Tag: Seattle Police Department

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Officer Responding to Overdose Call Killed Woman In Marked Intersection Where City Canceled Safety Project

The intersection of Dexter and Thomas, where a police officer driving an SUV struck and killed a 23-year-old student Monday.

By Erica C. Barnett

Editor’s note: This story has been edited to reflect the fact that the Seattle Police Department, not the Seattle Fire Department, confirmed that the police officer was responding to a call about an overdose.

On Monday, a police officer responding to an overdose call in South Lake Union in struck and killed a 23-year-old student at Northeastern University, Jaahnavi Kandula, who was crossing Dexter Avenue on Thomas Street in a marked intersection, according to police.

According to the Seattle Fire Department, the department was responding to a call for aid 6th Ave. N, a few blocks away; the Seattle Police Department confirmed that the call was “a priority one call for an overdose.” An SFD spokeswoman told PubliCola the man, who was in his late 20s, “was evaluated and did not want to be transported to the hospital.”

The police department has released few details about the collision and was slow to get information out to the public Monday night. SPD did not confirm that Kandula had died until Tuesday afternoon, nearly 18 hours after the crash, and initially did not disclose that the collision involved a police officer, tweeting only that they were “investigating [a] collision.” The department’s official post still says the officer was responding to an unspecified “priority 1” call—the most urgent call type, which can include everything from a person unconscious at a bus stop to an active shooter—rather than an overdose.

SPD said it could not respond to questions about the collision, the officer who was driving the SUV, or the speed with which they released information to the press and public. “This is still an active investigation,” public affairs Sergeant John O’Neil told PublICola. “The information we can provide, such as times, speed, who did what, who knew what etc. is extremely limited while the investigation is going on. … We do not know at this time if there will be a criminal investigation.”

SPD did not confirm that Kandula had died until Tuesday afternoon, nearly 18 hours after the crash, and initially did not disclose that the collision involved a police officer, tweeting only that they were “investigating [a] collision.”

What we do know is that that, as of at least last year, sending cops out on overdose calls is a routine practice.

“The SPD/CSCC Policy is to dispatch police along with SFD to a specific set of calls including persons trapped in elevators, hazmat situations, active shooters, scenes of violence, down persons, suicides, overdoses, domestic disputes and certain similar types of calls,” an spokesman for the Community Safety and Communications Center (CSCC), which answers 911 calls, said. “In every case the call is screened with SFD first so a trained fire dispatcher can make a determination whether SFD will respond.  If SFD will respond, the call is always dispatched as priority 1 for SPD.”

In other words, if you call 911 about a possible overdose, any response from the city will include police, even if the person only needs medical attention.

It’s unclear when this policy became routine, but it may date to late last year. Last September, Council public safety committee chair Lisa Herbold mentioned at a council briefing that she was talking to the fire department about implementing an “automatic joint response, with SPD escorting SPD,” for all overdose calls after firefighters raised concerns about people being violent and belligerent when medics reversed their overdoses with Narcan.

People who “receive Narcan or who are coming out of a seizure for another reason, [might] be unaware of their surroundings and have an initial violent reaction,” putting first responders at risk, Herbold said. This is a common complaint among law enforcement officials, although it’s unclear how often overdose victims actually attack first responders.

The collision also raises questions about the safety of the  intersection where it occurred.

For years, the city had been working on a major safety upgrade in the rapidly developing Dexter corridor, with a new protected crosswalk at Dexter and Thomas as its centerpiece. The new crosswalk would have prevented vehicles from using Thomas Street to cross Dexter while slowing perpendicular traffic on Dexter itself.

Last year, Mayor Bruce Harrell canceled the remaining elements of the safety project, citing the need to cut costs amid budget challenges. “This project is a green street/public realm project that connects South Lake Union with Seattle Center. The reduction would pause the remaining project scope indefinitely,” Harrell’s 2023 budget says. The cuts amounted to $2.2 million of the $5.5 million project, according to Harrell spokesman Jamie Housen, who pointed out that the city council did not restore funding for the project in their version of the budget.

“The Traffic Collision Investigation Squad is examining this event,.and the information detailed in that investigation will determine next steps and help identify any changes we can make—both in our infrastructure and operationally—to ensure this kind of terrible event does not happen again.” —Mayor Bruce Harrell

“Following approval of the budget, the Mayor’s Office has directed City departments to reevaluate how the project should best move forward, what improvements can be made with the current budget, and what further steps should be taken to improve safety along the corridor should additional resources become available,” Housen said.

Although the new pedestrian protections would not have been in place in time to prevent the collision Monday night, the elimination of funding for an important pedestrian and cyclist project that was already underway speaks to an ongoing lack of progress toward Vision Zero, a goal the city has adopted of ending traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. Harrell’s SDOT director, Gregory Spotts, has promised a “top to bottom review” of the city’s Vision Zero strategy.

“Our public safety strategies must include ensuring our streets and sidewalks are safe for all users,” Harrell said in a statement sent in response to PubliCola’s questions. “We will continue to look to the data to determine where safety investments can and should be made, including regularly reassessing ongoing and future projects like the one at Thomas Street.”

“The Traffic Collision Investigation Squad is examining this event,” Harrell continued, “and the information detailed in that investigation will determine next steps and help identify any changes we can make—both in our infrastructure and operationally—to ensure this kind of terrible event does not happen again.”

According to the Seattle Department of Transportation, no one has been hit or seriously injured at the intersection of Dexter and Thomas since at least 2018.

Arrests of “Prolific Shoplifters” Netted First-Time Offenders, People Previously Deemed Incompetent

Photos distributed by SPD showing items recovered during recent shoplifting arrests downtown
Photos distributed by SPD showing items recovered during recent shoplifting arrests downtown

By Erica C. Barnett

Capping off a year of renewed focus on low-level street crime such as shoplifting, the Seattle Police Department announced just before the new year that it had arrested 11 “prolific shoplifters” in an operation targeting downtown retail theft, booking eight of them into the downtown jail.

In a post on the department’s blog, SPD described a carefully orchestrated operation in which officers worked with security staff at three stores to identify prolific thieves and apprehend them after they “gather[ed] items like clothing, makeup, food, and liquor, and then walk[ed] out of the store with no attempt to pay.”

SPD declined to provide police reports for the arrests, and information about the eight bookings hasn’t shown up yet in the Seattle Municipal Court’s public portal. However, the department did post images of the recovered goods, which included beer, ice cream, sandwiches, lip gloss, and toilet paper. With the exception of a case of beer and what looks like two sample bottles of cologne, none of the items appear to be worth more than several dollars.

