over Hiring Bonuses, Renter Relief, and Nonbinding Resolutions

1. At a meeting of the Seattle City Council’s public safety committee Tuesday, City Councilmember Sara Nelson continued to push for spending up to $4.5 million on hiring bonuses for new Seattle Police Department recruits and lateral hires. “We need to use every tool in our toolbox to accelerate the hiring of officers,” Nelson said. “If we don’t do this, what else are we going to do?” 

Nelson’s resolution states the council’s intent to lift a budget proviso, or restriction, the council imposed on SPD’s funding last year. That proviso stipulated that if SPD failed to meet its hiring goal of 125 new officers in 2022, they can’t spend the extra money until the council lifts the proviso and allocates the funds to a specific purpose. SPD now projects that it will hire around 98 new officers, leaving between $4.1 million and $4.5 million unspent. 

Although Nelson has proposed using the unspent money to pay bonuses to new recruits, the funds may be needed elsewhere. The city budget office has asked every city department to come up with potential cuts of between 3 and 6 percent of their budgets in anticipation of a budget gap of around $150 million next year. Unspent money from this year, including the $4.5 million left over from SPD’s 2022 hiring budget, could help fill that gap.

Just as debate on her hiring bonus resolution was wrapping up, Nelson attempted to walk on a last-minute addition to the committee agenda. The bill, which committee chair Lisa Herbold’s office confirmed she had not seen, proposed lifting the proviso on the $4.5 million to allow SPD to spend it on unspecified “staffing incentives,” including anything that “accelerates and prioritizes the hiring of police officers,” according to a draft of the bill.

Herbold attempted to cut Nelson off by closing debate, but Nelson interrupted, telling Herbold, “this should be the job of the public safety committee.” Although Herbold shut her down by moving on to the next item, the debate over hiring incentives isn’t over; in fact, Nelson has made it a cornerstone of her agenda, arguing that the only way to reduce crime and cut down on “addiction and overdoses” is to hire more police, and the best way to do that is through hiring bonuses. 

The city has consistently found that hiring incentives have no significant impact on the number of new officers SPD hires. Last month, the Seattle Department of Human Resources Department issued a memo concluding that a short-lived 2021 hiring bonus program had little impact on hiring, and an earlier report about a lengthier bonus program in 2019 found that only 18 percent of SPD applicants cited the potential bonus as one of the reasons they applied. 

Mayor Bruce Harrell has not requested funding for hiring bonuses.

A separate bill, sponsored by Herbold, would provide $650,000 out of the provisoed funds for two items the mayor’s office has requested: Reimbursement for moving expenses for new officers and a professional recruiter for the department.

Both Sara Nelson and Alex Pedersen left the online council meeting immediately before the vote—the equivalent of standing up in the middle of a council meeting and marching out of chambers

2. Less than two hours after the public safety meeting ended, Nelson raised objections to several bills on the full council’s afternoon agenda, including legislation updating the city’s renter protections to comply with state law, which she argued would hurt small landlords. (Even Alex Pedersen, who’s with Nelson on the “naturally occurring affordable housing” debate, voted for that one).

Nelson also objected to a nonbinding resolution by Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda condemning a federal pilot program critics call a first step toward privatizing Medicare. Accusing Mosqueda of “legislating by slogan,” Nelson she didn’t have enough information on how the pilot would affect “our constituents, and that’s who I represent—I don’t represent advocates or medical service providers.” 

Council members will soon take up legislation that will allow them to abstain from some resolutions that aren’t directly connected to city business, but for now, council rules require them to cast a vote. To avoid this, both Nelson and Pedersen left the online meeting immediately before the vote—the equivalent of standing up in the middle of a council meeting and marching out of chambers.

Although this action technically violates the council’s rules, violations are hard to enforce—back when council meetings happened in person, certain council members were notorious for taking bathroom breaks just before big, controversial votes. After the resolution passed 6-0 (with Kshama Sawant excused from the meeting), Councilmember Dan Strauss took a moment to thank a legislative aide who is leaving. “I’m sorry Councilmembers Nelson and Pedersen aren’t here to hear this,” Strauss said.

