Tag: Seattle Police Department

Council Funds Police Hiring Compromise, More Delays In Store for Civilian 911 Response, and Sheriff Questions Impact of Hiring Bonuses

1. It’s easy to forget, after the charged backlash election of 2021, that there was a time when the city seemed ready to rapidly replace some police officers with civilian first responders, particularly for low-level crisis calls that are often made far more dangerous by the presence of cops with guns. Since 2020, when protests against police violence galvanized Seattle officials to make pledges to reduce the size of the police force, the city has taken a hard turn toward the rhetoric and policies of an earlier era, one characterized by ever-expanding police budgets and support for law-and-order policies

On Tuesday, the city council’s public safety committee voted to release $1.15 million in unspent funds from the police department’s 2022 budget to help address a level of attrition on the force that several council members described as a crisis. The legislation was a compromise between two proposals by committee chair Lisa Herbold and Councilmember Sara Nelson, who has argued that hiring bonuses (and police spending generally) will help keep Seattle residents safe.

Nelson, who had tried to introduce an ordinance releasing all the money SPD won’t spend this year (about $4.5 million) because the council provided more money for new hires than SPD can spend, said “people are dying” because there aren’t enough police, adding that “our community gatherings” are also “at stake” if the city doesn’t hire more officers quickly.

The compromise measure the council adopted will pay for a new SPD recruiter, relocation expenses for officers moving from elsewhere, an ad campaign to recruit new officers, and a national search for a permanent police chief. Only council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda voted against the plan, arguing that there are other actions the city could take to improve public safety besides a recruitment campaign for police, such as funding shelter and behavioral health services.

2. Mosqueda and most of the current council (though not Nelson) were around in 2020 when the council began discussing ways to replace police with civilian responders for some 911 calls, such as calls about people passed out in public or those experiencing certain kinds of health emergencies. Although the Seattle Fire Department has two Health One units to respond to some medical crisis calls, another response unit called Triage One never got off the ground, thanks in part to a dispute with the firefighters’ union over civilianizing a body of work that has been the job of firefighters.

On Tuesday, SPD data crunchers and Mayor Bruce Harrell’s public safety advisor, Andrew Myerberg, gave the public safety committee an update on the halting progress toward launching an initial pilot program to send civilian responders to certain kinds of calls. Very quickly, though, it became clear that the police department believes that the data the city previously based its support for civilian response—a report by the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, which found that at least 12 percent of all 911 calls could be transferred to civilian responders right away—is misleading and unreliable.

“Whenever we have a presentation like this, it’s like we have no conception of how a major us city can respond to calls differently, but we have a major US city”—Denver, whose STAR team responds to thousands of crisis calls—”and they’ve been responding to these calls for two years.” —City Councilmember Andrew Lewis

“We don’t believe that was a responsible analysis, and they did not taken into account many of the variables that are critically important to safely answer these calls,” SPD chief operating officer Brian Maxey said. In particular, Maxey and SPD senior research scientist Loren Atherley took issue with the fact that the numbers in the NICJR report (called “Nick, Jr.” for short) didn’t include data about how various call types turned out—for example, whether a call for what seemed like a low-acuity health issue resulted in violence.

The SPD researchers said that before the city can move forward with any kind of pilot program, they need to spend months analyzing actual call data and running it through a complex matrix to determine how risky each call type is in practice; then, and only then, will it be safe for SPD to consider letting people other than armed officers respond to some calls. As an example, Atherley said, the NICJR report only identified 300 types of calls; SPD’s analysis, in contrast, shows that the 400,000 or so 911 calls each year break down into 41,900 different categories. “Policing … has been attempting to find an avenue towards a differential response since the late 1950s,” Atherley noted.

Councilmember Andrew Lewis, who since 2020 has been promoting Eugene, Oregon’s CAHOOTS mobile crisis intervention model as something Seattle could try to emulate, asked why the city couldn’t look at other cities that have already moved toward alternative 911 response models and try to learn from them. “Whenever we have a presentation like this, it’s like we have no conception of how a major us city can respond to calls differently, but we have a major US city”—Denver, whose STAR team responds to thousands of crisis calls—”and they’ve been responding to these calls for two years,” Lewis said.

After the meeting, Lewis said he was encouraged that Myerberg, from the mayor’s office, seemed open to a future pilot program that could launch before SPD finishes its data analysis. “One important point Myerberg made was that we’re not going to necessarily have the cadence of this work be based on the police department” and its schedule, Lewis said.

However, Seattle Police Officers Guild president Mike Solan told Q13 FOX this week that he believes any change that would allow non-police officers to respond to 911 calls would be a subject for mandatory bargaining in the new police contract. SPOG is reportedly already playing hardball about other issues in the contract, including any changes that would subject the police to greater oversight.

3. At a King County Council committee meeting Tuesday, King County sheriff nominee Patti Cole-Tindall noted that the sheriff’s office had provided hiring bonuses to 20 new deputies, including four lateral hires, since the beginning of 2022—not nearly enough to outpace the 47 commissioned officers who left involuntarily or resigned after deciding not to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Overall, 98 sheriff’s deputies and professional staff applied for exemptions from the vaccine mandate; most (81) were requests for religious exemptions.

Council member Reagan Dunn, who opposed the vaccine mandate, asked whether the county should do more to fund more bonuses and incentives for new officers. “In terms of the recruiting,” Cole-Tindall responded, “our signing bonus is great, but we know that Everett and Kent offer $30,000. I’m not convinced that that’s what has somebody coming to an agency. I think it’s more about the culture. It’s more about the opportunity. “

Police Accountability Office Dismissed Widespread Mask Violations as “Cultural Issue”

Photo by Adam Cohn on Flickr; Creative Commons license

By Erica C. Barnett

A new report from the Seattle Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that the Office of Police Accountability, which investigates allegations of officer misconduct, routinely dismissed complaints from the public about officers refusing to wear masks as required, viewing noncompliance as a “cultural problem” rather than individual insubordination. A spokeswoman for the OPA said the office “does not investigate systemic issues, which are the sole purview of the OIG.”

