Tag: Seattle Police Department

Mysterious Lobbying Group Pushes Out Misleading Messages on Police Defunding

Change Washington’s website includes this image of former police chief Carmen Best and current fire chief Harold Scoggins surrounded by members of their respective forces. PubliCola has asked whether Scoggins, who has stayed out of the police defunding debate, gave Change Washington permission to use his image for lobbying purposes.

By Erica C. Barnett

This week, Change Washington—a lobbying group established by former Bellevue-area state senator Rodney Tom, along with several Republican donors and a former Zillow executive—sent out an email blast urging recipients to “help us spread the word” about the Seattle City Council’s “dangerous” plan “to weaken our police force without having a backup plan in place.” The call to action is featured on a new Change Washington website called “You Call, They Respond” that specifically targets the Seattle City Council.

Yesterday, the council voted 7-2 against a proposal by council member Kshama Sawant that would halt all police hiring and recruitment in the city. Opponents, including former civil rights attorney (and now council president) Lorena González, argued that a total hiring freeze would lead interim police chief Adrian Diaz to move more detectives in specialty units onto patrol, decimating the department’s ability to investigate domestic violence, elder abuse, and other crimes against vulnerable people. (Earlier this year, as PubliCola reported, Diaz moved 100 detectives onto active patrol duty, boosting the number of officers responding to 911 calls). The police department will shrink this year by about 20 percent, mostly due to officer attrition.

Nonetheless, the “You Call, They Respond” website claims repeatedly that the council is still considering cuts that would “decimate the department’s ability to respond timely and effectively when you need police.” In addition to soliciting donations for Change Washington, the 501(c)4 nonprofit’s call to action includes an email form pre-filled with one of about a half-dozen potential messages. Options include:

I am terrified. Even though the number of incidents and calls for service requiring a police response has more than doubled in the past decade, the total number of police officers will decline under Council’s planned budget. Please throw us a lifeline. Don’t make Seattle less safe. My neighborhood won’t survive.

I feel like you have lost sight of the fact the calls for service in Seattle already include your friends and neighbors who are experiencing either a very bad day or a horrific one. Shame on you. Please work to make Seattle safer. Abandon your plan to cut police by 50%.

Why are you flying blind on issues of policing? Look at the data.  94% of dispatched police responses in 2019 were either Priority 1 (lights and sirens, threat to life), Priority 2 (threat of escalation/harm if help does not arrive soon) or Priority 3 (requiring prompt assistance for a waiting victim). And you want to cut the police force by 50? You have lost touch with reality!

Several claims on the site are misleading or inaccurate. For example, the number of police responding to 911 calls has remained steady or increased over the past two years, even before the police chief moved 100 detectives onto patrol. Since the move, the number of 911 responders has been significantly higher than at any time in the previous year.

According to information compiled by city council central staff, SPD had 536 911 responders in January of 2019. That number was 544 in April, 538 in August, 537 in December, and 563 in April and August. In September, after the transfer, that number increased to 668. During that same period, between January 2019 and September 2020, the number of officers on patrol has increased from 674 to 694 (not “roughly 600,” as one of the calls to action claims).

The fact that most calls are Priority 1, 2, or 3 is not particularly revealing. Although the priority list goes all the way up to 9, the top three priorities account for 97 percent of the time officers spend responding to calls, according to SPD data. Priority 4, which accounts for 1 percent of officer response time, includes things like noise complaints and found property; Priority 5 calls, which make up the remaining 2 percent, include issues such as stolen license plates and injured animals.

It’s unclear who, if anyone, is on Change Washington’s payroll, how much money they’ve raised, or what kind of lobbying-related expenses they’ve accrued. Currently, the city does not require “grassroots lobbyists”—groups that spend money to influence legislation or policy by influencing and mobilizing members of the public—to register as lobbyists or report their funding sources and expenditures.

However, legislation the council will take up later this year could provide more transparency into who’s funding and working for the group. The legislation, which the council will take up December 8, would require grassroots lobbyists to reveal who is funding them, who they are attempting to influence, and what legislation they are seeking to pass, kill, or change. The bill would require detailed monthly reporting, similar to what is already required of people who lobby the city council or mayor directly. It would also expand the definition of “lobbying” to include direct attempts to influence non-elected city staffers.

Change Washington did not immediately respond to an email sent early Friday afternoon requesting information about their funding sources and the information included on the “You Call, They Respond” website. According to Change Washington’s website, “we think there’s room in the political center to find common ground for common sense, data driven governance that moves Seattle and the state forward.” That mission statement fits with the center-right goals of the mostly Republican “Majority Coalition Caucus” Tom formed in the state senate the early 2010s, but it’s pretty far out of step with the current Seattle City Council, which includes just one member, Alex Pedersen, who has consistently raised alarms about cutting SPD’s budget.