Of the three people with multiple prior arrests or charges, two were deemed incompetent to stand trial in the past because of mental illness, including one whose history of paranoid, delusional outbursts, attributed to schizophrenia in court documents, is described at length in police reports.

Indeed, while the SPD post makes it sound like police targeted some of the city’s worst offenders, our review of the court history of the eight booked offenders shows that most of them have scant criminal records or well-documented histories of mental illness and addiction—conditions that aren’t addressed by sending people to jail for a night or taking them to trial. At least two people on the list have been declared incompetent to stand trial because of mental illness in the past. None appear to be on the city’s “prolific offenders” list.

SPD released three of the suspects without booking them, and booked the remaining eight into jail; the department provided the names of those eight to PubliCola in response to a request.

Of the eight, one—as SPD noted in its post—had several outstanding warrants and faced additional charges, including possession of auto theft tools.

Among the remaining seven, only three have been charged with, or arrested for, more than one misdemeanor in Seattle in the past, according to court records—an extremely minimal definition of “prolific.” The remaining four had either zero or just one prior case in Seattle Municipal Court records, which go back decades.

Of the three people with multiple prior arrests or charges, two were deemed incompetent to stand trial in the past because of mental illness, including one whose history of paranoid, delusional outbursts, attributed to schizophrenia in court documents, is described at length in police reports.

Almost every person who was booked into jail as part of this highly publicized operation was released within a day, and City Attorney Ann Davison’s office declined to file charges in seven of the 11 cases.

In other words: The great holiday Retail Theft Operation of 2022 was a bit of a bust.

Because SPD, and Mayor Bruce Harrell, have placed such an emphasis on the need to prosecute people who engage in frequent shoplifting from downtown stores (a practice that, as we’ve documented, can be prosecuted as “organized retail theft” even if the person is stealing something for their personal use), it’s worth taking a closer look at the cases in which the city previously arrested or charged the people picked up last month for other misdemeanors.

The only clear-cut case of a “prolific offender,” the Northgate Target shoplifter, was arrested repeatedly for stealing clothes, including 10 incidents in 2020. In the December bust, SPD picked him up for taking $51 worth of items from a downtown Bartell drug store, including pens, two sodas, and a notebook.

According to court records, the man had been referred to community court for several of his previous cases, but didn’t follow through; in a mental health evaluation in 2020, he acknowledged a history of drug abuse and claimed he was having auditory hallucinations, but was found competent to stand trial.

The other two cases involve people whose mental health issues and struggles with addiction were well documented.  In one, the court referred an alleged serial shoplifter to mental health court; the man, who is homeless and reported daily drug use and heavy drinking, was recently found incompetent to stand trial in several cases and referred for a mental health evaluation. All but one of those cases involved shoplifting from downtown stores; the other was an alleged assault at the downtown library in 2016.

A spokeswoman for SPD noted that officers don’t always arrest people identified as shoplifters by store security guards. It’s also true that security guards don’t always call police when they witness or confront someone shoplifting, so the number of arrests doesn’t represent the actual number of shoplifting incidents.

The second involves a man court records describe as schizophrenic. The man had been arrested, most recently, in August, after neighbors called the police when he was “standing in the street and screaming” in a “possible mental crisis,” according to police reports. Officers who responded to that call arrested the man for subsequently walking out of a nearby drug store with three board games. His criminal history included many arrests for harassing and attacking members of his family, who lived nearby, when he was “off his medication” and using drugs.

Asked to comment on the downtown arrests and the details of specific suspects’ legal histories, a spokeswoman for SPD noted that SPD doesn’t always arrest people identified as shoplifters by store security guards, so some of the people could been repeat offenders without being arrested. Additionally, security guards don’t always call police when they witness or confront someone shoplifting.

“The Retail Theft Operation was conducted to assist in identifying prolific offenders, but also deter shoplifting in the stores overall,” the SPD spokeswoman said. “Detectives, Officers and Loss Prevention teams often contact suspects, who have shoplifted liquor or other items multiple times, but may not arrest these suspects for various reasons. Most often the contact is reported as a terry stop, shoplift or trespass by officers.”

The City Attorney’s Office did not respond to requests for comment about their charging decisions.

Nelson, Pedersen Vote to Reject City Budget Because It Doesn’t Fund Everything They Want

Councilmember Alex Pedersen and Sara Nelson
Seattle City Councilmembers Alex Pedersen and Sara Nelson

By Erica C. Barnett

Seattle City Councilmembers Sara Nelson and Alex Pedersen voted against the city council’s amended 2023-2024 budget proposal at a council budget committee meeting Monday, joining socialist Kshama Sawant—who votes against the budget every year—in an ideologically split three-vote minority. The budget, which goes to the full council for a final vote tomorrow, requires a six-vote majority to pass; if even one more council member sided with Nelson, Pedersen, and Sawant, the entire budget would fail.

Nelson and Pedersen, who frequently formed a two-vote mini-bloc during the council’s budget deliberations, explained their decision in similar terms: They couldn’t vote for a budget that doesn’t fully fund Harrell’s public safety priorities. “I cannot in good conscience endorse a final budget that, I believe, fails to learn from recent public policy mistakes on public safety and fall short on public safety for a third year in a row,” Pedersen said.

That argument would hold more water if the council had proposed actually cutting SPD’s budget. Instead, the council fully funded SPD’s (and Mayor Bruce Harrell’s) entire hiring plan, and used savings from vacant SPD positions to provide the department with an additional $17 million a year to pay for, among other things, the recruitment and retention proposals Nelson and Pedersen have supported. No other department received this kind of kid-gloves treatment; in fact, many departments face dramatic cuts next year.

The council’s budget also returns the city’s parking enforcement division to SPD, another one of Harrell’s top budget priorities.

“Minor reductions [to proposed new SPD programs] are being emphasized and exaggerated. This is the harmful rhetoric that is likely to continue to negatively impact hiring and retention.”—City Councilmember Lisa Herbold

In contrast to previous years, such as 2020, it’s virtually impossible to make the argument that the council didn’t work with the mayor to craft a budget that retains most of what he wanted—a point Councilmember Lisa Herbold made when she accused her two colleagues of contributing to a “false narrative” about public safety.

“It’s normal to debate budget issues,” Herbold said. “But these false narratives don’t make us safer.”

“Ninety-nine percent of the mayor’s proposed budget is included in this balancing package,” Herbold continued. “SPD hiring is fully funded, and they’ve begun to show some promising trends. Minor reductions to the remaining 1 percent of the budget”—the elimination of new programs, such as a gunfire surveillance system and a marketing consultant—”are being emphasized and exaggerated. This is the harmful rhetoric that is likely to continue to negatively impact hiring and retention.”