The OPA did not sustain (uphold) any of the 98 complaints the OIG reviewed about officers ignoring the mask mandate. These complaints included a highly publicized incident in which an officer refused to wear a mask inside a hospital; that officer was disciplined for violating SPD’s professionalism policies, but the OPA said mask noncompliance was a “systemic issue that needs to be remedied” by the department, not a matter for individual discipline.

The report also found that SPD supervisors rarely disciplined officers even for third, fourth, and fifth violations of the mask mandate, using “supervisor actions” (training or coaching by a supervisor, usually reserved for minor policy violations) in lieu of formal discipline.

“Director Myerberg explained that he perceived the mask non-compliance as indicative of a serious culture issue within SPD and stated that it was not sustainable for OPA to be the ‘thought police’ of the Department.”—Inspector General report on widespread mask violations at SPD

The OPA spokeswoman declined to comment on the OIG’s conclusions.

“I think what you see with the frustration expressed by OPA and the tone of this report is an acknowledgement that such widespread non-compliance with policy, and even direct orders, can’t be adequately addressed by piecemeal, individual discipline or external policy recommendations,” Inspector General Lisa Judge told PubliCola. “Issues like this that have a strong underlying cultural or philosophical root require action on the part of leadership to shift that culture to change behavior.”

According to the report, both the OPA and SPD treated officers’ refusal to comply with mask mandates as a “minor nondisciplinary issue,” even after the state Department of Labor and Industries penalized the department on two separate occasions for “serious” violations of state law requiring work sites to be “free from recognized hazards that are causing, or are likely to cause, serious injury or death.”

For the first violation, from February 2021, L&I fined SPD $5,400 and outlined a course of disciplinary action, including progressive discipline (discipline that becomes more severe with additional violations) for officers cited for failing to follow mask rules more than twice. L&I ultimately closed that complaint because officers were using various tactics to slow down disciplinary proceedings against them, making it harder for the OPA to investigate and punish officers who wouldn’t wear mask.

L&I’s second citation, from July 2021, involved multiple complaints that officers weren’t wearing masks while responding to public demonstrations. Although the agency couldn’t interview any of the officers involved in this second complaint because they were all on furlough or refused to cooperate, L&I issued a $12,000 fine.

According to the report, then-OPA director Andrew Myerberg, now a public-safety advisor to Mayor Bruce Harrell, “noted that it seemed procedurally unjust to sustain an insubordination allegation against an individual officer when others higher in the chain of command might also not be wearing masks.

“Director Myerberg stated that no one in headquarters wore masks and related that someone had sent OPA a photo of multiple lieutenants, captains, and chiefs celebrating an event at headquarters without any masks. Director Myerberg explained that he perceived the mask non-compliance as indicative of a serious culture issue within SPD and stated that it was not sustainable for OPA to be the ‘thought police’ of the Department.” Continue reading “Police Accountability Office Dismissed Widespread Mask Violations as “Cultural Issue””

A Month After “Operation New Day” Crackdown, Impacts on Crime Remain Unclear

The Seattle Police Department’s Mobile Precinct on Third Avenue in downtown Seattle.

By Paul Kiefer

A month has passed since the Seattle Police Department moved its mobile precinct to the intersection of Third Ave. and Pine St. in downtown Seattle, scattering an open-air market for drugs and stolen merchandise that had recently been the scene of two murders.

SPD has maintained a presence at the intersection since then as part of a push to crack down on crime downtown called Operation New Day, mostly making arrests for shoplifting and other misdemeanor crimes. Unlike a similar crackdown in the Little Saigon neighborhood in February, there have been few felony arrests in the long-troubled area. Meanwhile, the social services that Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said would follow the sweep at Third and Pine are still on hold.

Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell says that the relative scarcity of felony arrests doesn’t tell the full story. “Felonies take a while—you’ve got to build those cases,” she said. Unlike at 12th Ave. and S. Jackson St. in Little Saigon, where federal law enforcement began investigating a similar illicit market and a pattern of EBT fraud long before SPD cleared the intersection, Harrell said the sweep of Third and Pine was a direct response to the shootings on February 27 and March 2 that killed 52-year-old Reno Maiava and 15-year-old Michael Del Bianco, respectively. SPD later arrested suspects in both shootings, though neither arrest took place on Third; officers tracked Maiava’s killer to a Tukwila motel, while Del Bianco’s killer turned himself in at SPD’s West Precinct.

Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell disputes that the sweeps in the downtown core fueled an increase in violence elsewhere. “People’s perceptions and urban myths are not always fact,” she said.

Harrell added that while SPD is still working with federal partners to make drug arrests in the area, the investigations require patience. “We’re not trying to get the low-level dealers,” she said. “We’re trying to get the folks who are a little further up the food chain, and you can’t put that on a calendar.”

Judges have already released many of the people arrested at both Third and Pine and 12th and Jackson; one man released by a King County Superior Court judge after his arrest in Little Saigon reappeared along Third, where SPD officers arrested him again for drug possession and carrying a gun illegally. According to Harrell, the repeat arrests have frustrated some prosecutors. “What I’m hearing from prosecutors is that they’re making their best cases and their strongest recommendations” to judges, she said, “and sometimes they’re feeling unheard.”