Councilmembers Say Better Rent Data Could Help Preserve “Mom-and-Pop,” “Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing”

 

Courtyard of the Pacific Apartments, an example City Councilmember Alex Pedersen cited of "naturally occurring affordable housing"
Courtyard of the Pacific Apartments, an example City Councilmember Alex Pedersen cited of “naturally occurring affordable housing”

By Erica C. Barnett

Until 2017, elected officials (and reporters) hoping to get a handle on the availability and cost of rental housing in Seattle relied on reports from a private company called Dupre+Scott, whose forecasts used cheeky videos and graphics to illustrate market predictions and trends. Since Dupre+Scott shut down, the city has relied on Census tract-level data to assess housing trends, including residential displacement—a blunt, high-level instrument that does not account for differences between adjacent neighborhoods that may be in the same Census tract.

Earlier this week, City Councilmember Alex Pedersen rolled out legislation that would require landlords to submit detailed information about their rental units—including the size of each unit, the rent they charge, and whether a unit is occupied or vacant—to a research university, such as the University of Washington, twice a year and to certify under the city’s Rental Registration and Inspection Ordinance (RRIO) that they have done so. The university would analyze the information and submit reports to the city, which would use them to “identify displacement risk” and “inform [the city’s] housing policy,” according to a staff report on the bill.

“My interest,” City Councilmember Sara Nelson continued, “is in making sure that we are not driving small landlords out of the market” by passing too many renter protections that impose new requirements on landlords, such as the “first in time” law that requires landlords to rent to the first qualified applicant.

The context for the proposal is the upcoming update of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which provides the framework for all city decisions on land use and zoning. The comp plan, for example, could prescribe the creation of more neighborhood business districts, encourage zoning changes to add density in single-family areas, or require future land-use policies that encourage the use of nonmotorized transportation. Or it could encourage policies that protect existing rental units at the expense of new housing, preserve trees by maintaining Seattle’s ban on development in single-family areas, or require full infrastructure buildout (roads, sewers, transit service) before an area can be developed—a ’90s neighborhood planning concept known as “concurrency.”

Pedersen, who has been a vocal opponent of allowing more density outside existing urban villages, said the city needed more accurate rental information to determine where “naturally occurring affordable housing” exists and might be at risk of demolition if the city allows denser housing in more areas. “If additional land-use changes were pursued without first putting into effect displacement prevention laws,” Pedersen said, the city might end up adopting policies that lead to the demolition of “affordable, below-market rental housing on the Ave [in the University District] and throughout our city.” (Pedersen cited the Pacific Apartments, pictured above, as an example of naturally occurring affordable housing. Although the website for the building didn’t have any current listings, a 450-square-foot studio was listed at $1,200 last year).

“Naturally occurring affordable housing” generally refers to older units that cost less than newer housing nearby. Advocates for laws to protect this type of housing often refer to the “mom-and-pop landlords” who tend to own such older buildings, without regard for the specific challenges faced by renters who live in this kind of housing, which may be less well-maintained than professionally managed buildings.

Thanks to the rental registration ordinance, the city does have some general information about how many rental units are available each year. In 2020, according to the most recent RRIO report, the number of registered units in the city declined by about 14.4 percent, “but the total number of units stayed relatively stable with only a 0.65% decrease.”

“Are landlords selling because they don’t want to comply or because property values have gone through the roof and they can cash in on their property like never before? It’s totally their right and if they are selling their property, that’s their decision. But connecting it to increased renters rights is not appropriate.”—City Councilmember Kshama Sawant

Although the report notes that registrations may have declined for any number of reasons, including landlords not bothering to update their renewals during the pandemic, Councilmember Sara Nelson said the decline in registrations, combined with the relatively small decline in apartments on the market, “indicates to me that it is the small mom-and-pop landlords that are basically taking properties off the market.

“My interest,” Nelson continued, “is in making sure that we are not driving small landlords out of the market” by passing too many renter protections that impose new requirements on landlords, such as the “first in time” law that requires landlords to rent to the first qualified applicant.

Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who said she supported Pedersen’s legislation, pushed back at the idea that landlords were going out of business because of renter protections. “That is a claim by landlords,” she said. “Nobody else is claiming that. The reality is that property values are skyrocketing. Are landlords selling because they don’t want to comply or because property values have gone through the roof and they can cash in on their property like never before? It’s totally their right and if they are selling their property, that’s their decision. But connecting it to increased renters rights is not appropriate.”

Councilmember Pushes “Seattle Is Dying” Narrative, Data Confirms Stop-and-Frisk Disparities, Someone Is Posting Fake Sweep Signs, and More

1. Seattle City Councilmember Sara Nelson, who owns Fremont Brewing with her husband, invited 11 business representatives to discuss their public safety concerns at her economic development committee on Wednesday. Nelson’s committee doesn’t deal with crime or homelessness and isn’t considering legislation; instead, the meeting served as a kind of open mic for business owners to trade alarming anecdotes and agree that the ultimate solution is more police.

Nelson teed up the conversation by saying Seattle is in a state of “crisis,” one that will require swift action by Mayor Bruce Harrell and City Attorney Ann Davison, who she hoped will “really put some things in place that can make a difference right now.” Last week, Harrell announced a new “hot spot” policing effort targeting high-crime areas; Davison announced she would dramatically expedite charging decisions for misdemeanors in an effort to move cases more quickly through her office.

“These issues that we’re hearing about, they are escalating,” Nelson said. “They’re intensifying, becoming more brazenly disruptive to businesses and dangerous to staff and customers. … Even having more officers on the street won’t cut it, because even before there was such a staffing shortage, there still did not seem to be enough to start addressing rising crime well before the pandemic hit.”

The panel included business owners from every council district except District 5, whose council representative, Debora Juarez, said she no longer goes to Pike Place Market downtown “unless it’s Saturday in broad daylight” because of the “safety issue[s]” there. Pike Place Market (which closes at 6) remains one of the few areas downtown that is consistently bustling and full of people—the antithesis of a high-crime area.

To a person, the panel blamed rising crime and a challenging business climate not on the global pandemic, which has decimated business districts worldwide and led to rising crime and poverty in every American city, but on the fact that there are not more visible police in Seattle’s neighborhoods.

Calls for more police (and prosecution) are standard fare when crime ticks up, but Seattle’s experience with ramped-up policing efforts—from the Stay Out of Drug Areas zones of the mid-2000s to the Nine and a Half Block Strategy of 2015—has demonstrated repeatedly that police crackdowns alone don’t reduce crime. Downtown, in particular, is less populated during the day because so many people continue to work from home; without daytime commuters as customers, it’s hard to keep a business open, and criminal activity thrives in depopulated spaces.

Even if crime could be solved (as opposed to merely shifted) by flooding the streets with cops, Seattle is struggling to hire and retain officers and has fewer officers that it did in 1970.

2. The federal monitor overseeing reforms to the Seattle Police Department released a report on Monday detailing ongoing disparities in who Seattle police officers stop and frisk, though the monitor, Dr. Antonio Oftelie, stopped short of blaming the disparities on officers’ racial biases. Since SPD began gathering data on the race of the people officers stop, frisk, and detain in 2015, the racial disparities revealed by that data have not changed much: police are more likely to stop Native American and Black people than white people. Although officers frisk white people less than any other race, they are more likely to find a weapon when frisking a white person.

In his new report, Oftelie argued that while the persistent disparities are “concerning” and contribute to public distrust of the department, the demographic data does not “prove bias by individual police officers or agencies—as they operate within the context of social factors that may contribute to disparities.”

Oftelie’s report also noted that SPD stopped fewer people in 2021 than in any other year since the department began gathering data on stops in 2015. Last year, officers stopped 4,282 people: 30 percent fewer people than in 2020, and more than 50 percent fewer than the department’s recorded high in 2018.

The sharp reduction in the number of stops reflects a combination of changes, including SPD’s shrinking ranks, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and new state laws setting stricter standards for when police can use force—including, some officers argue, grabbing someone’s arm to prevent them from walking away from a stop. In 2020, more than half of SPD’s stops did not end in an arrest or citation; Native American people were the most likely to be arrested after being stopped by police.