Compromise City Budget Avoids Major Cuts, Including to Police Department

By Erica C. Barnett

The cessation of open warfare between Mayor Jenny Durkan and the city council over the 2021 budget doesn’t make for the most dramatic headlines (see above), but the detente between the two feuding branches could mean a budget compromise that won’t end in another spate of open warfare.

The council’s budget proposal makes dramatic cuts to Durkan’s proposal to designate $100 million in funding “for BIPOC communities,” fulfills the city’s 2019 promise to invest proceeds from the the sale of publicly owned land in South Lake Union into housing and anti-displacement programs, and cuts the size of the police department by about 20 percent, with a commitment to spend the savings from those reductions on community safety projects through a participatory budgeting process, which the budget also funds.

On Monday, Durkan issued a statement praising the council’s budget for “continuing that historic $100 million for communities through slightly different community-led processes.” This was a departure from Durkan’s previous position on the council’s spending priorities. Last month, a mayoral spokeswoman responded to questions about the racial equity implications of Durkan’s $100 million plan by suggesting that the council’s own spending proposals, including plans for COVID relief, participatory budgeting, and police department cuts, had not gone through a proper vetting to see if they truly benefited Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities.

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During a press conference on Tuesday, I asked about this seeming contradiction. Durkan responded that while she hasn’t read all of the council’s budget amendments, “my read on it is that they are also committing $100 million to community investments, and I am really heartened that they have followed my lead to do so.” Durkan said she was “disappointed” that the council wasn’t spending even more on BIPOC added, given a new revenue forecast that adds more than $32 million to the 2021 budget.

“I’m very hopeful that when we come out of this, and when there’s a final budget, that we actually have a path forward that makes real on the commitment that we will invest generational investments in the city of Seattle” over the next 10 years, she said.

The council’s proposal is still a recessionary budget. Instead of massive spending increases, it reprioritizes limited dollars, in ways that advocates for sweeping, immediate change may find frustrating. But it also puts significant leverage in the hands of the community groups leading the process of participatory budgeting, and promises significant funding for that process.

“They are also committing $100 million to community investments, and I am really heartened that they have followed my lead to do so.” — Mayor Jenny Durkan, referring to the city council

In reporting on the council’s previous budget discussions, I’ve talked about many individual, one-off budget changes council members are proposing—from an analysis of “transportation impact fees” levied on new housing to funding for energy efficiency audits to the restoration of the city’s nightlife advisor position. This post will look at a few high-takes, big-ticket spending areas, including investment in community-led alternatives to police,

Major cuts to the mayor’s Equitable Communities Initiative

As I mentioned, the council’s budget chops $70 million from the mayor’s $100 million fund to pay for future investments in BIPOC communities. That money would be redistributed as follows:

• Durkan’s budget “abandoned”—and yes, that’s the technical term—$30 million that she promised last year for affordable housing and efforts to prevent displacement in gentrifying areas. The money came from the sale of the Mercer Megablock project, and was key to getting anti-displacement groups like Puget Sound Sage not to protest the sale. The council’s budget restores this money to its original purpose.

• The Human Services Department would get $10 million to distribute to community organizations “to increase public safety through technical support, capacity building, and expansion of capacity.” The council allocated this money in 2020, but the city didn’t spend it, and Durkan zeroed it out in her proposed budget.

• Another $18 million would go toward the participatory budgeting project that the council began funding in 2020, which I’ll discuss separately in a minute.

• The remaining $12 million or so would replenish the city’s emergency reserve fund, which Durkan’s budget almost zeroed out (see graph above); restore funding for a restorative pilot program in schools; and restore funding for community-based alternatives to policing, among other smaller-ticket items.

As for the $30 million that remains out of the mayor’s initial $100 million: That money would still get allocated, through a process that would still include the mayor-appointed Equitable Communities task force, but only after the city council approves the spending plan.

Participatory budgeting

A total of $30 million, including the aforementioned $18 million, would fund community safety projects chosen through a participatory budgeting process; these projects would replace some functions (such as responding to crisis calls) that are currently performed by SPD. Continue reading “Compromise City Budget Avoids Major Cuts, Including to Police Department”

SPD Detective’s Use of Prohibited Facial Recognition Software Raises Questions About Surveillance Oversight

Image by FlitsArt from Pixabay

By Paul Kiefer

Over the past year, more than a dozen Seattle Police Department officers have received promotional emails advertising a controversial artificial intelligence software called Clearview AI, which bills itself as a kind of Google search for faces. Clearview enables law enforcement agencies to identify unknown people—protest participants, for example—by matching their photos to online images and arrest or interrogate them after the fact.