According to US Attorney Nick Brown, finding a “high-level” drug dealer at an intersection like Third and Pine—or at any of the encampments in greater downtown that SPD has swept in the past two months—is unlikely. Most of the dealers whose crimes could rise to the federal level, he says, “are, in fact, not Washingtonians. … Most of the people we identify as significant in those cases are not even in Seattle; many are in Mexico or California. Those that are here only come for a short period of time.” Brown’s office has the discretion to decide which cases rise to the federal level; the King County Prosecutor’s Office handles the vast majority of felony cases. So far, Brown’s office has taken four cases from the crackdowns in Little Saigon and along Third Ave.

In the view of some skeptics of the operation, most of the behavior drawing negative attention at Third and Pine doesn’t rise to the felony level. “Most of what people complain about aren’t felonies,” said Kevin Toth, a social worker with the King County Department of Public Defense. “Drug dealing, sure. Robberies, shootings, also, yes. But most of the atmosphere down there is the result of lawful behaviors or misdemeanors at worst.”

Meanwhile, the operation at Third and Pine has re-opened the direct line between police officers and the Public Defender Association-run program LEAD, the city’s primary diversion option for people who commit crimes related to behavioral health issues or extreme poverty. LEAD’s early model relied on referrals from arresting officers—so-called “arrest diversions”—but in the past two years, the program shifted focus, relying instead on community groups, business organizations, outreach workers and prosecutors to refer clients for diversion. Community referrals don’t create an arrest record—one reason the program began shifting away from arrest diversions to begin with.

However, according to LEAD project director Tara Moss, that trend is reversing. “We’re now seeing the current mayor’s office and SPD leadership break the logjam and start sending LEAD referrals again” after a two-year pause on arrest referrals, she said. In 2021, LEAD received one arrest diversions; this year, the program has received eight arrest diversions. Moss also noted that while the program currently has some “capacity issues” as a result of a new wave of referrals, she anticipates that LEAD will be able to take on more clients later this year.

Since officers haven’t done arrest diversions in years, Harrell said, SPD is currently retraining officers on how to engage with LEAD and introducing officers hired in the past two years to the program for the first time.

SPD did not arrest everyone at the open-air market on Third and Pine; some scattered to nearby corners, to Pioneer Square, or to other parts of the city. V, an organizer with the drug user solidarity group DUST, says that dispersing people—many of them unhoused—across the city by sweeping corners like Third and Pine can create tension in the places where those people land. “[It] puts a strain on the homeless people in each neighborhood because the service providers there have limited capacity,” they said.  Newcomers can trigger conflicts, V added, that can escalate into violence.

The weeks following SPD’s clearance of Third and Pine have not been peaceful. Eighteen people were shot or stabbed in the past month or so, most of them in or near encampments; in response to some of those shootings, the city cleared encampments in Chinatown, Little Saigon, and the University District. But Harrell disputes that the sweeps in the downtown core fueled an increase in violence elsewhere. “People’s perceptions and urban myths are not always fact,” she said. In Ballard, for instance—the site of two shootings, one of them fatal, in the past month—the deputy mayor said that a pattern of gun violence long predates the crackdowns in downtown Seattle. Continue reading “A Month After “Operation New Day” Crackdown, Impacts on Crime Remain Unclear”

Most City Shelter “Referrals” Don’t Lead to Shelter, Police Preemptively Barricade Encampment Against Protests, City Says It Can’t Risk Handing HOPE Team to County

Chart showing trends in outreach and service connections by Navigation Team and HOPE Team
Source: Seattle City Council central staff report

1. Fewer than half the people referred to shelter by the city’s HOPE team last year actually showed up to shelter and stayed there for at least one night, according to data released by the city’s Human Services Department during a meeting of the city council’s homelessness committee this week.

The city’s HOPE Team, which provides shelter referrals to people living in encampments the city is about to remove, referred 1,072 people to shelter in 2021; of those, 512 enrolled in shelter, meaning that they showed up and slept in a shelter for at least one night within 48 hours of receiving a referral. The HOPE Team has exclusive access to about 800 beds, or a third of the shelter beds in the city.

HSD deputy director Michael Bailey told council members the department is prioritizing people in the highest-priority locations (like downtown Seattle and Woodland Park) for shelter first, along with “individuals with multiple vulnerabilities from all over.”

“As you know, we can’t overrule someone’s decision to decline shelter, but we can work with the individual to better understand their unique needs and the factors contributing to that decision,” Bailey said.

Although the number of referrals went up in 2021, that was largely because hundreds of new permanent housing and shelter beds came online all at once, adding new supply to the shelter system that was immediately filled by people being removed from high-priority encampments. As a separate report from the council’s central staff notes, nonprofit service providers requested shelter for their clients four times more often than the city provided a referral, meaning that the vast majority of people seeking shelter were unable to find it.

2. One of the persistent oddities of the city’s homelessness system is that the HOPE Team has remained at the City of Seattle, serving as a kind of vestigial arm of the disbanded Homelessness Strategy and Investments division, even as every other aspect of the homelessness system has transferred to the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority.

At Thursday’s meeting, Bailey introduced a somewhat novel explanation for the city’s decision to retain the HOPE Team: Without control over shelter referrals, Seattle risked violating rules that govern how and when the city can remove encampments. “The city is unable to shift this liability” to the RHA by making the authority responsible for outreach in advance of city-led encampment removals, the, Bailey said.

The Multi-Department Administrative Rules, or MDARs, require the city to provide 72 hours’ notice and offers of available shelter before removing an encampment, unless that encampment is an “obstruction” in the public right-of-way or poses an immediate danger to the public. For several years, the city has defined “obstruction” very broadly, allowing it to routinely skirt the 72 hour and shelter referral requirements whenever an encampment is in a public park, on a sidewalk, or on any other public property.