Eliminating these new programs from next year’s budget helped the council close a late-breaking general-fund budget shortfall of $4.5 million, on top of the $141 million shortfall announced earlier this year.

Nelson and Pedersen also objected to the council’s decision to eliminate, or abrogate, 80 of the 240 SPD positions that are currently sitting vacant; these vacant positions, which the city will use to augment the budget and fund new SPD spending next year, receive funding every budget cycle. The council’s budget will retain funding for at least 160 of these “ghost” positions going forward, and can add more positions in the future if SPD hiring suddenly skyrockets past the department’s own rather optimistic projections. Nonetheless, both Pedersen and Nelson have characterized this as an example of “defunding” the police. 

Nelson also criticized the council for failing to fund an expansion of the city’s graffiti abatement program and for moving homeless outreach workers out of Harrell’s new Unified Care Team (which the council fully funded) and into the King County Regional Homelessness Authority.

The two council members’ votes against the budget seem even less justified when you consider the concessions the rest of the council made to fund their priorities. 

Nelson, for example, got unanimous approval for a last-minute amendment that commits the city to spend some of the proceeds from a recent settlement with opioid distributors on abstinence-based rehab, marking the city’s first foray into the kind of public health decisions that are usually made by King County’s public health department.

Nelson was elected last year, and is staking out a position on the budget every bit as absolutist as Sawant’s: If the rest of the council doesn’t support her specific priorities, she’ll vote to reject the city’s budget wholesale.

In an op/ed earlier this year, Nelson expressed her view that medication-assisted treatment, such as the use of suboxone (an opioid) to treat opiate addiction, is “not aimed at long-term recovery.” This is the opposite of scientific consensus (the federal government’s substance abuse agency, for example, has a far more expansive definition of recovery that embraces long-term medication), but in line with Nelson’s general opposition to harm reduction programs— like the Public Defender Association’s LEAD and Co-LEAD programs, which provide case management and housing to people with addiction and other behavioral health issues.

Pedersen, meanwhile, managed to wrangle $3.5 million a year for bridge maintenance out of the Seattle Transportation Benefit District tax, which is supposed to fund transit, by arguing that because buses and bikes also use bridges, funding for bridges is a transit investment. That amendment passed 5-4—a major win for Pedersen at the expense of future transit projects.

Nelson was elected last year, and is staking out a position on the budget every bit as absolutist as Sawant’s: If the rest of the council doesn’t support her specific priorities, she’ll vote to reject the city’s budget wholesale. Time will tell if she continues down this all-or-nothing path.

Pedersen, in contrast, has apparently had a dramatic change of heart. Just two years ago, Pedersen wrote in a Seattle Times op/ed that it would be irresponsible for him to vote against the 2020 budget—which included far more dramatic changes than this year’s plan—just because he didn’t like everything that was in it.

“People are yearning for functional government. If the budget does not pass, nothing gets done,” Pedersen wrote. “No budget is perfect. Our constituents have diverse and conflicting views. A budget with positives and negatives is a natural result.”

“And to my constituents who ask, ‘Why did you vote the same way as Kshama Sawant?,” Pedersen concluded,
“I didn’t. She voted No.” This year, so did Pedersen.

Council Budget “Balancing Package” Cuts Vacant SPD Positions, Restores Human Service Worker Raises

The city council’s budget “balancing package” still leaves a large gap the city will have to address in the future, possibly through new progressive taxes that have not yet been identified.

By Erica C. Barnett

Twelve days after a late-breaking revenue forecast punched new holes in the city of Seattle’s biennial budget, city council budget committee chair Teresa Mosqueda released a two-year “balancing package” that amends Mayor Bruce Harrell’s October budget proposal by eliminating proposed new programs and initiatives, allowing revenues from the JumpStart payroll tax to fund programs that would not ordinarily qualify for  JumpStart spending, and reducing the number of vacant police positions the city will continue to hold open next year from 200 to 120.

Mosqueda’s plan would eliminate proposed new funding for Shotspotter (or another gunshot detection system); reduce the proposed increase in police recruiting efforts; reduce the amount of new funding SPD will receive for new guns and ammunition; and reduce the amount of new spending on SPD’s Develop Our People leadership academy, a management training program for sergeants.

Harrell’s budget assumes that the 120 vacant positions Mosqueda’s proposal leaves untouched won’t be filled, and “reinvests” those on-paper savings back into other police programs. Mosqueda’s budget proposal doesn’t touch this “reinvestment” and still funds the vast majority of Harrell’s police hiring and recruitment plan, which still includes large bonuses for new recruits and enough money to hire a net 30 new officers over the next two years—an ambitious plan that would represent a rapid reversal of police hiring trends over the last several years.

At Monday’s initial council meeting to discuss the proposal, Councilmember Alex Pedersen said any proposal to cut vacant positions from SPD’s budget amounted to “revisiting the debate in 2020 and 2021” about “defunding” the police department. “I see in the [budget] proviso that it takes away the police department’s flexibility to use savings to address overtime needs, despite the fact that they have a severe staffing shortage,” Pedersen said.

Mosqueda anticipated the objection that eliminating funding for positions that will never be filled amounts to a “cut” in the police department. “We are not touching the 120 [police positions] and we are not touching the hiring plan,” Mosqueda told PubliCola Sunday. But “we know we are never going to fill [the remaining 80], so we are going to put those dollars back into the general fund.”

Councilmember Alex Pedersen said any proposal to cut vacant positions from SPD’s budget amounted to “revisiting the debate in 2020 and 2021” about “defunding” the police department.

Then, Mosqueda said, she looked at the items Harrell proposed funding with the money from the remaining 120 positions, and asked “what is above and beyond on that list. It was things like [the gunshot detection system] Shotspotter— gone. They wanted a PR firm that was in charge of the [police] recruiting plan. That’s gone. They wanted a website redesign investment. That’s gone. Anything that was not essential for the policy that was passed—gone.” 

Eliminating Shotspotter, SPD’s marketing plan, and a new $1.2 million-a-year anti-graffiti program would save about $3 million a year. Cutting and delaying capital projects funded by the city’s Real Estate Excise Tax, which stands to take a $64 million hit over the next three years, would save millions more. Another source of unanticipated funding—about $5 million a year—will come from the money the city planned to spend expanding an existing shelter in SoDo, a project King County Executive Dow Constantine abandoned earlier this year.

And then, of course, there is the JumpStart payroll tax, which the council originally earmarked for housing, Green New Deal programs, equitable development, and small businesses. Harrell’s budget would have empowered the mayor to use JumpStart for non-JumpStart purposes in perpetuity, by overturning a law, passed just last year, that only allows JumpStart spending for general government purposes if the city’s general fund falls below $1.5 billion.

