By Erica C. Barnett
On Thursday, during a press conference outlining his proposal to expand, reorganize, and rename the city department that responds to 911 calls, Mayor Bruce Harrell said he believed “the process is working” in the case of Daniel Auderer, a police officer and Seattle Police Officers Guild vice president who was caught on body-worn video mocking the death of 23-year-old student Jaahnavi Kandula with SPOG president Mike Solan. The video, which only captured Auderer’s side of the conversation, was recorded shortly after Officer Kevin Dave struck and killed Kandula on January 23.
Harrell was announcing $6 million in new funds for the Community Assisted Response and Engagement (CARE) department, formerly known as the Community Safety and Communications Center; that money will help hire 13 new staff, including behavioral health specialists, to respond alongside police to low-priority calls.
The question about Auderer came from a trainee at the 911 call center in SPD’s West Precinct where the announcement took place.
“Sometimes justice is not quick, due process sometimes is not quick, certainly not as quick as people would like to see,” Harrell said. “But everyone accused of misconducth as the right to due process and I will defend that process. We can’t be quick to judgment. … I have a member of my administration who was sentenced to prison for over 20 years without the possibility of parole. He was unfairly convicted because of the lack of due process. So I will defend due process … and hopefully we’ll see outcomes that people will say, ‘the system worked’.”
As PubliCola reported last week, an SPD employee saw the disturbing video and reported it to supervisors on August 2. Six days later, Auderer sent a letter to the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) attempting to minimize his and Solan’s comments, saying the two SPOG leaders were laughing at “the ridiculousness of how I have watched these incidents play out as two parties”—in this case, Kandula, who was killed by a speeding police officer just hours earlier, and SPD’s own lawyers—”bargain over a tragedy.”
Earlier this week, the Community Police Commission, a civilian oversight body, wrote a letter calling on Police Chief Adrian Diaz to immediately suspend police officer Daniel Auderer without pay while the investigation is ongoing.
SPOG released Auderer’s August 9 letter to a conservative radio commentator the day before PubliCola and the Times received the video in response to records requests, and posted, on social media on September 15.
Earlier this week, the Community Police Commission, a civilian oversight body, wrote a letter calling on Police Chief Adrian Diaz to immediately suspend Auderer without pay while the investigation is ongoing. The CPC also asked Diaz to “immediately engage in a workgroup consisting of the Seattle Police Accountability Partners and members of the community to address repeated concerns with the culture of policing and police practices at SPD.” The other accountability “partners” are OPA and the Office of Inspector General, an independent office that reviews and audits SPD as well as OPA.
Auderer’s statements, the three CPC co-chairs wrote, “are horrifying and raise serious concerns about his attitude toward and interactions with members of the community, and his ability to investigate cases equitably, accurately, and without bias and keep the City’s residents safe. While the [body-worn video] does not capture SPOG President Mike Solan’s comments on the other end of the call, there is simply no context that could possibly make these comments acceptable.”
As of Friday, CPC co-chair Joel Merkel said SPD had not responded to the letter; a spokesperson for SPD said they had no comment beyond the statement they released on their website shortly after we published the video last week.
The city has been promising to send civilian first responders to calls that don’t require a police response since 2020, when thousands protested police misconduct after the death of George Floyd. In 2021, then-mayor Jenny Durkan announced the launch of a new crisis response team within the fire department to respond to some crisis calls, but the proposal never got off the ground.
Harrell, similarly, has vowed since taking office in 2022 to create a new “third public safety department,” in addition to police and fire, that would include a new type of civilian first responder. This week’s announcement does include new civilian responders. But they won’t be going out to most calls involving people in crisis.
Instead, they’ll be deployed, along with police, to two call types that police have already determined do not necessarily require a police response. Priority 4 calls, the lowest priority, are non-emergency calls that generally don’t require a police response at all. Priority 3 calls are for minor issues that may or may not get a police response, depending on officer availability—everything from noisy neighbors to off-leash dogs to illegal parking.
Priority 3 calls do include “person down” calls, where someone is unconscious in public, and welfare checks—two call types that might benefit from a behavioral health response, Diaz noted. “Sometimes, a highly intoxicated [person] might actually be … experiencing some level of crisis. Not always, but in some cases,” Diaz said.
However, the majority of Priority 3 calls, Diaz said, are so-called “paper calls”—calls where the incident already happened and the only thing left to do is file a report. Harrell characterized the new program as a “dual dispatch pilot” that the city will evaluate in a year or two “to see where it makes sense… [and] where the data leads us.”
SPD, Diaz noted, already has an internal crisis response team; more than 60 percent of officers have also taken a 40-hour course in crisis intervention training.