Following up by email in response to PubliCola’s questions, Bailey said the HOPE Team “remains a City entity because it allows the City to meet its obligation to comply with the encampment removal rules. … Specifically, the City must identify or provide alternative shelter before removing non-obstructing encampments. The City is unable to shift this obligation to the RHA, despite the contracts moving to RHA, and is thus responsible for ensuring that it has the resources necessary (i.e., the HOPE Team) to do this body of work in the event RHA or its service providers decline to assist.”

Routinely displacing people from downtown without notice may be fundamentally incompatible with intensive case management, which requires not just stability but the ability to locate clients when a resource, such as a treatment bed or tiny house, becomes available.

3. According to Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office, the HOPE Team did offer shelter referrals to 14 people (of 18 who were on site) when it removed an encampment under I-5 in the Chinatown/International District on Thursday, although it’s unclear how many of those people actually ended up in shelter. (A spokesman for the mayor’s office said the encampment was an obstruction.)

Although the sweep was typical in certain ways—the city routinely removes people from this location, a perennial encampment site that offers some protection from wind and rain —it was noteworthy in one respect: The presence of a phalanx of bike officers, who blocked off the encampment with police tape and issued verbal warnings that any protesters who tried to enter the area could be arrested.

Bike officers line the sidewalk outside an encampment removal at 9th and Jackson.
Bike officers line the sidewalk outside an encampment removal at 9th and Jackson.

Prior to COVID, the city routinely stationed police outside encampments—a practice that tended to heighten tensions rather than alleviate them. Mayor Bruce Harrell appears to be reviving the practice; according to a spokesman for Harrell’s office, the city decided that “[g]iven potential protest activities, a larger SPD presence was required to ensure the safety of City workers and encampment residents” at yesterday’s removal. Stop the Sweeps Seattle posted photos of the city’s encampment removal notices on social media, but did not turn up in large numbers on Thursday.

The mayor’s office may have felt burned by a protest that temporarily halted the removal of a large encampment across the street from city hall. After a weekslong standoff with protesters, the city swept the encampment abruptly last week, barricading several blocks of downtown Seattle in an early-morning action that sparked numerous verbal confrontations between police officers and mutual aid workers who tried to enter the area.

According to Harrell’s spokesman, “The number of officers and their equipment is dependent on the circumstances of the removal and potential protest activities. Encampment removal teams have always worked in partnership with SPD, and SPD officers will continue to be onsite during removal activities.”

The city’s aggressive approach to encampments in public spaces downtown (which, technically, are almost all “obstructions” in that they occupy public space) could come into conflict with the regional homelessness authority’s recently launched “Partnership For Zero,” a plan to eliminate almost all encampments downtown through intensive case management, led by “peer navigators” who have been homeless themselves.

Sweeps scatter people and exacerbate the chaos of their lives. Routinely displacing people from downtown without notice may be fundamentally incompatible with intensive case management, which requires not just stability but the ability to locate clients when a resource, such as a treatment bed or tiny house, becomes available.

—Erica C. Barnett

Police Sweep Troubled Little Saigon Intersection, Retirement Incentives Could Thwart SPD Hiring Plans, City Still Plans Sidewalk Sweep

1. After Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announced plans to crack down on a street market in the Little Saigon neighborhood earlier this month, Seattle police officers swept the area last Friday, parking a mobile precinct at the intersection of 12th Ave. S. and S. Jackson St. and posting a half-dozen uniformed officers nearby. The southeast corner of the intersection, which housed an informal market for stolen goods, food, and illicit drugs, vanished; King County Metro removed a bus shelter from the intersection on Wednesday, and the neighboring strip mall installed a partial fence around its parking area.

The sudden police presence pushed people who frequented the market, including some who are unhoused, into the surrounding neighborhoods and encampments. A woman who lives under the I-5 overpass on King St. told PubliCola on Friday that some of the corner’s regulars briefly gathered near her tent on Friday morning before she told them to leave. “We told them aren’t welcome here,” she said. Other displaced people attempted to move into an encampment on 10th Ave. S, where they also encountered some objections, and a man selling toilet paper set up shop near a utilities box on a quiet side street. “We’re just being moved around in a circle again,” he said.

Although Harrell promised that “social service providers” would play a role in his plan to revive Little Saigon—an epicenter of Seattle’s public safety woes since the start of the pandemic, and one of the city’s most violent neighborhoods—Friday’s action relied exclusively on police.

Although some officers went door-to-door to nearby business owners on Friday to check in, one of those proprietors—the owner of Ten Sushi, located in the strip mall on the southeast corner of the intersection—wrote on Instagram that she still plans to leave the neighborhood, arguing that the police presence is only temporary.

“This improvement at 12th and Jackson demonstrates early results and a promising first step as Mayor Harrell continues to roll out his comprehensive approach to public safety,” a spokesman for Harrell’s office told PubliCola. “SPD’s efforts are one part of the administration’s broader strategy to ensure a safe and thriving neighborhood. In addition to addressing crime, next steps include providing social services, driving economic development, keeping areas free of litter and trash, and, most importantly, engaging community in immediate and forward-looking solutions.”

2. The Seattle Police Department estimates that its ranks could increase to 1,000 officers—still well below the department’s pre-pandemic size—by the end of 2022 if it is able to slow the pace of attrition, meet its optimistic hiring goals and count on officers returning from long-term leave.

However, a bill making its way through the Washington State Legislature may throw a wrench in the department’s plans. The bill, which would increase retirement benefits for officers who have worked in law enforcement for 15  years or more, could spur some of SPD’s older officers to retire early, interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz warned during a meeting of the Seattle City Council’s Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.