Although Mosqueda’s budget provides a two-year exemption to this rule, she says she’s confident the council won’t have to do the same thing after 2024,, because by then a revamped progressive revenue task force will have come up with new funding sources to make the annual budget less susceptible to economic downturns.

The balancing package also shifts some funds around so that JumpStart will mostly go to its intended purposes; for example, instead of using the payroll tax to 14 new city employees to staff Sound Transit’s light rail expansion plan, as Harrell proposed, Mosqueda’s proposal would use money from the Seattle Transportation Benefit District, funded mostly with vehicle license fees, to pay for those positions.

Although Mosqueda made some concessions on JumpStart, her budget also funds full inflationary wage increases for human service workers, rather than the sub-inflationary 4 percent increase Harrell proposed. Harrell’s plan would have required the council to overturn a 2019 law requiring cost of living adjustments that keep up with inflation; as Harrell, then council president, said in a speech supporting the measure at the time, the point of the law was to ensure that wages keep up with inflation during “hard times,” not just when things are going well.

The balancing package also keeps the city’s parking enforcement officers at the Seattle Department of Transportation, rather than transferring them back to the Seattle Police Department, as Harrell proposed. This plan, like Mosqueda’s proposal to stop funding 80 vacant police positions that cannot be filled, could end up a target for disingenuous accusations that the council is “defunding the police.”

PubliCola has heard that Councilmember Sara Nelson plans to resurrect Harrell’s original proposal to open up JumpStart spending permanently, including legislation originally sent down by Harrell’s office that would pin the threshold for JumpStart to go to non-JumpStart purposes to the rate of inflation, rather than a fixed $1.5 billion amount.

The balancing package also keeps the city’s parking enforcement officers at the Seattle Department of Transportation, rather than transferring them back to the Seattle Police Department, as Harrell proposed, and sets up a process for determining where parking enforcement will ultimately live at the city by next April.

“We’re asking them for a little bit of time to take the temperature down, have a conversation, and ask them what they need,” Mosqueda told PubliCola. “And then we’ll figure out which department has that structure. Is it SPD? Is it [the Community Safety and Communications Center? Is it a totally different department?” This plan, like Mosqueda’s proposal to stop funding 80 vacant police positions that cannot be filled, could end up a target for disingenuous accusations that the council is “defunding the police.”

The new budget proposal also includes funding to hire up to 90 parking enforcement officers and pay for supplies and new uniforms for the parking enforcement unit, which had to cut costs when the city moved parking enforcement to SDOT. The move increased administrative costs for the department by about $5 million due to a quirk in how  way general fund spending is allocated on administration; Mosqueda said neither SDOT nor then-mayor Jenny Durkan were honest with the council about the extra costs.

Other highlights of the balancing package, which the council will discuss in detail over the coming week:

• Instead of funding the mayor’s “Seattle Jobs Center,” which Harrell described in his first State of the City address as a portal “connecting workers and employers to new opportunities, workforce development, and apprenticeships,” the balancing proposal would use JumpStart revenues to fund the MLK Labor Council’s existing online “hiring hall,” while requesting a report from the city’s Office of Economic Development on what a city-run jobs site would look like.

Looking at Harrell’s budget proposal, which does not include any new details about the jobs center, “we were like, ‘what’s the plan here? What’s this going to look like? Have you consulted with labor partners?'” Mosqueda said. “And there wasn’t a lot of there there.”

• The proposal eliminates cash spending on large projects that would be funded by the Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) and proposes funding them instead with long-term debt, which increases the cost of projects but allows the city to fund them over time, rather than paying for entire big-ticket items up front. These include the redevelopment of Memorial Stadium, at Seattle Center, in collaboration with Seattle Public Schools, and the purchase of a building on the downtown waterfront for a new, 10,000-square-foot tribal interpretive center for the Muckleshoot Tribe.

• The balancing package would preserve most of the funding Harrell’s budget added for the new Unified Care Team, a group of city staffers from several departments that cleans up around and removes encampments. As we reported, Harrell’s budget adds 61 permanent positions to this team, the majority of them in the Seattle Department of Transportation and the Parks Department—the two departments primarily responsible for encampment sweeps.

However, the package would take most of the funding Harrell proposed spending to expand the HOPE Team, a group of city staffers that does outreach at encampments, and reallocate that money to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority to pay for contracted outreach providers, such as REACH. The plan would still add one new “system navigator” to the UCT, so that there will be one outreach worker for each of five areas of the city where the UCT will operate. The proposal also outlines clear, distinct roles for the city’s own system navigators and KCRHA’s outreach teams.

The formal request poses a list of 23 questions and sub-questions about “emphasis patrols” and the city attorney’s “high utilizers” list, such as “Does SPD have a theory of change for emphasis patrols?” and “How much has the City spent on jail beds for those arrested via emphasis patrols on the high utilizers list?

• As we reported on Monday, the regional homelessness authority approached the council in October, five months after submitting its annual budget request, to ask for more than $9 million in new funding to pay for ongoing programs that were originally funded with one-time federal dollars during the COVID pandemic. The balancing package provides $3.9 million—the sane amount KCRHA said it needs to continue federally funded rapid rehousing programs—and says KCRHA will use $5.4 million from its own 2022 “underspend” to fund these programs.

• The proposal includes $4 million in 2023 alone for the LEAD and CoLEAD programs, which provide case management, services, and, in the case of CoLEAD, hotel-based lodging for people who are involved in the criminal legal system, including people experiencing homelessness. The Public Defender Association, which runs both programs, has said it will need to make dramatic cuts to either or both in the absence of full funding for both. Harrell’s budget provided just $2.5 million over two years for CoLEAD, stipulating that the money was supposed to be spent moving CoLEAD clients from hotels into tiny house villages; the balancing package increases the city’s total contribution to both programs but says the PDA must come up with “other ongoing funding sources” after next year. Continue reading “Council Budget “Balancing Package” Cuts Vacant SPD Positions, Restores Human Service Worker Raises”

Harrell’s Budget Would Resurrect Rejected Gunfire Detection System

Mayor Bruce Harrell and City Councilmember Sara Nelson at a recent event in the University District
Mayor Bruce Harrell and City Councilmember Sara Nelson at a recent event in the University District

By Erica C. Barnett

Earlier this year, with the city facing a budget gap of more than $140 million, Mayor Bruce Harrell asked all city departments to come up with potential budget cuts ranging from 3 to 6 percent. His proposed 2023 budget implements some of those cuts, reducing the budgets for the Human Services Department, the Office of Labor Standards, the Department of Neighborhoods, and the Office of Emergency Management, among others.