3. One block away from the spot where someone placed fake “no camping” and no-parking signs last year, another set of alarming fake signs has cropped up. The new signs, which are designed to look like the city’s official encampment removal notices, warn encampment residents that they must “REMOVE ALL PERSONAL PROPERTY” by 9:00am on February 9; if they haven’t left by then, the sign continues, “THE CITY WILL BE NOTIFIED AND ALL REMAINING ITEMS WILL BE REMOVED.” Unlike official notices, the signs don’t have a city seal and are laminated and attached to stakes in the ground.

A spokesman for the city confirmed that the signs were not official city notices and “there are no plans to remove the encampments at the locations listed in the notices tomorrow.” The spokesman did not know who had posted the signs.

The city’s official encampment removal schedule called for at least three other “priority site” removals this week: Prefontaine Place in Pioneer Square; Third and Yesler; and N 46th Street and Greenlake Way.

4. The Seattle Fire Department debuted a new feature of its emergency dispatch center on Tuesday afternoon: A team of nurses will join the center’s staff to field calls from people with lower-acuity medical needs, which SFD Chief Harold Scoggins says will free up dispatchers, paramedics and ambulances to focus on the most serious medical emergencies.

Scoggins said the new Nurse Navigation Program—a partnership with one of the city’s ambulance providers, American Medical Rescue—will initially take between 8,000 and 10,000 of the roughly 160,000 calls the fire department receives each year. “In many cases, this will help to divert 911 callers with non-emergency issues away from an ambulance transport to a hospital’s emergency department, and connect patients instead towards self-treatment, Urgent Care or a Telehealth appointment,” he said.

AMR paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines to Seattle in 2016 for not meeting the city’s response time requirements.

Continue reading “Councilmember Pushes “Seattle Is Dying” Narrative, Data Confirms Stop-and-Frisk Disparities, Someone Is Posting Fake Sweep Signs, and More”

Proud Boys Hoax Only Most Recent SPD Disinfo Effort, Council Member Deflects Questions About Anti-RV Eco-Blocks, and More Questions about Police Dogs as “Less-Lethal” Weapons

A person rests on top of a concrete ecology block, one of thousands used to prevent RVs from parking on the street in industrial areas throughout the city
A person rests on top of a concrete ecology block, one of hundreds used to prevent RVs from parking on the street in industrial areas throughout the city

1. A series of fake radio transmissions by Seattle police officers in June 2020 that described a group of armed, far-right extremists wandering through the downtown core “improperly added fuel to the fire” during a tense summer of citywide racial justice protests and clashes with police, according to Office of Police Accountability (OPA) Director Andrew Myerberg, whose office released its investigation of the incident on Wednesday.

The transmissions were a part of a misinformation campaign conceived by Brian Grenon, then the captain of the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct. The transmissions came only hours after officers evacuated the precinct at the instruction of Assistant Chief Tom Mahaffey. In an interview with the OPA, Grenon explained that the ruse was intended to convince demonstrators that the department had “more officers out there doing regular stuff” at a time when SPD was stretched thin. Grenon didn’t seek approval for the campaign from then-police chief Carmen Best or Mahaffey, nor did he tell his subordinate officers what to say.

The lower-ranking officers chose to describe a group of armed Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group known for street brawls that featured prominently in the attack on the U.S. Capitol last January, gathered near Seattle City Hall. In interviews with the OPA, the officers said that they had never taken part in a disinformation campaign before.

City council public safety committee chair Lisa Herbold noted, however, that SPD has faced scrutiny over disinformation in the recent past. In 2019, the OPA launched an investigation into an officer who lied to a driver suspected of a hit-and-run; though the incident only damaged a group of parked cars, the officer claimed that the crash left a person in critical condition. Less than a week later, the driver died by suicide after agonizing over the incident, believing he had killed someone.