In March, one of the promotional emails made its way into then-Chief Carmen Best’s inbox, along with the inboxes of numerous other SPD officers of varying ranks. But only one officer—Detective Nicholas Kartes of the South Precinct’s burglary unit—appears to have taken the company’s offer, opening an account with his official Seattle email address more than a year ago.

Under most circumstances, an individual detective’s subscription to questionable surveillance software would go unnoticed. But Clearview AI is uniquely reviled by privacy advocates: its business model, which relies upon billions of images scraped without permission from every corner of the internet, has prompted horrified coverage from outlets as prominent as the New York Times. In fact, Kartes’ subscription to Clearview AI came to light because of an episode of HBO’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver on the subject.

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The episode prompted Seattle-area blogger Bridget Brululo to submit a public records request to SPD in June to determine whether anyone with SPD is using the service. Earlier this month, the department fulfilled the request, providing Brululo a collection of roughly 200 emails to or from SPD officers mentioning Clearview AI. Most of the emails were promotional, but they also included evidence that Kartes has communicated with the software company and possibly used their service earlier this year.

Aside from the controversy that surrounds it, SPD officers aren’t currently allowed to use Clearview AI for law enforcement purposes. The surveillance ordinance passed by the city council in 2018 requires city departments to submit new surveillance technologies to a review process that ends with a council vote to approve or prohibit the technology’s use by city departments.

Clearview AI—which first attracted widespread attention late last year—is not on the council’s list of approved technologies. But according to Mary Dory, a public safety auditor currently working on the Kartes case with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), that ordinance doesn’t address the use of surveillance technology by individual officers. “If the department is caught using something outside the bounds of the ordinance, the city can take it away from them,” she said. “It isn’t focused on individual officers who have gone rogue or made a mistake.”

That leaves the city’s accountability partners responsible for investigating Kartes’ use of Clearview AI—namely, the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) and the OIG—in an unfamiliar position. “We’ve seen instances in which officers just didn’t know that they were breaking the rules,” Dory said. “But that points to something systemic—why didn’t the department make sure their officers knew the rules? Or did the officer just ignore them?”

It’s also unclear whether Kartes violated department policy. To Office of Police Accountability Director Andrew Myerberg, the revelation that an SPD detective is using Clearview AI was alarming enough to prompt his office to launch an investigation, but he told PubliCola that the act of creating an account itself might not constitute a policy violation. “If they used the account for an investigation,” he added, “that would be a clear violation of policy.”

Randall Huserik, a Public Information Officer for SPD, didn’t deny that Kartes used his Clearview AI account within the past year. However, he told PubliCola that the detective downloaded the application onto his personal phone to “experiment with its capacities—not in the course of his duties.” Continue reading “SPD Detective’s Use of Prohibited Facial Recognition Software Raises Questions About Surveillance Oversight”

Despite Months of Arrests and Impoundments, the Car Brigade Is Still Protecting Seattle Protesters

Seattle Police officers impound a Car Brigade vehicle on Capitol Hill on October 3

By Paul Kiefer

Late at night on September 11, during the worst of the past summer’s wildfire smoke, a driver pulled over in a Bothell parking lot. Less than an hour earlier, the driver – who asked to remain anonymous because of pending felony charges – had been a part of the Car Brigade, a group of drivers who use their cars to protect Black Lives Matter protesters from attacks.

That night, the group had formed a protective perimeter around a relatively small and subdued protest march in Seattle. Driving at a walking speed, the motley crew of luxury cars, nondescript sedans and massive SUVs maneuvered to keep other drivers from entering alleyways, parking lot exits and intersections.

After months of practice, angry honking from inconvenienced drivers doesn’t phase the Car Brigade. The protest ended with no police in sight, so the drivers went their separate ways, expecting to make it home without issue. But when he reached Bothell, the driver saw police lights in his rear-view mirror. “There was never a siren,” he said. “It seemed like they had just silently followed me all the way to Bothell.”

“SPD thinks drivers are somehow involved in organizing the marches or have a hand in what marchers do,” one driver told PubliCola. “Really, when I’m driving, I don’t even know where we’re turning next.”

To his surprise, the officer who approached his window was from the Seattle Police Department. According to the driver, the officer “told me I had three seconds to open my window or he would smash it. I didn’t really have time to react or think. I was still trying to remember where the door handle was when another officer walked up and smashed the window. The funny thing was that my doors were unlocked anyway.”