But one department remains sacrosanct: The Seattle Police Department, whose budget is set to swell substantially despite a well-documented glut of vacant, but still funded, positions. The bulk of that growth will come from re-absorbing city’s parking enforcement officers (moved to the Seattle Department of Transportation last year as part of an effort to civilianize some police jobs) into the department.“The methodology of the Journal of Urban Health study is flawed because the assessment of ShotSpotter’s efficacy was measured using data from across entire counties, when ShotSpotter coverage areas typically only cover a small part of counties. ShotSpotter does not detect and report incidents of gunfire outside of the coverage area where they are deployed. Therefore, the system would not alert officers to instances of gunfire in the majority of the geographic areas that were used to measure ShotSpotter’s impact.”

In addition, SPD will use $16 million in paper savings achieved by not funding some vacant positions to pay for a wide array of new investments, including a new acoustic gunfire detection system to “provide the police department with evidence collection capabilities for use in homicide investigations or other incidents involving firearms,” according to the budget. Setting up the system would cost the city $2 million over the next two years. But the plan will face opposition from many on the city council, who argue that the system will do little to increase prosecutions or decrease gun violence in Seattle.

Gunfire detection systems, typically shorthanded as “Shotspotter” for the name of the company that dominates the market, consist of an array of highly sensitive microphones and sensors mounted on street lights or other elevated structures throughout an area,. These sensors, which are sometimes augmented with cameras, detect and determine the approximate location of outdoor sounds that resemble gunfire and and alert human “acoustic experts” who listen to the sounds and filter out false alarms like fireworks and backfiring vehicles. These experts then alert police, who can be dispatched to the scene.

“This technology allows our evidence gatherers to determine where the shots are fired and … go right to where it was; perhaps there would be a car speeding away,” Harrell said. “Cities across the country have used this technology as an evidence gathering tool, not a violence prevention tool. And it’s been effective.”

If that argument sounds familiar, that’s because some Seattle officials have been making it for more than a decade. Both Harrell and former mayor Mike McGinn presented a virtually identical case for Shotspotter in 2012  when they pushed, unsuccessfully, for the city to fund a gunfire locator system.

But ample real-world evidence, then and now, shows that gunfire detection systems have little impact on gun violence investigations and do not reduce gun-related crime. A large study published last year in the Journal of Urban Health, for example, looked at gun homicides, murder arrests, and weapons arrests in 68 large, metropolitan counties that used Shotspotter between 1999 and 2016. The system, the study concluded, had “no significant impact on firearm-related homicides or arrest outcomes.” The ShotSpotter spokesperson said this study was flawed because it measured data across entire counties, rather than just the areas where ShotSpotter was deployed. “Therefore, the system would not alert officers to instances of gunfire in the majority of the geographic areas that were used to measure ShotSpotter’s impact.”

A 2016 report from the City Auditor’s Office backed up this finding, noting that “there has been little research to date on the efficacy of acoustic gunshot locator systems for reducing gun crime. … Moreover, although a few available studies have found that acoustic gunshot locator systems can result in slightly faster response times by police, there is no evidence that these small gains in police response times have had a deterrent effect or have led to increased apprehension of offenders.”

That report was addressed to then-city council public safety committee chair Tim Burgess (now Harrell’s chief public safety advisor), who sought funding for Shotspotter over multiple budget cycles.

In Chicago, a review of Shotspotter deployment by the city’s Office of the Inspector General found that police found evidence of a gun-related crime in fewer than one out of every 10 dispatches based on a Shotspotter alert. According to Shotspotter, that report was flawed because it isn’t always possible to gather evidence. “Linking an alert with evidence of a shooting can be challenging as some guns do not eject casings and those that do can eject haphazardly. In addition, a high number of alerts happen late at night making evidence collection difficult as well as engaging witnesses,” they added.

Graph showing Murder and weapons arrest rates per 100,000 population among large metropolitan counties, by ShotSpotter Implementation Status 1999-2016
Murder and weapons arrest rates per 100,000 population among large metropolitan counties, by ShotSpotter Implementation Status 1999-2016; Source: Impact of ShotSpotter Technology on Firearm Homicides and Arrests Among Large Metropolitan Counties: a Longitudinal Analysis, 1999-2016

Those arguments, however, apply equally to any gunfire-related dispatch; the issue the Chicago report was raising was the use of Shotspotter to determine how police resources are directed. Moreover, the “no-casings” argument is dubious; the only kind of commonly purchased guns that do not release casings are revolvers, which—according to the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms—make up just 9 percent of US guns sales.

Still, Shotspotter is still in use in Chicago and many other cities—a clear sign, the spokesperson said, that it’s working. “The Chicago Police Department consistently describes ShotSpotter as an important part of their operations,” the spokesperson said.

Other studies have shown that Shotspotter can have unintended consequences unrelated to the system’s ability to locate potential gunfire. Critics point to the potential for racially biased policing and an excessive police presence in communities of color. The Chicago report found that in some cases, officers used the mere presence of a gunshot detection system in an area to justify stopping a person on the street—suggesting that police are on heightened alert in the neighborhoods where the system is deployed.

According to ACLU of Washington Technology & Liberty project manager Jennifer Lee, gunfire detection systems “exacerbate disproportionate policing of communities of color and send police disproportionately into neighborhoods that are already overpoliced.”

Notably, Harrell’s budget says he proposed the system in response to requests from “community liaisons”—”mothers who have been directly impacted by gun violence”—to provide “an ‘equal level of service'” in all neighborhoods. “This group made recommendations in favor of the gunfire detection system technology referencing multiple unsolved homicides in Seattle’s Rainier Beach area,” according to Harrell’s budget.

Gunfire detection technology can also “pick up conversations and sounds that are not gunshots … that can be combined with other information to form an intimate picture of people’s lives,” Jennifer Lee, from the ACLU of Washington, said.

The Shotspotter representative said there is no data to suggest that ShotSpotter “puts police on high alert or creates dangerous situations any more than their response to 911 calls. Rather, ShotSpotter equips police officers with more information than they might typically have when arriving to the scene of a gunshot incident, and they arrive at the scene more situationally aware.”

Other potential unintended consequences include a reduction in 911 calls and an increase in active-shooter alerts at schools, which can lead to traumatic lockdowns. In St. Louis, the number of 911 calls declined dramatically after the city installed Shotspotter “without a corresponding decrease in actual gun incidents,” according to a city council analysisAnd in Washington D.C., Shotspotter detected 249 possible gun-related incidents near schools during a single year, with the neighborhoods surrounding a small number of schools accounting for a disproportionate number of those alerts.

Councilmember Sara Nelson said it was worth funding Shotspotter even if it only “saved [a single] life by allowing an officer to respond more quickly. I think that if any of us were the loved one of that person, we would be happy that we are spending $1 million on this, because life is precious and priceless.”