While Washington state law allows police officers to use a ruse while undercover, to gather information for investigations and to address “an exigent threat to life or public safety,” the same law prohibits ruses that are so “shocking” that they lack “fundamental fairness.” In the 2019 case, Myerberg ruled that the officer’s ruse was not necessary or appropriate, and that it likely led directly to the driver’s suicide. SPD suspended the officer responsible for the ruse for 6 days, and Myerberg recommended that SPD begin training officers on ruses, “including when they are appropriate and when they shock fundamental fairness.”

On Wednesday, Herbold noted that SPD has yet to fully implement Myerberg’s recommendation, and said she has asked Myerberg to issue a new recommendation, specifying that officers need to document any ruses so that investigators can review their appropriateness.

Although Myerberg noted that the Proud Boys ruse likely contributed to some protesters’ decisions to arm themselves, it appears that none of the officers involved in the ruse will face discipline. Grenon and another commander who supervised the effort have since left SPD, and Myerberg held that while the four lower-ranking officers who took part in the ruse exercised poor judgment, their supervisors were to mostly to blame.

“I stepped down from my responsibilities at Fremont Brewing to run my campaign and, to avoid conflict of interest, I formally separated from Fremont Brewing after the election.”—City Councilmember Sara Nelson, in response to an email from Rev. Bill Kirlin-Hackett, Vehicle Residency Outreach program

2. When new Position 9 City Councilmember Sara Nelson took her oath of office Tuesday afternoon, she emphasized her experience as the co-owner of Fremont Brewing, referring to herself as “the first small business owner on City Council since 2009.” (Jan Drago, who owned a Häagen-Dazs franchise on the Ave, retired that year).

In an email responding to a homeless service provider’s concerns about Fremont Brewing’s use of large concrete “ecology blocks” to obstruct parking on the streets surrounding its Ballard brewing facility, however, Nelson said she no longer has anything to do with the business, which she co-owns with her husband, Matt Lincecum, and could not respond to any requests for Fremont Brewing to remove the obstructions.

“I stepped down from my responsibilities at Fremont Brewing to run my campaign and, to avoid conflict of interest, I formally separated from Fremont Brewing after the election,” Nelson said in an email to the Rev. Bill Kirlin-Hackett, head of the city-funded Vehicle Residency Outreach program. “This is why I haven’t spoken to any reporters about this matter and why I must decline to engage in discussion with you now. For current information about SDOT’s enforcement of complaints of street use violations, I have referred inquiries to [the public information officer] at SDOT (copied).”

Kirlin-Hackett’s initial letter asked Nelson to “now abide as a sitting Councilmember [with] what the law requires; that is removing the ecology barriers that surround your brewery.” In his response to Nelson’s email, Kirlin-Hackett wrote, “I know it is a very usual thing for those elected to want to wash their hands. But it’s clear by your response you know this is a problem and violation of the law. If you read the letter from SDOT I sent, you’ll know their very problem is their inability to have the support of the Executive or Council in how to apply the law.”

Many property owners in industrial areas, including several in the blocks immediately adjacent to Fremont Brewing, have placed ecology blocks in the public right-of-way to prevent people living in RVs (which, under Seattle law, can only park overnight in industrial areas) from parking on the street. The use of ecology blocks to obstruct parking is illegal, but SDOT has not enforced the law, opting instead to send warning letters to businesses, including Fremont Brewing, that use the blocks to deter RV parking.

SDOT’s laissez-faire approach to street use has not extended to RV owners themselves; shortly before the most recent snow and ice storm, the city showed up with tow trucks to remove a group of RVs from West Green Lake Way, part of a sweep that also forced people camping in the area to move their tents to a different part of the park.

Nelson did not immediately respond to questions Thursday about what her “formal separation” from Fremont Brewing entails.

3. A Seattle police officer shot and killed a man suspected of burglarizing a South Seattle home on Wednesday afternoon after the man killed a police dog and stabbed the dog’s handler, Officer Anthony Ducre, in the face.