In 2021, 171 officers left SPD, and the department hired only 81 new officers, most of them new recruits, as opposed to transfers from other law enforcement agencies. In January 2022 alone, SPD lost another 20 officers, including 12 who opted to leave the department instead of complying with Seattle’s vaccine mandate for public employees. SPD hopes to hire 125 more officers this year and has avoided making any estimates about attrition, but the council estimates that the department may lose as many officers as it hires in 2022.  Meanwhile, 170 officers are on long-term leave; some of those officers will return, but others are using their paid time off before formally retiring.

In a pitch to boost SPD’s regrowth, former mayor Jenny Durkan debuted a hiring incentive program last October that offered up to $10,000 for new recruits and $25,000 for officers who transfer from other departments, though SPD spokesman Sergeant Randall Huserik told PubliCola in January that the incentives didn’t produce “any uptick in applications.” The council attempted to end the hiring incentive program in December of last year, but Durkan ordered SPD to continue offering bonuses to new recruits into the new year, erroneously claiming that the council’s vote wasn’t legally binding; Mayor Bruce Harrell finally stopped SPD from offering incentives earlier this month.

During Tuesday’s meeting, public safety committee chair Lisa Herbold and council member Sara Nelson, who worked together as council aides for Nick Licata and Richard Conlin, respectively, clashed over whether to renew the hiring incentive program. Herbold argued that the city should consider expanding hiring incentives for all departments with staffing shortages, while Nelson argued that SPD’s staffing shortage demands a more urgent response.

3. After activists thwarted the removal of an encampment that stretches along the west side of Fourth Avenue on Sunday, Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office confirmed that the city still plans to remove the tents, which the city has deemed an “obstruction” in the public right-of-way.

As we reported yesterday, Seattle’s rules for removing encampments require the city to provide at least 72 hours’ notice and offers of shelter before removing an encampment, but there is an exemption: If an encampment poses an “obstruction”—that is, if it is located on a sidewalk, in a park, or in any other space used by the public—the city can clear it without notice, and with no offers of shelter or services.

While the City will do its best to offer shelter as available through the City’s HOPE team and the efforts of the RHA, we cannot allow tents and other structures to remain in the right of way if they are causing an obstruction or presenting a public health or safety risk,” Harrell spokesman Jamie Housen said. “It is important to balance the immediate need to ensure safe and equitable access to sidewalks while we work to expand services and strategies to bring more people inside.”

—Paul Kiefer, Erica C. Barnett

Parking Officer Falsified Tickets, Canceled Homeless Count Un-Canceled, City Pays to Clean Up Mess at Police Firing Range, and More

1. Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA) released its first investigation into misconduct by a parking enforcement officer since the city’s parking enforcement unit moved from the Seattle Police Department to the Seattle Department of Transportation last year. OPA investigators found that the officer had falsified more than 100 parking citations and warnings to appear more productive.

The officer’s supervisor complained to the OPA after a review of the officer’s work turned up more than a dozen warnings and citations issued to the same car in a short time span—supervisors later learned that the car belonged to the mother of the officer’s children. Looking deeper into the officer’s work log, supervisors discovered that his GPS location often didn’t match the location of cars he cited. The officer later confessed to the OPA that he pretended to be productive by creating warnings or citations for nearby vehicles and listing an inaccurate location for the non-existent parking violation. The OPA determined that the officer had committed perjury and fraud, leaving SDOT leadership to decide how to discipline him.

The OPA’s investigation began while the parking enforcement unit was still housed within SPD, but it concluded after the unit moved to SDOT in the summer of 2021. The OPA is still technically a part of SPD, but the city’s ongoing efforts to move some law enforcement functions out of the police department has expanded the OPA’s footprint; the parking enforcement officer’s case, the first OPA has referred to SDOT for discipline, is a prime example. The OPA also has jurisdiction over the city’s 911 dispatchers, who moved out of SPD last year into the newly created Community Safety and Communications Center.

2. In a reversal of a decision announced late last year, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority will perform an in-person manual count of the region’s homeless population in March. According to agency spokeswoman Anne Martens, the March count will serve as the official Point In Time (PIT) Count for King County. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires homelessness agencies, including the KCRHA, to physically count the unsheltered homeless population in the area they oversee every two years, although King County has historically done an annual count.

The last scheduled count, in 2021, was scuttled by COVID. In announcing their initial decision to skip this year’s count, the agency argued that because the count is only required in odd-numbered years, “2022 is not a required year.” HUD disagreed and said that KCRHA could be penalized in future requests for federal funding, but Martens told PubliCola in December that HUD had agreed to waive the requirement after the agency announced a new tally based on data obtained from homeless service providers, among other sources.

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At a meeting of the Seattle City Council’s homelessness committee earlier this month, authority CEO Marc Dones characterized the March head count as “a rough count” and noted that the authority is basing its planning on the data-based estimate of 45,000 people experiencing homelessness in King County in 2019. That number dropped to around 40,000 in 2020, largely because fewer people were accessing the homeless services on which that estimate is based.

Martens said the March head count “will be deemed a PIT Count for HUD purposes.” The agency will also be doing qualitative research to determine “the ‘why’ and the context around homelessness… to help us build our system in a way that centers people with lived experience,” Martens said.

3. The city of Seattle has paid more than $140,000 to clean up a wetland in Tukwila after the Seattle Police Athletic Association (SPAA), a 70-year-old nonprofit that runs a clubhouse and firing range for Seattle police officers, dumped truckloads of dirt, tires, concrete and other debris onto the marshy banks of the Duwamish River last year.