Any other gunfire detection system, especially one that includes cameras, would probably to undergo mandatory review under the city’s surveillance ordinance, which lays out a lengthy approval process for any new surveillance technology. By seeking $1 million for the technology next year, the ACLU’s Lee says, Harrell is tying up money that could be spent on other, proven gun-violence mitigation programs. “The first step from the mayor’s office should have been to publicly review the technology, draft a surveillance impact report, solicit comments, and seek council approval to see if a budget allocation would even be appropriate,” Lee said. “That money will just sit there in the budget and not be used for actually effective things that have an actual impact on violence.”

Lee said the ACLU is concerned, among other issues, with the potential chilling effect produced by the presence of dozens or hundreds of microphones, and potentially cameras, in Seattle neighborhoods. Gunfire detection technology can also “pick up conversations and sounds that are not gunshots … that can be combined with other information to form an intimate picture of people’s lives. People might not feel comfortable participating in things like protests, associating with people, going to practicing their religion, freely going to health care clinics, or just gathering in public places.”

If that seems far-fetched, it’s worth recalling that Seattle has a recent history of monitoring people in public spaces, including years of anti-loitering, surveillance, and “drug market” initiatives in the Central District and the installation of surveillance cameras throughout downtown Seattle. Continue reading “Harrell’s Budget Would Resurrect Rejected Gunfire Detection System”

SPD Fires Controversial Cop Who Taunted Protesters, City Eases Back-to-Office Mandate

1. The Seattle Police Department has fired controversial officer Andrei Constantin, who created a fake Twitter account to harass and mock protesters and make fun of victims of police violence, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

According to the SPD disciplinary action report explaining why Constantin was fired, the officer posted dozens of “extremely unprofessional, offensive, derogatory, and entirely unacceptable” tweets that “celebrated violence against protesters, ridiculed human beings who were injured or killed, taunted the family members of deceased individuals, and publicly accused SPD of hating its employees, blamed victims of assault, appeared to celebrate a homicide, and stated George Floyd ‘got justice.'”

Constantin’s tweets, originally uncovered by Twitter user @WhiteRoseAFA in October 2021, included posts calling people who participated in the 2020 protests against police violence “antifa terrorists” who should be “napalmed”; mocking the death of the young activist Summer Taylor, who was struck by a driver in a section of I-5 that had been closed down for a march; and telling the mother of an activist who was murdered in Portland, “Rest in piss bitch.” Constantin posted as @1SteelerFanatic under the name “Bruce Wayne”; he deactivated the account last year.

Constantin was previously the subject of at least nine other Office of Police Accountability complaints. Those complaints, detailed on the SPD.watch website, included: Pulling over a driver without justification, pointing a gun at him, and handcuffing himthreatening to use his Taser on a man who was not being threatening; and detaining a homeless Black bike rider and for nearly an hour. Last year, as PubliCola reported, Constantin received an eight-day unpaid suspension after shattering the driver-side window of someone’s car while they were sitting at a gas station.

In his written decision to fire Constantin, SPD police chief Adrian Diaz acknowledged Constantin had received “counseling” for the mental anguish he claimed to have endured as the result of the 2020 protests, but said that in light of his long disciplinary history and the “inexcusable” nature of his posts, Constantin could no longer work at SPD. Constantin last day at SPD was September 22.

2. The union representing Seattle Public Utilities’ 85 call center employees has reached an agreement with the city that exempts these workers from the mandate that all city employees come in to the office a minimum of two days a week, PubliCola has learned. As we reported in July, many call center workers preferred working from home because it was a huge improvement on commutes that could add up to hours of unpaid time in the car or on the bus each day.

“The City shall exempt the employees in the SPU Contact Center from any in-office minimum requirement, in acknowledgement of the substantial expense compliance would cause that department to incur,” the agreement says.

As we reported in July, call center workers have been more efficient and effective, by the city’s own metrics, since representatives started working at home instead of a crowded room in downtown Seattle.

The agreement allows SPU to require workers to come back to the office if management decides it will “improve operations.” It also requires call center employees to live within a three-hour drive of the Seattle Municipal Tower so they can get there if needed—a change that narrows the possibilities for true telecommuting.

In addition, other city employees who are subject to the mandate—part of Mayor Bruce Harrell’s “One Seattle” effort to bring workers back into a still-struggling downtown—will be allowed to spread their in-office days across a two-week pay period, instead of coming in two days every week. The agreement also clarifies what counts as “in the office” (field work, including inspections, public meetings, and trainings will count as in-office time) and give individual departments the opportunity to ask for exemptions from the rules.

SPD Risk Analysis Recategorized 911 Calls More than Half the Time

Pie chart showing that SPD changed the analysis of the risk of 911 calls 54% of the timeBy Erica C. Barnett

The Seattle Police Department presented its initial “risk managed demand” analysis of 911 calls to the city council’s public safety committee earlier this week, a long-awaited presentation that was cut short because council members needed to get to Mayor Bruce Harrell’s budget speech. The eventual goal of the analysis, which looked at 356 call types and categorized them by the risk of harm they posed to callers, is to come up with a system for routing some calls to non-police responders or co-response teams, in which police serve as backup to service providers; this initial report is just a first step toward that eventual goal.

As we’ve reported, Mayor Bruce Harrell has adopted a go-slow approach to implementing alternatives to police, frustrating some council members who have been pushing for years to implement a pilot for responding to low-risk calls, along the lines of programs already in place in cities across the country, and see how it works. Earlier this month, Harrell’s office indicated they were open to a small pilot along the lines of Eugene’s CAHOOTS program or the Star program in Denver; his proposed budget for 2023 includes about $2 million for this purpose.

First, SPD gave each call type a risk number based on how the city currently responds to calls—an “all-hazards” response that always includes police. Then they applied a “mitigation” factor, essentially asking: What would this call look like if non-police responders were available?

SPD’s analysis looked at 356 different types of calls and categorized them by risk, taking two passes at the question. First, they gave each call type a risk number based on how the city currently responds to calls—an “all-hazards” response that always includes police. Then they applied a “mitigation” factor, essentially asking: What would this call look like if non-police responders were available to go out either alone or in tandem with police?

Between the two rounds, SPD data crunchers manually “recoded” more than half of all calls; 31 percent were “upgraded” to a higher risk level (meaning SPD believes police need to be present) and 23 percent were downgraded to a lower risk, based on the assumption that non-police responders would de-escalate a situation. SPD Chief Operating Officer Brian Maxey told the council that, for example, a welfare check might be categorized as Tier 1 (the highest-risk situation, requiring police), but further analysis would downgrade it to a Tier 3, which a social service provider could respond to with police backup.