The dog, named Jedi, was previously at the center of a lawsuit against the city of Seattle by a woman he attacked during a training exercise in a Tukwila parking lot in January 2020. At the time, SPD was using the parking lot as part of a training course for K-9 units. Ducre was leading Jedi through the course on a long lead and lost sight of him around a corner; there, Jedi found a woman taking a break from her job in a nearby building and—acting on training—bit her leg. The woman, Valerie Heffernan, later settled with the City of Seattle for $225,000. Continue reading “Proud Boys Hoax Only Most Recent SPD Disinfo Effort, Council Member Deflects Questions About Anti-RV Eco-Blocks, and More Questions about Police Dogs as “Less-Lethal” Weapons”

New Leadership on Every Floor of City Hall as 2022 Begins

1. Incoming city Attorney Ann Davison painted a dire portrait of Seattle in her official swearing-in speech on Tuesday morning, framing her plans to crack down on misdemeanor offenses as a fight to “stand up for victims” who have been unrepresented at City Hall.

“Communities are afraid to use their parks, people are afraid to walk down 3rd Avenue, and parents are afraid to send their kids to wait for the bus,” Davison said, pointing to the Seven Stars Pepper restaurant at the intersection of S. Jackson Street and 12th Little Saigon as a case study in the consequences of rising petty crime. The owner, Yong Hong Wang, warned last fall that her restaurant is on the brink of failure because customers are afraid of the ad hoc street market — a group of vendors selling everything from shampoo to narcotics — at an adjacent bus stop.

“She will lose her life savings because criminal activity has gone unchecked,” Davison said of Yong. “She should not have to pay the price.”  

Davison also raised the specter of gun violence, citing the May 2020 shooting of 18-year-old Connor Dassa-Holland in Rainier Beach. “It is the duty of the city attorney’s office to prosecute weapons charges and take guns off the streets so that misdemeanor gun offenses don’t lead to felony homicides,” Davison said.

Only a handful of gun-related crimes are misdemeanors under Washington law, including “unlawfully displaying” (or brandishing) a firearm as an intimidation tactic and carrying a concealed handgun without a permit. Davison’s office can only prosecute misdemeanors; the King County Prosecutor’s Office is responsible for filing felony gun possession charges.

Davison did not mention her office’s civil division, which defends the City of Seattle in lawsuits and advises the city council and mayor’s office as they develop new legislation.

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Davison’s tough-on-crime rhetoric prompted the city council to consider adding diversion to the city attorney’s charter duties in 2021. The council demurred in December, opting instead to require the city attorney to notify the council within 90 days of making any changes to, or eliminating, the office’s diversion programs, and provide quarterly reports to the council about the effectiveness of diversion programs. Davison was critical of the reporting requirement, accusing the council (six women, three men) of holding her to an unfair standard because of her gender. Davison is the first woman to hold the city attorney’s office—a detail she underscored in her remarks on Tuesday. Her general-election opponent, Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, is also a woman.

2. Shortly after Davison wrapped up her speech, new mayor Bruce Harrell held his own ceremonial swearing-in at City Hall. In an optimistic, mostly lighthearted speech that offered few policy details, Harrell pledged to work with people who opposed his election,  and make quick progress on major issues including homelessness, health care, and the selection of a permanent police chief.

Harrell previewed a handful of upcoming executive orders and decisions, including one order that will direct the city’s public utilities “to proactively provide us information on utility shutoffs, which is often an indicator of homelessness vulnerability or human service needs.” No utility customer has lost power or water since mid-2019, thanks to a combination of legislation and a moratorium on utility shutoffs during COVID.

Asked about the practical impact of the order, a Harrell spokesman said it would identify “people most at risk of homelessness or housing instability, as those facing arrearages or utility shutoffs—enforced or not—are often those most in danger of losing their housing. So the order is focused on driving greater coordination between SPU, City Light, and Offices of Housing and Human Services to prevent homelessness.”

Alluding to the longstanding debate over police funding, Harrell said that a “safe city needs the right kind and right number of police officers.”