SPAA is currently not paying for any part of the restoration effort; instead, that burden falls to Seattle’s Department of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS), which owns part of property occupied by the gun range. FAS spokesperson Melissa Mixon told PubliCola that her department can’t comment on whether SPAA will contribute to the restoration costs because of pending litigation.

As PubliCola reported last year, the association used the dirt and debris, which came from an unknown construction site in the Seattle area, to build a backstop for the association’s firing range. Tukwila’s code enforcement office issued a stop-work order in May. According to Mixon, the city is still working to restore the site and is “staying on target with deadlines discussed with Tukwila.”

4. Seattle Public Library employees who staffed library branches during the recent winter weather emergency will receive retroactive payments of $150 for every shift they worked between December 24 and January 3. Former mayor Jenny Durkan issued an executive order providing incentive pay to all “frontline” executive-branch employees on December 24, but because the library is not an executive department, the offer did not extend to library staffers. According to an SPL spokeswoman, the payments will go out to all eligible employees, including library associates, librarians, security officers, and custodial workers, once it’s approved by the library union.

—Paul Kiefer, Erica C. Barnett

 

Former Officer Fired For Punching Handcuffed Woman Sues SPD

In-car video from the June 2014 arrest.

By Paul Kiefer

Adley Shepherd, a former Seattle police officer fired in 2016 for punching a woman while she was handcuffed in the back of a patrol car, filed a lawsuit against the Seattle Police Department in federal court on Friday alleging that the department punished him disproportionately to appease the public and the federal court monitor who tracks reforms to SPD.

In June 2014, Shepherd arrested 23-year-old Miyekko Durden-Bosley after stepping into an argument between Durden-Bosley and her daughter’s father, Robert Shelby. When Shepherd handcuffed Durden-Bosley and pushed her into the back seat of his patrol car, she kicked him in the jaw. Two seconds later, Shepherd retaliated by punching Durden-Bosley in the eye, leaving her with two small fractures in her eye socket. After an investigation of the incident by the Office of Police Accountability, former SPD Chief Kathleen O’Toole fired Shepherd for using excessive force.

Shepherd maintained that he had followed his training and appealed his case to an arbitrator with the support of his union, the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG). The arbitrator overturned Shepherd’s firing, ordering SPD to re-hire him and offer him back pay. According to Seattle’s contract with SPOG, the arbitrator’s ruling was final.

Former Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes decided to challenge the arbitrator’s ruling, arguing that reinstating Shepherd would violate the “public policy against excessive force in policing.” Both the King County Superior Court and the Washington Court of Appeals sided with Holmes, and Shepherd did not return to SPD. The courts’ rulings were a victory for police oversight advocates, who argue that arbitrators too often allow officers to go unpunished for misconduct; to SPOG and other police labor organizations, the decision raised the worrying prospect that law enforcement agencies will continue to chip away at the binding nature of arbitrators’ decisions.

Rather than appealing his case higher in Washington’s court system, Shepherd has now taken his case to the US District Court of Western Washington. In his lawsuit, he alleges that O’Toole fired him to appease the public and Seattle’s consent decree monitor—the eyes and ears of the federal judge who oversees reforms to SPD as part of 2012 agreement between the city and the US Department of Justice.

Since his firing, Shepherd argues in his lawsuit, “there have been several high-profile use of force incidents that have gone unpunished or only resulted in short suspensions,” which he views as proof that his firing was a disproportionately harsh consequence for his actions. In his lawsuit, Shepherd suggests that SPD’s commanders may have singled him out because he is Black.

Shepherd also alleges that SPD “improperly train[ed]” him and then punished him for following instructions. In his lawsuit, Shepherd’s attorney cites a training officer who, during Shepherd’s appeal to an arbitrator, testified that officers were trained to react to a punch or a kick by hitting back.

SPOG is no longer involved in Shepherd’s case, and he is no longer seeking to return to SPD. Instead, Shepherd is only asking the court to order SPD to compensate him for his firing and its aftermath.

King County Won’t Proactively Test Shelter Guests; SPD Sex Crime Case Referrals Plummet; Harrell Announces Appointments

1. King County Public Health will not provide routine COVID-19 tests for people who enter temporary winter shelters during the cold-weather emergency, a spokeswoman for the department told PubliCola. Instead, the department will test shelter guests when a shelter provider calls to report having two or more guests or staff with “COVID-like illness,” or one or more confirmed COVID cases, and will direct people to isolation and quarantine sites if they test positive. The county will also do contract tracing when there’s a confirmed COVID case at a shelter site.

“Public Health does not have the staffing capacity to provide proactive, daily testing at each of these sites,” the spokeswoman, Kate Cole, said. “As we do for all other homeless services sites in King County, if a shelter has staff or residents who appear to have COVID-like illness, our homeless services support team will provide on-site testing and consultation to help control any potential COVID spread.”

When the department gets word of a possible COVID outbreak in any homeless shelter, including winter emergency shelters, “Our testing team calls the shelter to discuss the individual symptoms to determine if it is likely COVID-like illness, in addition to providing ASAP guidance on steps to take to limit spread, and then (assuming team believes it is COVID-like illness), our team visits to conduct on-site testing for all staff and residents who agree to be tested,” the spokeswoman, Kate Cole, said.

The spread of the omicron variant has been startling, with positive rates at some testing sites nearing 50 percent. That’s for the general population; people living in crowded congregate settings, such as bare-bones mass homeless shelters, are even more at risk. Cole said the health department is not currently experiencing a shortage of rapid COVID tests.