That night, the driver was booked into the King County Jail for allegedly obstructing a public officer at a protest several days earlier. He was released only a few hours later, but SPD had impounded his car and was waiting for a warrant to search it. Without his cell phone—which SPD had also seized—the driver spent the early hours of Saturday morning searching for some way to make his way to his home in a suburb east of Seattle. “I’ve never been so happy to see a yellow cab,” he said.

The arrest in Bothell was not an isolated incident: between August and mid-October, arrests of Car Brigade members were an almost weekly phenomenon. In total, SPD detained drivers on more than a dozen occasions and impounded 13 drivers’ cars; some, like the driver arrested in Bothell in September, were arrested more than once.

Incident reports and search warrants obtained by PubliCola offer a glimpse at what might lay behind the arrests: A larger SPD investigation into the Car Brigade’s connections to property damage and arson at last summer’s protests, driven by the department’s belief that the volunteer drivers are not good Samaritans, but accomplices who provide cover and support for property damage, arson and other crimes.

Five Car Brigade drivers who spoke to PubliCola believe that SPD has an ulterior motive for the arrests, impoundments and investigation. They describe SPD’s treatment of the Car Brigade as a “scare tactic” intended to punish drivers for protecting marchers, undermine marchers’ safety, and finally bring an end to the nightly marches. And the tactic may be working: drivers say that a dwindling number of drivers are willing to risk losing their vehicles, and potentially face felony charges, in order to protect protesters.

SPD did not respond to questions about specific arrests or the broader investigation, so the details of arrests included in this story reflect the drivers’ own accounts, as well as SPD incident reports.

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The Car Brigade formed earlier this year in the wake of the the July 4 attack on I-5 that killed Summer Taylor and injured Diaz Love. In the weeks that followed, one organizer told PubliCola, marches were flooded with volunteer drivers. “There were 40 or 50 drivers a night,” she recalled, “but it was chaos. The only coordination came from one person running from car to car to relay directions.” The playbook the Car Brigade now uses was the brainchild of a group of former marchers and new volunteers, she said. The team developed nicknames, a weekly driving schedule and an emergency fund to cover gas and window replacements; by August, the Car Brigade was a well-oiled machine.

Over those months, the Car Brigade drivers maintain, their presence at marches has served one purpose. “What we do is protect protesters – that’s the entire reason we’re there,” the driver arrested in Bothell said. Continue reading “Despite Months of Arrests and Impoundments, the Car Brigade Is Still Protecting Seattle Protesters”

Council Staff: Mayor’s Proposals Could Promote “Racism Cloaked in the Language of Anti-Racism and Equity”

By Erica C. Barnett

Foreshadowing what will likely be a heated debate over Mayor Jenny Durkan’s plan to wall off $100 million in the city budget for future “investments in BIPOC communities” that will be decided by an Equitable Investment Task Force appointed by the mayor, Seattle City Council central staff released an unusually blunt memo last week cataloguing potential issues with the mayor’s plan.

The memo raises two high-level issues with Durkan’s proposal. First, according to the staffers, it duplicates work that the city has already done, perpetuating the city’s practice of asking members of marginalized communities to provide recommendations again and again without ever taking action on those recommendations.

“These different and potentially overlapping processes and funds raise concerns that the Council has expressed in previous years regarding a lack of alignment of efforts around the criminal legal system and insufficient application of racial equity analyses, as well as the challenges of successfully doing anti-racism work in a racist institution,” the memo says.

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Just this year, for example, the mayor has proposed: A new Community Safety Work Group to “integrate community input into policy changes and operationalize community priorities to reshape community safety and policing in Seattle”; a “functional analysis interdepartmental team” (IDT) that would offer advice on “reimagining community safety”; a Joint Community Safety IDT to “advise upon and implement policies to reinvent policing and re-imagine community safety in the City of Seattle by centering the experiences of BIPOC communities”; a Functional IDT to decide how to transfer some functions of SPD, such as 911 dispatch, out of the police department; and the Equitable Investment Task Force, which is supposed to decide how to spend $100 million on “BIPOC communities.”

Those new efforts come on top of ongoing initiatives such as King County Equity Now’s Black Brilliance Project; plans for participatory budgeting in 2021; and $1.1 million the council previously allocated to groups working to create alternatives to the criminal justice system, such as Community Passageways and Creative Justice. Durkan’s 2021 budget would eliminate this funding.

Durkan’s communications director, Kamaria Hightower, said the processes the mayor has proposed are necessary counterweights to the council’s impulse to rush forward and cut the police department without a plan. For example, she said, the interdepartmental teams are necessary to figure out how to restructure the police force in an orderly way. “[T]he Council committed to 50 percent reductions [to SPD] without outlining a comprehensive plan or timeline for steps to reimagine policing and building the right community safety alternatives,” Hightower said.