In his speech, Harrell also vowed to review barriers to affordable housing construction, such as reducing permitting delays—a common obstacle that can add thousands to the cost of housing construction. During his campaign, Harrell made it clear that believes dense housing should be confined to specific areas (the longstanding “urban village” strategy), but reducing barriers to development is a pro-housing step—as is Harrell’s appointment of Marco Lowe, a City Hall veteran who worked for mayors Greg Nickels and Mike McGinn before taking a position at the Master Builders Association, where he advocated for pro-housing policies.

Harrell, responding to a reporter’s question, said he would not immediately launch a national search for a permanent police chief, instead giving interim Chief Adrian Diaz “real measurement criteria by which I can see what he’s doing” before deciding whether to “lift the ‘interim’ or do a national search” at some point before the end of March.

Alluding to the longstanding debate over police funding, Harrell said that a “safe city needs the right kind and right number of police officers.” Deputy mayor Monisha Harrell, who served as the interim police monitor overseeing the federal consent decree, will oversee policing policy for Harrell’s office and will play a key role in determining what the administration believes “the right number” is.

3. After weeks of behind-the-scenes drama, the city council elected District 5 Councilmember Debora Juarez the first Indigenous council president on Monday. (Backstory here). The council also approved a new list of committees and committee chairs that reflects the relative power (and individual interests) of the eight other councilmembers. (Council presidents, who oversee the business of the legislative branch, generally don’t take on high-profile committees). Continue reading “New Leadership on Every Floor of City Hall as 2022 Begins”

“In This House,” Seattle Votes for the Status Quo

Bruce Harrell campaign sign with extra sign reading "MODERATE."

By Erica C. Barnett

On Tuesday, less than 18 months after nationwide protests against police violence prompted Seattle leaders to consider new approaches to public safety, Seattle voters endorsed a return to the pre-pandemic status quo, electing a slate of candidates who promised to hire more cops, crack down on crimes associated with poverty and addiction, and remove more unsheltered people from public spaces, with “consequences” for those who refuse to go.

Longtime former city council member Bruce Harrell will be mayor;  longtime city council aide-turned-“take back Seattle” brewery owner Sara Nelson will replace Lorena González on the city council, and Republican (and three-time candidate) Ann Davison will be city attorney.

The new regime is a significant win for the business and political leaders who have been shouting for the past year and a half that Seattle Is Dying because the city’s mushy progressivism has gone too far. What’s ironic about that view is that “the left”—that is, people on Twitter who have the unique ability to send mainstream pundits into fits of derangement—has essentially no power in Seattle city government.

Yes, there are a few more progressive faces on the council than there were a dozen years ago. But that doesn’t mean they’ve had much luck changing city policy (and on many issues, the council is still sharply divided). Under Seattle’s form of government, the mayor controls almost every city department and has the authority to ignore or reverse the council’s policy and spending directives, meaning that even if the council were to tell the mayor to, say, cut the police department by 50 percent, the mayor could and probably would just ignore them—as Seattle’s current moderate mayor, Jenny Durkan, has done with policy after policy. If the council’s progressive bloc could spend money or establish policy by fiat, you would see a whole lot more hotel-based shelters, public restrooms, and handwashing sinks around the city.

Of course, if your entire understanding of how politics currently operate in Seattle is based on Twitter, you might believe that the “Nikkita Oliver left” is actually in charge of things. It’s an analysis that feels right—if you choose to ignore the list of people who are actually running the city and the policies they have created.

For the past several years—the period when centrist pundits claim that Seattle was controlled by a far-left progressive bloc—the city has stayed the course on any number of policies that previously failed to address the city’s problems—pouring money into downtown Seattle at the expense of other neighborhoods, offering huge hiring bonuses to new police officers, and ramping up encampment sweeps to pre-pandemic levels. (Prior to the current administration, encampment residents generally got 72 hours’ notice before a sweep.)  Progress on Vision Zero, a plan to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030, has not only stalled but reversed, with more people killed by traffic violence last year than in any year since 2006. Exclusionary zoning laws continue to prohibit new housing except in tiny strips of land along major arterial roads. And overdose deaths have increased dramatically, an outcome that could have been mitigated by opening the supervised consumption site King County recommended in 2016, and which Durkan has consistently (and successfully) opposed.

