New Parks Policy

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The Parks Department has announced a  new City policy changing the use of  authority granted by the Park Exclusion Ordinance, passed by the 1997 City Council.  This new policy was negotiated thanks to the efforts of The Defender Association (TDA) and the Racial Disparity Project (RDP) working with SPD and the Parks and Recreation Department.  The result is a new policy that to seeks to improve access to city parks for legitimate parks’ purposes while limiting the harm that people without financial resources have faced under the ordinance.

Under the old approach, people could be administratively excluded for a violation of minor park rules and then arrested if they return – even if they return and break no rules .  With the exception of immediate public safety threats, now folks must be told what the rules are at the start and that these rules can be forced against them in the future.  If people commit an infraction one day but are using a park appropriately the next, there should be no issue with their presence in the park the next time.  Under this new approach, folks are given a trespass warning and then if they return and continue to violate rules they can be arrested for trespass.  They will not be banned unless they are found guilty of violating the park rules – not just for coming back to the park, as under the old approach.

As background, the Parks Exclusion Ordinance, Ordinance 118607 (see link) was passed in 1997. The Seattle Human Rights Coalition recently wrote to the Mayor to ask that the City stop banning individuals summarily from Seattle parks without providing due process, saying that that: “Exclusions in Seattle parks have been issued disproportionately against people of color.  The share of parks exclusions notices issued to black people (38.4 %) is nearly five times the black share of the Seattle population (8.4 %).  The share of parks exclusion notices issued to Native Americans (8.2%) is over ten times the share of the Seattle population that is Native American (0.8%).”

The year I took office, in 1998, I tried to amend the law with Council Bill 112320.  My amendments would have limited the reasons for summary exclusions without due process to only those violations that pose a public safety threat including felony drug activity, weapons or assault charges.  For more minor violations, the City would still be able to issue tickets.    My legislation in 1998 had the support of  Councilmembers McIver and Steinbrueck, but didn’t pass. I’m glad that the community members I worked with in 1998 have continued to monitor the issue and have found a way to negotiate a better approach while also not compromising on public safety and fair access to our parks for all.

Here’s the language for the new policy:

1.0       Purpose
This Rule augments and supersedes Department Policy & Procedure Number 060-P 7.15 regarding the issuance of Parks Exclusion Notices under SMC 18.12.278.
2.0       Authorization to Issue Trespass Warning
Seattle Park Rangers and any other designated department employee or Seattle Police department employee authorized by the Superintendent may issue a Trespass Warning to anyone within a City Park who violates:
•    Any provision of the Parks Code (Seattle Municipal Code Chapter 18.12);
•    Any Parks Administrative Rule of Conduct;
•    Any other applicable laws under the Seattle Municipal Code or Revised Code of Washington, including but not limited to the following: No Camping; No Alcohol or Drug Possession; No Graffiti or
Vandalism; No Fighting/Assault; No Urinating/Defecating; No entering or remaining in an area that is not open to the public.
3.0       If the conduct that results in a Trespass Warning being issued threatens public safety, then the person may be removed and excluded from the park for the remainder of the day.
4.0       Trespass Warnings apply to all Parks properties.
5.0       Trespass Warnings do not expire.
6.0       If a person who has received a Trespass Warning remains on or returns to any Parks property and violates any of the applicable rules or laws, the person’s permission to be on the property is immediately revoked and the person may be arrested for the crime of Criminal Trespass.
7.0       If a felony crime or weapons violation occurs on Parks property, a one-year Parks Exclusion Notice shall be issued. SMC 18.12.278. For all other violations a Trespass Warning shall be issued.
8.0       The Trespass Warning is a pilot program and will be in effect until further notice.