In response to questions from committee chair Lisa Herbold and Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, Maxey said SPD looked at the risk to people on the civilian end of 911 calls, rather than police, because the estimate of risk to police would have to be based on the current all-hazards response, which created the risk of “bootstrapping” the assumption that the risk to officers is generally higher than it is. “It seems like a completely different exercise to me,” Herbold said. “If you include use of force, then we are skewing the data in favor of a police response,” Maxey responded.

Herbold told PubliCola she was also concerned about the fact that SPD’s modeling required so much intervention by a human being who reversed the initial finding more than half the time. Since SPD’s model “only gets it right about half the time,” she said, “is this one performing the way SPD wants it to perform? Should we think about revising the formula?” It may be, ultimately, that there is no truly objective formula for pinpointing how much risk every 911 call poses to anyone, which means the best course of action could be moving forward with alternative responders based on the imperfect information we do have, rather than perfect information that will never be possible.

During the next phase of the analysis, SPD will begin setting up a “call triage system” in which bots that can process and categorize natural language to help 911 operators categorize calls based on their level of risk, using the “objective” measure of word frequency to augment call-takers’ human instincts. Accenture, a multinational management consulting and data analysis firm that has had a blanket contract with SPD since 2015, is developing that system now.

The public safety committee won’t meet again until December, after adopting the 2023 city budget.

Harrell’s Budget Would Move Parking Enforcement Back to SPD, Add $10 Million to Homelessness Authority, and Use JumpStart to Backfill Budget

Mayor Bruce Harrell delivers his first budget speech.
Mayor Bruce Harrell delivers his first budget speech.

By Erica C. Barnett

Mayor Bruce Harrell’s first budget proposal would use JumpStart payroll tax revenues to shore up spending for non-JumpStart programs, move the city’s parking enforcement officers back into the Seattle Police Department from the Department of Transportation, and provide pay increases to homeless service providers well below the rate of inflation.

The proposal includes an add of just over $1 million to the current $6 million budgeted for projects designed to reduce traffic deaths and serious injuries in the Rainier Valley, plus “other transit-related projects that will be identified in the coming months,” according to the budget book.

In addition, the budget increases funding for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority by just over $10 million, or 13 percent—a fraction of the $90 million the KCRHA requested from the city and King County. The budget earmarks that funding for new shelter, such as tiny house villages. In its budget proposal, the KCRHA asked for funding for, among other things, a new high-acuity shelter for people with severe physical and behavioral health care needs, new spaces for unsheltered people to go during the day, and wage increases for homeless service providers.

King County Executive Dow Constantine’s budget proposal, also announced today, includes $89 million for the KCRHA over the next two years—a number that represents a reduction, on average, from the $49 million the county provided the authority as part of its startup budget this year. (Note: This number has been updated; because of a miscommunication with the county executive’s office, we originally reported that the additional money was for one year, not two.)

Harrell’s proposal to use $95 million in JumpStart tax revenues to balance his budget will likely come up against council opposition. The tax is earmarked for housing, Green New Deal programs, and equitable development, but was used during the pandemic to shore up the general-fund budget, with the understanding that the practice would be temporary.

It also adds $13.7 million across three departments—Human Services, the Seattle Department of Transportation, and Seattle Public Utilities—to maintain the Unified Care Team, which “addresses the impacts of unsheltered homelessness in the city,” and the Clean Cities Initiative, which provides trash pickup in parks and around encampments, along with graffiti cleanup and enforcement. That total includes $1 million to add six new “system navigators” to the Human Services Department’s HOPE Team, which does outreach at homeless encampments before they are swept.

The proposal includes a number of cuts a budget shortfall of around $140 million. The Human Services Department will lose about $50 million in funding from one-time federal COVID grants and general fund dollars from 2022 that funded shelters, violence prevention, and food assistance, among other programs, only some of which Harrell’s budget would continue to fully fund.

The Seattle Police Department budget eliminates 80 vacant positions, for a savings on paper of $11 million, and moves spending from another 120 vacant positions to other SPD programs, including hiring bonuses and other recruitment efforts, wellness programs, and equipment, including new Tasers and $1 million for an automated gunshot surveillance system in Rainier Beach.

The primary acoustic gunshot detection system in use in the US is Shotspotter, a system that involves installing discreet surveillance microphones all over neighborhoods with high levels of gun violence. The system has a checkered history. A study of its use in Chicago concluded that it rarely resulted in the detection of actual gun violence, and could lead to preemptive police stops and searches in communities of color; last year, that city was forced to withdraw evidence based on ShotSpotter data from a murder case because the information was deemed unreliable.

A representative from Shotspotter disputes this, calling the system “highly accurate” based on an independent analysis by the firm Edgeworth Analytics.” That report, however, only determined whether the system—aided and sometimes recategorized in real time by ShotSpotter employees—accurately identified a sound as a gunshot. The Shotspotter spokesman added that the system “provides unique, reliable, and valuable evidence and expert witness testimony that has been successfully admitted in 200 court cases, in 20 states, and has survived scrutiny in dozens of [expert witness] challenges.

According to the ACLU, acoustic gunfire detection systems often send police into communities of color based on false alarms, increasing the likelihood of conflicts between cops keyed up for a dangerous confrontation and innocent people in those communities.

The Shotspotter spokesman said there is no data “supporting the claim that ShotSpotter puts police on high alert or creates dangerous situations,” and added that it simply gives police more information and better “situational awareness.”

Tim Burgess, the mayor’s chief public safety advisor, pushed unsuccessfully to set up ShotSpotter technology in the Rainier Valley back in 2014, when he was on the city council.

Although Harrell’s office has said they plan to stand up a new “third” public safety department starting in 2024, the budget does not include any specific line items for work to develop this department next year.

Transferring the parking enforcement officers from SDOT back into SPD will save an estimated $5 million in administrative costs that the city was paying SDOT as part of the transfer. It also reverses a shift in funding that advocates against “defunding” the police department have used to claim that Seattle made cuts to SPD in response to the 2020 protests against police violence.

“This may not be the PEOs’ final home,” Harrell said during his budget speech on Tuesday, leaving open the possibility that the parking enforcement officers could move to the future new public safety department.

Parking enforcement officers have complained that the move to SDOT deprived them of access to a real-time criminal database that allowed them to look up the criminal history of a vehicle’s owner before stopping to issue a ticket. The move, according to Harrell’s budget, will “eliminate the basis for PEOs’ unfair labor practice (ULP) complaints” while also restoring the city’s Office of Police Accountability’s authority to investigate misconduct complaints against parking officers.

“This may not be the PEOs’ final home,” Harrell said during his budget speech on Tuesday, leaving open the possibility that the officers could move to the future new public safety department.