“While Council may disagree with the Mayor’s timeline or the analysis on 911 calls and staffing, the Mayor thinks this work is critical and that the community should be engaged in the decisions that are being made about safety in the City.” Continue reading “Council Staff: Mayor’s Proposals Could Promote “Racism Cloaked in the Language of Anti-Racism and Equity””

Morning Fizz: As the City Debates Police Accountability and Homelessness, Brutality Allegations and Encampments Proliferate

Seattle Police Department officers and other members if the Navigation Team watch as a person experiencing homelessness gathers their possessions during an encampment removal at the Ballard Commons earlier this year.

1. Last Wednesday, acting Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz announced a new partnership between his department and the Los Angeles-based Center for Policing Equity (CPE), which specializes in producing “analyses to identify and reduce the causes of racial disparities in policing.”

In a press release, Diaz said the CPE will spend the next several months studying SPD’s “functions, training, policies, accountability measures and impacts on communities of color”; the researchers will then “convert” their findings into “strategies to ensure [that] SPD eradicates public safety inequities moving forward.”

In her September executive order launching an assessment of SPD’s functions and possible areas for civilianization, Mayor Jenny Durkan also included the CPE as a source of “subject matter expertise” alongside the city’s own accountability partners, including the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the Community Policing Commission (CPC).

This is not the CPE’s first time in town. In 2015, after the CPC asked SPD to review its crowd control policies in the wake of that year’s Black Lives Matter protests, then-police chief Kathleen O’Toole included the CPE on a panel of experts tasked with reviewing the department’s crowd control tactics and presenting recommendations for improvement. The CPE did not release its 23-page report until 2017, and the panel never presented their recommendations publicly. The CPE’s recommendations were generally unremarkable: for instance, the analysts suggested that “SPD should further pursue explanations of the elevated severe use of force during demonstrations.” 

Diaz’ announcement gave no indication that the new CPE study will be any more transformative than its last one, not least because he did not name any accountability mechanism attached to the analysts’ recommendations (some accountability mechanism may exist, but a CPE representative didn’t respond to a request for comment on that front). 

Moreover, the scope of work that Diaz described suggests that the CPE’s study could easily overlap with the work of the city’s existing accountability bodies, including the Office of the Inspector General and the Office of Police Accountability. Inspector General Lisa Judge, whose office is currently working on a sentinel review of SPD’s protest response, told PubliCola that the CPE analysts should “engage with the current accountability structure and assess whether they’re actually doing anything different and whether there is value added.” There could be room for the analysts to collaborate with her office, she added, so long as they respect “the ongoing work of accountability partners.”

2. As the city council and Mayor Jenny Durkan continue debating what will will replace the Navigation Team, which Durkan formally dismantled in September, encampments have continued to proliferate around the city. Although one could argue that encampments are merely a symptom of a longstanding crisis Seattle has failed to adequately address, the city’s decision to temporarily stop sweeping people aggressively from place to place during the pandemic has exacerbated the visibility of the crisis. 

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Prior to COVID, the Navigation Team was conducting hundreds of encampment removals a year. Post-COVID, they dramatically scaled back this work, doing sweeps only at encampments that were the source of large numbers of complaints or that presented significant public safety issues, like the large encampment that was recently removed from a cracking, partially demolished pedestrian bridge downtown.

A large encampment at the Ballard Commons, across the street from the Ballard public library, was removed in May after neighborhood residents and community groups complained that it made the park feel dirty and unsafe. Like all sweeps, this one redistributed, but didn’t visibly reduce, the number of people living unsheltered in the neighborhood. Since then, not only has the Commons been thoroughly repopulated by unsheltered people, the people who were ordered to leave in May seem to have simply moved a few blocks away, a predictable outcome whenever encampments are swept. Continue reading “Morning Fizz: As the City Debates Police Accountability and Homelessness, Brutality Allegations and Encampments Proliferate”

Morning Fizz: Police Attrition, Demands for Resignation, and the Latest on Durkan’s Latest Task Force

Seattle City Council member Tammy Morales, via Flickr.

Fizz is back after a week in the mountains. Thanks to Paul and Josh for holding down the fort!

1. Last week’s city council budget discussions included the revelation that Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposal to spend $100 million annually on unspecified “investments in BIPOC communities” relied on funding the city had already allocated to equitable development in neighborhoods where there’s a high risk of displacement and low access to opportunity—AKA BIPOC communities.

The mayor’s budget plan abandons a commitment made in 2019 to create a Strategic Investment Fund, financed by the sale of the Mercer Megablock property, that was supposed to build “mixed-use and mixed-income development that creates opportunities for housing, affordable commercial and cultural space, public open space, and childcare,” according to Durkan’s 2019 budget.