The claim that Bruce Harrell, Sara Nelson, and Ann Davison represent a set of “fresh new faces” with “new ideas” may be the most confusing piece of conventional wisdom being pushed by Seattle’s pundit class. Harrell served on the council for 12 years before stepping down at the end of 2019. His homelessness policy, a copy-and-paste of the failed Compassion Seattle charter amendment, was drafted by 12-year council veteran Tim Burgess. And Nelson’s old boss, Richard Conlin, was a 16-year incumbent.

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As mayor, Harrell’s campaign promises sound pretty much the same as Durkan’s when she came into office: More, better, reformed police, lots of new shelter beds, and a “pragmatic” approach to the city’s basic issues, like transportation. (Cycling advocates have considered Durkan particularly hostile to their requests for safer infrastructure; at a recent campaign forum, Harrell made a point of mocking bikes as a viable transportation option.) Durkan never did build all 1,000 tiny houses she promised to complete by the end of her first year, and the police department is so far from “reform” that it remains under a federal consent decree, after Durkan and outgoing city attorney Pete Holmes prematurely tried to terminate the agreement in 2020. At the beginning of her term, Durkan vowed to apply a compassionate but tough approach to the city’s most pressing issues. Now that her four years are up, Harrell is proposing more of the same.

Seattle has always been a wealthy, mostly white, fundamentally centrist city that wears its thin veneer of progressive politics like a “Black Lives Matter” sign slapped in the window of a single-family house in a segregated neighborhood.

Of course, if your entire understanding of how politics currently operate in Seattle is based on Twitter, you might believe that the “Nikkita Oliver left” is actually in charge of things. It’s an analysis that feels right—if you choose to ignore the list of people who are actually running the city and the policies they have created. For people who are well represented by the current status quo, it can feel like oppression to listen to how people talk about you and your political allies in an online space that you chose to enter. But look around: Seattle has always been a wealthy, mostly white, fundamentally centrist city that wears its thin veneer of progressive politics like a “Black Lives Matter” sign slapped in the window of a single-family house in a segregated neighborhood.

Davison, admittedly, is a special case—one Seattle’s center left may soon regret supporting as gleefully as they backed moderates Nelson and Harrell. On election night, several Davison supporters at Harrell’s party referred to her, somewhat apologetically, as “Republican-Lite,” but there’s little question about the views she has expressed in public. When Davison ran against city council incumbent Debora Juarez (one of those moderate council members the pundits who scream about the “far-left council” never mention) in 2019, she proposed fixing homelessness by rounding up unsheltered people and busing them to warehouses on the outskirts of the city, where they would somehow be kept alive for less than $1,500 a year. A year later, she declared herself a proud Republican and ran for lieutenant governor on the Donald Trump/Loren Culp ticket. Her plans for that office were even easier to fit on an index card: If elected, she said, she would abolish the office.

Seattle spent much of 2020 in righteous convulsions over Trump’s revanchist, neo-1968 law-and-order rhetoric. But when it comes to quieter dog whistles—protecting single-family zoning, “reclaiming our parks,” and “reforming” the police department—Seattle always responds on cue.

And there is considerable overlap between Harrell’s supporters and Davison’s (they even share some of the same consultants). On election night, after Harrell made his celebratory speech, a number of people from Harrell’s party piled into their cars and headed over to Davison’s celebration party. One was former Ed Murray public safety advisor (and Davison endorser, Chris Gregoire’s son-in-law) Scott Lindsay, who could hold a high-ranking position in the Davison city attorney’s office. Although most of the work of the office is in the civil division, Davison has said her top priority would be prosecuting misdemeanors—a radical reversal of the policies Holmes has put in place over the past 12 years, and a retreat into the zero-tolerance, broken-windows approach Lindsay has advocated.

Seattle spent much of 2020 in righteous convulsions over Trump’s revanchist, neo-1968 law-and-order rhetoric. But when it comes to quieter dog whistles—protecting single-family zoning, “reclaiming our parks,” and “reforming” the police department—Seattle always responds on cue. “In this house,” Seattle votes for the status quo.