2. The Seattle Police Department has referred roughly one-quarter fewer cases to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office’s sex crimes and child abuse unit this year than it did before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The number of felony cases that SPD referred to the prosecutor’s office dropped sharply in the first months of the pandemic. In May 2020, the office received 30 felony sex crimes cases from SPD; in June, the office received fewer than half that number. While the number of monthly referrals has fluctuated since then, the average over the past eighteen months has fallen to 19 cases, compared to an average of 26 cases per month before the pandemic.

While a reduction in SPD’s ranks after two years of high attrition—and the resultant transfer of many SPD detectives, who are responsible for criminal investigations, to patrol units since last fall—may contribute to the decline, the trend is not limited to Seattle. At a presentation to the mayors of the largest South King County cities earlier this month, the prosecutor’s office presented data showing a widespread decline in the number of felony cases referred to their office from police departments across the county. The police departments of Kent, Renton, Federal Way and Auburn, for instance, have referred nearly 30 percent fewer felony cases to the prosecutor’s office since the start of the pandemic.

Other reasons for the shift may include a decline in the number of people reporting sex crimes and child abuse. PubliCola has reached out to SPD for comment.

3. Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell announced another round of leadership appointments on Wednesday, including the sister of police-violence victim Che Taylor, a leader of King County’s No Youth Jail movement, a former state legislator and Seattle Port Commissioner, and a reality-TV producer. Continue reading “King County Won’t Proactively Test Shelter Guests; SPD Sex Crime Case Referrals Plummet; Harrell Announces Appointments”

SPD Pumps Brakes on Plans to Reconsider Low-Level Traffic Stops

Iosia Faletogo, 36, was shot and killed by a Seattle Police Officer in December 2018 during a struggle that began with a low-level traffic stop.

By Paul Kiefer

A long-awaited announcement by Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz outlining a plan to phase out low-level traffic stops by police officers did not appear when expected this month. The delay raises the prospect that the policy change, previously a point of agreement between Diaz and police reform advocates, could become entangled by the impending shakeup in city leadership, especially as Diaz waits to learn whether incoming mayor Bruce Harrell will appoint him as the police department’s permanent chief.

Last Tuesday, members of SPD’s command staff met with staffers from the Seattle’s Department of Transportation (SDOT) and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the police oversight agency that first pushed SPD to forego low-level traffic stops earlier this year, to brainstorm how to disentangle traffic enforcement from policing. The meeting was a chance for Diaz to solidify a plan of action before the end of the year: a deadline he seemed to endorse in October.

Before he could announce any changes, Diaz quietly left his office for the holidays, which most likely means the traffic stop reforms will remain on hold until next year. The new year could also bring a new police chief: While Diaz has expressed his interest in becoming Seattle’s permanent police chief, Harrell says he will conduct a nationwide search. Impending shakeups within the core group of city departments responsible for spearheading traffic stop reform risk delaying the changes even further.

Removing police from low-level traffic enforcement, Inspector General Lisa Judge argued last summer, is a way to address longstanding concerns that both community members and police officers have expressed the safety risks involved in traffic stops. “Stopping a person is a significant infringement on civil liberty and should be reserved for instances when a person is engaged in criminal conduct that harms others,” Judge wrote in a letter to Diaz in May. “Stops for government-created requirements like car tabs, with nothing but a potential monetary penalty, do not justify the risk to community or to officers.”

Traffic stops are still among the most common types of encounters between police and civilians in Seattle, though SPD’s traffic enforcement has waned as the department focuses its officers on other priorities after two years of high attrition. As of early November, SPD had issued about a third as many traffic citations as it did in 2019. The fines collected from minor traffic citations make up a relatively tiny portion of the city’s revenue—about $5 million since 2019.

Despite the drop-off in traffic stops, racial disparities persist: Though the Seattle Municipal Court has incomplete data on the demographics of people cited for traffic violations, even the partial data shows that Black people are overrepresented by a factor of two compared to the city’s overall population. Nationwide, drivers of color are also more likely to be injured or killed by police during routine traffic stops, a trend that Judge highlighted in her letter to Diaz in May.

Po Leapai, a member of the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability, is all too familiar with the dangers of traffic stops. On New Year’s Eve in 2018, SPD officer Jared Keller shot and killed his cousin, 36-year-old Iosia Faletogo, in Seattle’s Licton Springs neighborhood after a minor traffic stop and a case of mistaken identity turned into a foot chase. “We learned he had been killed from Facebook,” Leapai said. “We were all at a family New Year’s barbecue waiting for him to show up, and he never came.”

The incident began when two SPD patrol officers driving behind Faletogo on Aurora Avenue N. decided to search his license plate. Their search linked the license plate to an older woman with an expired driver’s license, a relative of Faletogo’s who owned the car. When Faletogo pulled into the parking lot of a convenience store, the officers pulled in behind him and turned on their emergency lights. After learning that Faletogo lacked a driver’s license and had two felony charges from his teenage years, the officers called for backup. When four more officers arrived, Faletogo ran.

The officers caught up to him across the street, tackling Faletogo to the ground. A gun fell out of his waistband, and as the officers tried to pin him to the pavement, Keller shot Faletogo, killing him.

The Office of Police Accountability, cleared Keller of wrongdoing for the shooting, citing Faletogo’s gun and his attempt to resist arrest. But in May, Judge cited Faletogo’s killing in her argument to end the use of police for low-level traffic enforcement.

Leapai believes his cousin would still be alive if SPD patrol officers hadn’t decided to stop him for a minor traffic infraction. “Those traffic stops are another kind of stop-and-frisk,” he said. “I can’t see why there was a need to pull my cousin over, and it definitely wasn’t worth killing him.”