Fizz predicts that the Equitable Investment Task Force could become 2021’s One Table—a group that reaches consensus around a set of basically uncontroversial proposals while the real budget and policy action happens elsewhere.

Council members suggested last week they may propose reducing Durkan’s $100 million “equitable investment” fund by $30 million to recommit to the plan the city adopted in 2019. “I just think it’s ironic that [the Strategic Investment Fund] is now cut so that we can fund a new program with a new process,” council member Tammy Morales said. “I’m struggling to understand the logic here.”

2. While the council debated whether to whittle down Durkan’s $100 million proposal, the mayor announced the members of a new task force that will discuss how the city should spend the money. Given the council’s lack of enthusiasm for the mayor’s blank-check proposal, Fizz predicts that the Equitable Investment Task Force could become 2021’s One Table—a group that reaches consensus around a set of basically uncontroversial proposals while the real budget and policy action happens elsewhere.

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PubliCola is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going—and expanding!

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. We’re truly grateful for your support.

One Table, as you may or may not recall, was a task force, spearheaded by Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine, to come up with a regional approach to homelessness. After meeting sporadically for eight months, the group announced a set of recommendations that included rental subsidies, job training, and behavioral-health treatment on demand. None of the recommendations were ever officially implemented. 

3. On Monday, council public safety chair Lisa Herbold added some context to a recent Seattle Police Department announcement that a record number of officers left the department this year. As Paul reported last week, the department reported a loss of 39 officer positions in September, for a total of 110 positions this year, compared to an early projection of 92. Mayor Durkan said the departures showed the need to recruit hire additional officers “committed to reform and community policing.”

But Herbold pointed out that the city council adopted a rebalanced 2020 budget that assumed 30 additional officers would leave this year, for a total of 122 departures—a milestone that SPD has not yet hit, despite the spike in September. (The projection has since been updated to 130 officers by the end of the year.) “One month’s data does not make a trend,” Herbold said. Continue reading “Morning Fizz: Police Attrition, Demands for Resignation, and the Latest on Durkan’s Latest Task Force”

SPD Debuts New “Community Response Group” To Assist Patrol, Lead Demonstration Response

By Paul Kiefer

On Wednesday afternoon, Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz and two high-ranking officers announced the formation of a new, 100-officer rapid-response unit: the Community Response Group, or CRG. According to Chief Diaz, the CRG is part of a broader effort to address what he calls SPD’s “core mission”— responding to emergency calls. Diaz linked the new unit directly to his earlier decision to move 100 officers from specialized units to patrol, though he said only a few of those 100 officers volunteered to join the CRG.

Diaz said that the CRG is intended to be “a team to address the needs that weren’t tied to the artificial bounds of a precinct,” providing support, for example, to precinct-based patrol officers by responding to the most urgent emergency calls.

The unit will also lead SPD’s protest response; according to Lieutenant John Brooks, one of the two lieutenants who will direct the CRG in the field, the unit has already assumed the role of primary protest responders in the past week. Brooks has frequently been tapped to serve as the incident commander for demonstrations over the past summer, guiding SPD’s strategy during the August 16th protest at the SPOG headquarters in SODO, among others. 

Both Diaz and CRG leader Captain Mike Edwards said the CRG will free up neighborhood patrol officers to do “community engagement” in neighborhoods, and that the team will continue to do “community roll calls” in neighborhoods, allowing them to talk to neighborhood residents and businesses about their concerns. How responsive the CRG will be to community input is unclear: Edwards said “community advisory groups” will be able to relay their concerns and needs to the CRG through local precinct commanders, but he didn’t mention any direct interface between the public and the team’s leadership.

According to Diaz, the CRG will exist at least into 2021. Because the unit is new, advocates for police accountability and abolition had not weighed in on the announcement as of Thursday.

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As Public Demands for Police Cuts Continue, Parking Enforcement Officers Could Take On Greater Role

Seattle Parking Enforcement Officer (Photo via Seattle Police Department)

By Paul Kiefer

During a public safety budget hearing last Thursday, Seattle City Council public safety committee chair Lisa Herbold suggested a wider role for an agency that’s received relatively little attention during the recent debates about reducing the size and role of the Seattle Police Department: SPD’s Parking Enforcement Unit.

The idea of expanding the role of parking officers to include duties currently performed by armed police comes as the city council deliberates on Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed 2021 budget, which includes only minor cuts to SPD’s budget. At a public hearing Tuesday night, dozens of residents asked the council to amend Durkan’s proposal to defund SPD by at least 50 percent, in line with what protesters and advocates have been demanding for months.  