Harrell’s proposal to use $95 million in JumpStart tax revenues to balance his budget will likely come up against council opposition. The tax is earmarked for housing, Green New Deal programs, and equitable development, but was used during the pandemic to shore up the general-fund budget, with the understanding that the practice would be temporary.

In 2021, the city adopted an ordinance creating a special fund for JumpStart revenues and establishing formal restrictions on the use of the tax to backfill the city’s general fund. Currently, the city can’t raid the JumpStart fund for non-general fund purposes unless general fund revenues fall below about $1.5 billion; this year, general fund revenues are about $100 million over that threshold. Harrell’s budget includes legislation, which would have to be approved by the City Council, that would lift the floor by the rate of inflation, making it easier to use JumpStart revenues for any purpose.

In a statement, City Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda alluded to the kind of changes the council might consider to Harrell’s budget proposal.

“Without investments in working families and core city services, the inequities we saw prior to COVID-19 will only continue to deepen,” Mosqueda said. “With a rocky economic forecast locally and nationally, inflation rates continuing to rise, and no new federal COVID-related funding, I will be focused on strong fiscal stewardship while maintaining investments in the people and services for our City.”

The budget proposes a sub-inflationary wage increase of 4 percent for homeless service providers. Lowering wage increases for human service providers below the currently mandated rate of inflation will require a change in city law.

Although the mayor’s office is requesting an inflationary increase in the floor to use JumpStart spending for non-JumpStart purposes, the budget proposes a sub-inflationary increase of just 4 percent for homeless service providers—a total of just over $600,000 next year. Currently, the city is required by law to increase wages for all human service providers by the rate of inflation, which, this year, is around 8.7 percent. Wage increases that are lower than the rate of inflation constitute an effective pay cut. Lowering wage increases for human service providers will require a change in the law; Harrell’s budget proposes a new law setting a 4 percent ceiling on wage increases for the nonprofit human services providers that receive funding from the city.

On Monday, Harrell, along with King County Executive Dow Constantine, touted a proposal that would increase behavioral health provider wages by 13 percent. Harrell’s budget also includes recruitment bonuses for child care workers, another field that, like human and behavioral health services, has a very high rate of turnover because of low wages, tough working conditions, and a lack of real pay increases relative to inflation.

The budget now goes to the city council, whose budget committee—made up of all nine council members—will take it up starting this week. The council adopts the city’s budget annually in late November, just before Thanksgiving.

This is a developing story.

Harrell Picks Diaz for Police Chief; Council Park District Alternative Would Keep Park Rangers, Raise Tax

Mayor Bruce Harrell, Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz, and supporters
Mayor Bruce Harrell, Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz, and supporters at Tuesday’s announcement

1. After a City Charter-mandated process that led to a list of three finalists, Mayor Bruce Harrell announced Tuesday that interim police chief Adrian Diaz will become Seattle’s permanent police chief, pending confirmation by the City Council.

Diaz expressed his desire to become permanent chief as early as 2020, when he replaced former chief Carmen Best, and was widely viewed as the most obvious choice for the position. Harrell’s office announced the finalists for the position less than two weeks ago, and the public had its first look at all three finalists in a live Seattle Channel interview five days before the mayor announced his selection.

The compressed recent timeline, combined with Harrell’s choice of the most widely predicted candidate, gave the chief selection the air of a fait accompli, prompting questions Tuesday about whether the city r revisit how it picks police chiefs in the future. Harrell defended the process, calling it “an extremely effective and efficient use of dollars” that involved “all communities in the city. “There was nothing broken in this process. The process was a good process. And so nothing out of this process suggested to me [that] we needed to fix or change anything,” Harrell said.

The police department currently has fewer than 1,000 officers on duty, a number Diaz and the mayor have said they want to increase to more than 1,400 over the next five years. Diaz said the public is demanding “action on crime, on gun violence, on perceived and real issues of safety,” and vowed to continue efforts to hire hundreds of new officers while committing to accountability, diversity, and new types of policing, including co-responder models, in which police partner with social service workers when responding to some crisis and non-emergency calls.

This approach, like the choice of Diaz itself, represents a commitment to the status quo: Reform, not a radical rethinking of the relationship between police and the communities they serve. Aggressive hiring, rather than redistributing some duties to non-police responders. More and better officer training, rather than example-setting discipline for cops who abuse their power. Even Diaz’s characterization of the 2020 protests outside the East Precinct, which he repeatedly referred to as “riots” both yesterday and during his Seattle Channel interview, represents a pre-2020 perspective in which police are the only bulwark against everything from violent crime to people protesting against police violence.

2. On Tuesday City Council member Andrew Lewis presented his budget proposal for the upcoming six-year Metropolitan Parks District plan, which PubliCola previewed earlier this week. Lewis’ proposal amends and expands on the plan Mayor Bruce Harrell proposed earlier this month, increasing the proposed property tax to 39 cents per $1,000 of home valuation (up from Harrell’s 38 cents/$1,000), adding two new off-leash areas, funding the electrification of additional community centers, planting more trees, and renovating four more restrooms than Harrell’s plan, among other changes.

Climate advocates have argued that the city needs to invest more heavily in decarbonizing the city’s 26 community centers. Lewis’ proposal would add $4 million in 2025 and 2026 to accelerate this process, along with $18 million in debt, which the city would begin paying off near the end of the park district cycle, in 2027, with a goal of decarbonizing 13 community centers by 2028.

The plan would also fund $5 million for additional maintenance at the planned downtown waterfront park, which would come out of the existing park stabilization fund and reserves.

Lewis noted Monday that his proposal also includes spending restriction meant to ensure that parks rangers can’t remove encampments or exclude people from parks for anything other than felony-level crimes. As we reported on Monday, although a 1997 law empowers parks rangers to exclude people from parks for violating park rules, a more lenient policy adopted in 2012 has effectively superseded that law. Lewis’ proposal would make funding for 26 new rangers contingent on following the 2012 rule, and would require the mayor to “immediately inform the Park District should these park rules be modified.”

Two public commenters were extremely upset about nudity they’d witnessed at Denny Blaine Park, an unofficial nude beach on Lake Washington, and said they hoped the new park rangers would put a stop to it and, as one speaker put it, make the park a “family friendly place again.” One outraged speaker, who seemed to be a frequent visitor, said she had witnessed people “walking down Lake Washington Boulevard naked, in the middle of Denny Blaine Park, naked, in trees, naked, displaying themselves, naked, on the low walls in the park, [and] naked people swimming, paddle boarding, laying on rafts, etc.”

The parks district board, which is made up of all nine members of the city council, will meet this Friday, and the council itself could vote on a final proposal as soon as Monday, September 27.