Faletogo’s family filed a wrongful death suit against the City of Seattle in December 2020, arguing that the traffic stop that led to his death was unconstitutional and discriminatory. Faletogo was Samoan; a woman riding in the car with him was Black. Nathan Bingham, who represented the family in the lawsuit, said that the traffic stop itself is at the heart of the problem. “That stop never should have happened,” he told PubliCola. “Minor traffic stops, by their nature, always come with the threat of deadly force by police. They’re volatile and unpredictable.” The city settled with the Faletogo family for $515,000 in September.

If SPD takes more time to consider scaling back traffic stops, Seattle will find itself in a race with state lawmakers to implement reforms when the discussion about traffic enforcement resumes in January. At the very end of last year’s state legislative session, Sen. Joe Nguyen (D-34, West Seattle) introduced a bill that would have prohibited police officers from stopping drivers for eight common civil infractions, including improper turns, driving with expired tags, and driving without a valid license. Continue reading “SPD Pumps Brakes on Plans to Reconsider Low-Level Traffic Stops”

Sawant Recall Down to the Wire, No Charges for Cop Who Rolled Bike Over Protester, Long Waits for Non-Emergency Calls

1. The results of a second day of vote-counting in the Kshama Sawant’s recall election substantially closed the gap between pro- and anti-recall votes, leaving Sawant within 250 votes of victory. On election night, with an unusually high number of ballots counted, Sawant was behind by 6.4 percentage points. Ordinarily, that would be an easy margin to make up, since later ballots tend to strongly favor left-leaning politicians and issues, but in this instance, the election-night vote represented far more ballots than usual, meaning that some of the “late” ballots that would typically be counted in the days after an election were included in the Tuesday tally.

On Wednesday, as King County Elections counted more last-minute ballots from drop boxes, the tide turned strongly in Sawant’s favor. About 62 percent of more than 7,100 votes counted Wednesday favored Sawant. Despite this trend, the election remained too close to predict, for a couple of reasons. First, King County Elections said it expects to count just 1,200 more ballots, total. Assuming that estimate is correct, Sawant will need to win around 60 percent of those ballots to narrowly prevail. That’s lower than 62 percent, but there is one potential reason for caution: Many of the ballots that will be reported Wednesday are ballots that were mailed in before election night, which could end up favoring Sawant by a smaller margin than the ones reported Wednesday.

The second reason for caution is that, according to the elections office, the signatures on 656 ballots have been challenged, which can happen when a signature does not match the one the elections office has on file or if a voter fails to sign the envelope when they submit their ballot. The next “drop” of votes arrives at 4pm today.

2. Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz ordered an officer to serve a seven-day unpaid suspension for rolling his bike over a prone protester’s head during a protest on Capitol Hill in September 2020. The suspension came in response to an Office of Police Accountability (OPA) investigation that found the officer used unreasonable force and violated SPD’s professionalism policies.

The protester, Camilo Massagli, was wearing a hard hat and lying in the street to create a barrier between a line of police officers with bicycles and a group of Black Lives Matter demonstrators. A widely circulated video of the incident shows the officer, Eric Walker, rolling his bicycle over Massagli’s head without attempting to lift his wheel. Massagli was not injured, and officers later arrested him for failure to disperse and obstruction.

In interview with the OPA, Walter insisted that he did not intend to run over Massagli’s head. “Such a belief, even if convincingly articulated and strongly held,” the OPA investigators wrote in their findings, “cannot serve to overcome the clear video evidence in this case.” Ultimately, investigators ruled that Walter had no justification for rolling his bicycle over Massagli, and that he did so intentionally.

OPA Director Andrew Myerberg and Walter’s superiors recommended the seven-day suspension, both because of Walter’s misconduct and the damage the incident did to SPD’s public image. The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, which represents Walter, is appealing his suspension. Walter also may be able to break his suspension into smaller portions to serve over multiple weeks.

The incident spurred a criminal investigation by the King County Sheriff’s Office, which didn’t find probable cause to charge Walter with assault; the Seattle City Attorney’s Office also did not bring charges against Walter. The sheriff’s detective assigned to the case reasoned that Massagli—a well-known figure during last summer’s protests—might have lain down in the street in hopes of provoking police officers to use force, and that the incident was not a clear-cut case of excessive force because “rolling a bicycle tire over someone would not necessarily be expected to cause someone pain.”

Massagli also chose not to pursue charges, telling the sheriff’s office that he does “not recognize the legitimacy of any U.S. court or police department” and doesn’t believe in using the criminal legal system as punishment.

The OPA also recommended that SPD supervisors reprimand another officer for hitting a protester with his bike during protests on Capitol Hill last fall. 

3. Seattle’s Community Safety and Communications Center, which houses the city’s 911 dispatch center, is struggling to answer calls to its non-emergency line, prompting more than a quarter of callers to hang up after long waits. Non-emergency calls range from noise complaints to reports of suspicious activity. The call center, which moved from the Seattle Police Department to the CSCC in June, has struggled to manage call volumes while short-staffed; in November, the center had 30 vacancies on its roughly 130-member staff, including 10 positions left vacant by dispatchers who lost their jobs in October when the city began firing employees who refused to get vaccinated.

In the final week of November alone, nearly 30 percent of callers to the non-emergency line didn’t reach a human being, waiting an average of five minutes before hanging up. Callers transferred from 911 operators to the non-emergency line were even more likely to give up before reaching a person: 35 percent of transferred callers hung up, waiting an average of 7.5 minutes.

The CSCC has reported that Seattle’s temporary hiring incentive program, which offers $10,000 bonuses to new police officers and 911 dispatchers—and $25,000 to officers and dispatchers who transfer from other agencies—doubled the number of applications they received to fill vacant positions. For now, callers to the non-emergency line will hear a pre-recorded message suggesting alternative ways to seek help during the center’s peak hours.

—Erica C. Barnett, Paul Kiefer