After raising the issue of overtime spending for SPD staffing at special events, Herbold said she was “grateful to [parking enforcement officers] for signaling their willingness to take on that work.” She pointed to a letter written by the Seattle Parking Enforcement Officers’ Guild to council members expressing interest in expanding their duties to include not only a greater role at special events, but also an array of other roles currently filled by more highly paid sworn SPD officers. As Herbold noted, SPEOG also said that they would prefer to move into the proposed new Department of Public Safety, rather than the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), as Durkan has proposed.

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The concept of the Department of Public Safety originates in a resolution the council passed in August recommending the creation of a “civilian-led Department of Community Safety & Violence Prevention to remove certain functions from the Seattle Police Department.” However, the absence of any concrete foundations for the department has become a sticking point in the ongoing budget discussions. The budget Durkan transmitted last week limited budget cuts to SPD on the grounds that the city has not yet developed alternatives to police, while the council contended that developing those alternatives will require shifting money from SPD’s budget.

In the letter to council, the parking officers offered to take over array of “services that were formerly provided by sworn SPD officers” ranging from managing red light violations to responding to car prowls, minor accidents, illegally parked RVs and abandoned vehicles. Currently, those types of incidents make up roughly 20 percent of the calls for service to which SPD responds; traffic incidents alone account for nearly 15 percent of all calls. While parking enforcement officers can’t replace SPD at to every traffic- or car-related incident, the guild argues that they can take on a sizable portion of SPD’s workload, which would in turn significantly reduce interactions between civilians and armed police officers.

Union president Nanette Toyoshima, who wrote the letter to council, said Durkan’s proposal to move parking enforcement into SDOT caught her unit off-guard. “We only learned of this potential move through Twitter and a press conference,” Toyoshima said, referring to Mayor Durkan’s July 13 announcement that she intends to move a variety of civilian units out of SPD, including parking enforcement and the 911 call center. “It was a bit of a rude awakening after over 50 years with SPD.”

She said the guild had no complaints about being housed in SPD, but that they were also responsive to the public push to civilianize some roles held by police. “No matter where we’re moved—to a new [public safety] department, to SDOT, or if we stay in SPD —we’re interested in being part of the solution,” she said. Continue reading “As Public Demands for Police Cuts Continue, Parking Enforcement Officers Could Take On Greater Role”

As Seattle Weighs 911 Options, a Promising Program Shows the Potential, and Limitations, of Community-Based Crisis Response

Reverend Martin Lawson at the scene of a shooting in Pioneer Square on September 20th.

By Paul Kiefer

Just before 7:00 on Sunday night, an argument between two men at the encampment next to the King County Courthouse in Pioneer Square ended in a shooting. The shooter ran away into the night; the wounded man was carried by ambulance to Harborview Medical Center, where he was treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

About 30 minutes later, as a police officer was busy taking down the crime scene tape, a man in a black motorcycle helmet appeared from below the Yesler Avenue Bridge. He walked down the row of tents and tarps along the courthouse wall, asking witnesses for details about the shooter and the victim. He couldn’t get answers about the shooter, but longtime park residents said they didn’t recognize the wounded man—he was new to the encampment. Meanwhile, Seattle police officers standing a few yards away were busy searching a stolen car found on the scene for any evidence the shooter may have dumped when he ran.

The man in the motorcycle helmet was Reverend Martin Lawson, the head of the new four-person Critical Incident Response Team organized by Community Passageways, a South Seattle-based nonprofit that has been a center of attention in this year’s citywide conversations about alternatives to policing.

In the past four months, members of the Seattle City Council and the Mayor have regularly pointed to Community Passageways as a model for community-based public safety. The group already holds three city contracts: two for programs that divert young people from the criminal legal system and provide mentorship and counseling (together totaling $845,000) and a third, $300,000 contract for the Critical Incident Response Team, which formally launched three months ago.

As the city weighs its options for non-police 911 response, the Critical Incident Response Team provides a case study in the role community organizations might play in improving emergency responses to violent crime. Among the clearest lessons of that case study, however, are the team’s limitations. Because their model is grounded in community relationships, the Critical Incident Response Team can only work within the boundaries of their community. Introducing the model city-wide would involve replicating the team, not expanding it.

As new as the team may be, Community Passageways founder and CEO Dominique Davis says the program is modeled after work he’s been doing for years. Davis, a former gang member, first began responding to shootings in South Seattle while working as a football coach nearly two decades ago. “I was getting calls from kids I coached, kids I knew from around the neighborhood who would say, ‘coach, come get me—someone just shot at us, my friend just got shot,” Davis said. “So I started doing critical incident response on my own. I would go pick them up, and sometimes I had to take them to the hospital.”

