Responsibly Moving Forward with the North Precinct

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Over the past several months, my committee has had three hearings regarding the design, operations and cost of a new police precinct that would serve all of North Seattle (Council Districts 4, 5 and 6).

Today, the Safe Communities committee, which I chair, received an update on several issues related to this public safety capital project, including:

  • Potential cost savings;
  • Reduced footprint; and
  • Community engagement plan.

The Seattle Police Department’s North Precinct serves approximately 278,000 residents of Seattle, who represent forty percent of the City of Seattle’s population, including students, patients and their families, workers, local businesses, and customers.

The North Precinct was identified in a 1998 Seattle Police Department Long-Range Facilities Plan, which noted 18 years ago that the North Precinct facility was at that time already overcrowded by thirty percent.  The existing North Precinct currently houses 254 staff, which is sixty-five percent over its designed capacity.

From 1998 through today, the City of Seattle has worked to develop and advance this capital project to meet the public safety needs of North Seattle.

Prior to my election, this capital project was developed with prior Council involvement throughout, and prior City Councils have taken budget action on the project approximately a dozen times and more recently took the following actions to advance this project:

  • In 2012, Council initiated the project by amending the City’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP) to include an $88.5 million cost estimate for a new North Precinct and set a target date for opening the new facility at the end of 2016.
  • In 2013, Council approved land acquisition and concurred that the property best meets the needs of the police department for a new precinct.
  • In 2015, Council approved an interfund loan which appropriated funds for the design of the new North Precinct and identified the cost estimate of $160 million.
  • Later that year, Council approved the 2016-2021 CIP that described the components and budget of the new North Precinct.

Nonetheless, as a new councilmember, I have expressed significant concerns with the $160 million price tag associated with this capital project particularly when the original total project cost estimate was $88.5 million just four years ago.  But, let me be clear, I support the construction of a new North Precinct.  While, I do not support using $160.2 million to build a new North Precinct, I support the construction of a new North Precinct because this is a critical public safety infrastructure project for North Seattle.

As a result, I have collaboratively worked with Mayor Murray, the City Budget Office, the Seattle Police Department and the Department of Finance and Administrative Services to identify design areas where taxpayer dollars can be saved without compromising the operational needs of the SPD or causing costly delays. I have also consulted with my fellow councilmembers, have listened to hours of public testimony during my committee hearings and have read through constituent emails received from people who live in and out of North Seattle.

Through that collaborative work I intend to support advancing the North Precinct capital project under the following conditions:

  1. A total project cost estimate of $149 million, which represents a savings of approximately $11 million.
  2. The application of the City’s Racial Equity Toolkit (RET) to the facility’s operations, including potential use and programming of the publically accessible areas in and outside of the facility.
  3. The project design must retain a community room, common public areas, and community amenities the use of which will be informed by the RET analysis.
  4. The project will retain the planned construction start date of April 2017 in order to avoid delay costs projected at $500,000 per month.
  5. Any proceeds from the sale of the land and/or building where the current North Precinct is located shall be appropriated to fund affordable housing needs once it is determined that the existing site should be surplused.

Accordingly, I am co-sponsoring a resolution with Councilmembers Burgess and Juarez that memorializes these agreements.  The resolution will be heard and voted on this Monday, August 15, 2016 at 2:00 pm.

As a former civil rights lawyer, who has sued law enforcement agencies, including the Seattle Police Department, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the real concerns expressed by members of our community who oppose the construction of a new North Precinct.

I believe that the Seattle Police Department must be transformed in a manner that does not perpetrate systematic injustice. We shouldn’t have to choose between being protected in a mass shooting spree and constitutional, bias-free policing.  That’s a false choice.  We can have both public safety and law enforcement that is well-trained to de-escalate rather than shoot-first and ask questions later.

Yes, Black Lives Matter.  Bias-policing in Seattle and across the nation is real.  Disproportionate policing of black and brown men is real. The killing of hundreds of black and brown men by police officers across our nation is real.

Regrettably, I know this fact to be true because I lost a cousin many years ago when he was shot and killed in Southern California by law enforcement.  My commitment to police reform, criminal justice reform and accountability reform is real and rooted in the memory of losing my cousin to police violence and listening to my own brother’s stories of racial profiling.

Moving this capital project forward does not diminish my fierce commitment to being a voice for my cousin, my brothers and you as I move forward this year to fight for meaningful reforms – at every level of government.  These systemic reforms must acknowledge the humanity and lives of black and brown men.

I understand that this capital project, for some, represents a legacy of institutional racism in policing and in our criminal justice system.  Halting construction on a new North Precinct, sadly, will not undue the legacy of institutional racism.    Changing criminal laws to remove the “malice” standards in police shooting cases, will make it easier to prosecute deadly force cases. Increasing civilianization of the City’s Office of Professional Accountability, so that officers aren’t investigating officers, will inspire public trust.

I hope you will join me in tackling these systemic issues in the coming months and years as we continue to fight for reforms.