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Davis says that he soon began to run into barriers to his informal crisis response work. “I would show up at the scene of a shooting, and a kid might be laid out in the back seat of a car with a bullet in him, but he wouldn’t want to go to the hospital because he didn’t want to get interrogated by police,” he said. “So I wound up calling prosecutors in the middle of the night, having them connect me to detectives and saying, ‘look, I need to get this kid to the hospital and I can’t convince him to go if you’re going to interrogate him.'” As Davis started reaching agreements with law enforcement, he says he saw an opportunity to formalize the role of community members in responding to violence.

For much of the past decade, Davis’ criminal justice reform work has centered on diversionary programs: He co-founded the program now known as Choose 180, which works to reduce legal penalties for young people facing misdemeanor charges, nearly a decade ago, and he narrowed his focus to serve gang-involved and incarcerated Black youth (ages 15-25) by founding Community Passageways in 2017. Those programs, he says, rely on pre-existing relationships within Seattle’s relatively small Black community.

Deshaun Nabors, an ambassador-in-training for a Community Passageways diversionary program called Deep Dive, echoed Davis. “This is about as community-based as it gets,” he said. “There’s barely ever more than two degrees of separation between any two people—I mean staff and clients. That’s where [Community Passageways’] soul is.” Nabors is a testament to the organization’s reliance on existing relationships: Davis knew Nabors’ uncle, and reached out to him while Nabors awaited sentencing for a robbery in 2019. Nabors entered the Deep Dive program earlier this year.

In many cases, the Critical Incident Response Team relies on the same community relationships to field emergency calls. Lawson said they’ve received emergency calls from the parents of shooting victims and witnesses who have team members’ phone numbers; in other cases, including the fatal shooting in July near Garfield High School that killed 18-year-old Adriel Webb, team members lived close enough to the incidents to hear the gunshots and arrive at the scene within minutes. The team has received about 15 calls a month so far.

“This is about as community-based as it gets,” he said. “There’s barely ever more than two degrees of separation between … staff and clients. That’s where [Community Passageways’] soul is.” —Deshaun Nabors, Community Passageways ambassador-in-training

Lawson, who joined Community Passageways in March after three years directing a prison ministry in North Carolina, said team members have also taken peacekeeping roles at another 20 gatherings—including memorials, rallies, and a multi-day assignment at the Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone (CHOP)—to de-escalate any conflicts among young people, especially those with gang ties, whom they know through their personal networks.

Lawson said he was on peacekeeping duty at CHOP on June 20th when Marcel Long shot and killed 19-year-old Horace Lorenzo Anderson after a dice game went awry. While he wasn’t able to respond in time to stop that shooting, Lawson said that he and fellow Critical Incident Response Team members rushed to the scene and spotted another several other teenagers—familiar faces—drawing guns to retaliate. “They knew us, we knew them, and we talked them down before anyone else got hurt,” he explained while standing on the corner of 4th and Yesler as witnesses to Sunday night’s shooting started to disperse.

Lawson said he was also present as a peacekeeper at the memorial for Adriel Webb on the night after his killing. Unfortunately, he said, “we’re still so short-staffed, so we decided to leave once it got late.” Not long after the team members left, a still-unidentified gunman shot 19-year-old Jamezz Johnson in the head, killing him.

The unit’s role as crisis responders, Lawson explained, doesn’t look like the job of police—in order to maintain community trust, and particularly the trust of gang-involved youth, it can’t. In fact, Lawson said his team members make a point of not interacting with police when responding to a call or serving as peacekeepers; at the scene of the shooting in Pioneer Square on Sunday, Lawson never came within twenty feet of an officer.

Lawson said the Critical Response Team often interviews witnesses and gathers intelligence after shootings, although they don’t share the intelligence they gather with investigating officers to maintain their network’s trust. Team members’ personal relationships with community members, and particularly with gang-involved community members, have allowed them to keep tabs on the movements of known gunmen and to intervene before gang members can retaliate against their rivals. At least one of the team members is an inactive gang member himself, said Davis; that member maintains a direct line of communication with his gang’s leadership, and Davis claims he used it to stop a retaliatory attack earlier this year. 

But when Lawson arrived at the scene of the Sunday night shooting in Pioneer Square, the limitations of the Critical Incident Response Team’s role as a violence prevention program became clear. After his brief conversations with park residents, Lawson signaled that he didn’t plan to stick around. “When shootings happen in this part of the city, we show up because there’s a possibility that one of the kids we know was involved. Sometimes they come here to sell drugs to the people who live in the park, and if they shoot someone or get shot, we should respond.” Continue reading “As Seattle Weighs 911 Options, a Promising Program Shows the Potential, and Limitations, of Community-Based Crisis Response”