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Demonstrations in Seattle in Response to Police Brutality and Policing; West Seattle Bridge Update, June 12; Budget Committee Meeting and Rebalancing Package; Virtual Office Hours

Demonstrations in Seattle in Response to Police Brutality and Policing

In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, and the deaths of countless other black and brown people at the hands of law enforcement before Mr. Floyd, demonstrations continue in Seattle and all over the nation.  The demands for change have spurred a conversation about the history of law enforcement in this country as a slave catching institution and enforcer of Jim Crow laws and what the future of this institution should be given that history.  In light of those national conversations, the police response to demonstrations over the last nearly three weeks, and the disparities in law enforcement we see here in Seattle, I am resolved to do all that I can do to center black voices in our efforts on the Seattle City Council.

I want to recognize the many demonstrations in support of black lives in District 1, including several throughout West Seattle, from the Black Lives Matter event in the Junction last weekend, to Hate Free Delridge’s numerous events, protests on the South Park Bridge, a student-led event at West Seattle High School, in White Center with students marching from Chief Sealth High School, and the Peace Peloton bike ride, to name just some of the events.

It’s my sincere hope that we as a society will truly reach for transformative change, and we must do so here in Seattle as well.

Below are a number of updates about what’s been happening at City Hall during the last week, and votes scheduled for Monday.

Badges

On Monday the Council will vote on legislation I am sponsoring to require officers to display their badge numbers, while allowing mourning bands to observe the death of officers on a different part of the badge. After I announced that I was drafting legislation, Chief Best issued a directive to all officers to display their badge numbers, while wearing mourning bands. I appreciate her order, and believe it needs to be adopted into city law.

Inquests

On Monday, I circulated a letter that Councilmembers signed asking the City Attorney to withdraw the civil petition challenging a reformed process for inquests developed by King County Executive Constantine.  The City Attorney withdrew the petition the next day.  I thank him for taking this action.

The City Attorney notes that Washington state lacks a consistent statewide inquest process; Pierce County doesn’t have inquests at all, so there will be no inquest for Manuel Ellis. I requested the City’s Office of Intergovernmental Relations to add the need to lobby for legislation like this to the City’s Legislative Agenda.

Last weekend King County Executive Constantine called on cities, including Seattle, to withdraw lawsuits against King County inquest reforms developed with the families of Tommy Le, Che Taylor, John T Williams, and Charleena Lyles as well as community groups like the Community Police Commission and others. The reformed inquest process was supposed to be put in place in 2019. In January 2018, Executive Constantine put all inquests on hold pending the review process.

There are currently nine pending inquests that can’t go forward because of the lawsuits opposing the reforms: Isaiah Obet; Damarius Butts; Eugene Nelson; Tommy Le; Charleena Lyles; Curtis Elroy Tade; Robert J. Lightfeather; Mitchell O. Nelson ,and Marcelo A. Castellano.

The Community Police Commission has taken a number of stances in support of inquest reforms, including participation in the inquest process review committee, and a statement of support for the reforms,  which took several months and involved affected families, many concerned King County residents, and solicited input from police agencies and lawyers for police unions. That process ultimately culminated in a package of reforms that found widespread approval from a coalition of community organizations, a police union, and the inquest reform panel.

For many years, the inquest system operated functionally to legitimize and immunize all deaths in police custody.  The County Executive convened a distinguished and balanced panel to lead a community-wide conversation about possible reforms to the inquest process.

Body cameras

The Mayor issued an executive order directing police officers assigned to work demonstrations to activate body-worn cameras at protests and demonstrations. This was requested by community groups and protestors to improve accountability during the ongoing demonstrations.

Letter to Mayor/Chief

I joined a number of local elected officials in signing a letter last weekend to the Mayor and Police Chief.

The Open Public Meetings Act does not allow for a majority of Councilmembers to sign the letter outside of a public meeting; I circulated the letter at Monday’s Full Council meeting to allow other Councilmembers to sign.

The letter firmly requested the Mayor and Chief to direct SPD to change tactics, to take urgent and sustained action to de-escalate police tactics used in daily protests, and noting tactics are placing constitutional rights at risk; exacerbating health risks amidst a devastating respiratory epidemic; bringing emotional trauma and racial aggression; it notes that “deploying police in riot gear to form a wall of officers positioned against peaceful protestors is not conducive to de-escalation and healing”.

The letter includes a commitment to 1) de-militarize the police, 2) further restrict use of excessive or deadly force by police, 3) increase accountability and transparency in police union contracts, 4) give subpoena and other investigative powers to independent oversight boards and 5) redirect police department funding to community-based alternatives.

The Council has taken actions in recent years to promote these objectives; we must do more.

  1. De-militarize the police

In 2017 I sponsored legislation that created a new section 3.28.140 of the Seattle Municipal Code which states “The Seattle Police Department shall not participate in the United States Department of Defense 1033 program authorized by Congress under Section 1033 of the National Defense Authorization Act (codified at 10 U.S.C. §2576(a)) or its successor, or any other federal program that transfers excess military equipment to civilian law enforcement agencies at reduced or no cost.” To their credit, SPD had already stopped participating in this program, though I believed it was important to enact this into law.

The Council will be using the June/July budget process to further scrutinize investments in SPD related to this demand (more below).

  1. Use of excessive or deadly force by police

On Monday, City Council will consider legislation sponsored by Councilmember Sawant that will restrict Seattle Police Department officers’ use of dangerous tactics and weapons.  CB 119804 would prohibit officers from using chokeholds, including neck restraints or carotid restraints, in the discharge of their duties.  According to the Seattle Police Manual, a chokehold is considered force that causes or is reasonably expected to cause, great bodily harm, substantial bodily harm, loss of consciousness, or death.  CB 119805 would ban Seattle Police Department from owning, purchasing, renting, storing, or using “crowd control” weapons that are designed to cause pain or discomfort.  This would include items that have been used against protestors over the past two weeks, including rubber bullets, flashbangs, tear gas, and other chemical irritants. Pepper spray would be allowed, but could not be used in a demonstration, rally, or other First Amendment-protected event.

  1. Accountability and transparency bargaining police union contracts

I’ve been working on the transparency requests from the three accountability bodies included in the legislation adopted about bargaining with the Seattle Police Guild in February.  We will have advisors with expertise in police accountability to guide the city in bargaining this year.

  1. Subpoena Power

The Council’s 2017 accountability legislation included subpoena powers for the Office of Police Accountability and the Inspector General. This is mentioned in the resolution I sponsored in February   about bargaining with the Seattle Police Guild as a priority for all three of Seattle’s police accountability bodies.  Specifically, the OIG called for the City to “preserve subpoena power as achieved in the SPMA contract,” the OPA called for the City to “strengthen and clarify subpoena authority and the process for how subpoenas are to be issued and enforced,” and the CPC called for the City to ensure that subpoena authority for OPA and OIG is aligned with the SPOG.

On Monday, I announced that I would be introducing legislation to create a process to allow the Office of Police Accountability and the Office of the Inspector General to use subpoena power to require that uncooperative individuals who have not been forthcoming in responding to requests for information: “produce any records or documents, or for the attendance and testimony of witnesses to give evidence.”

  1. Funding for Police

The Council has taken in recent years is to create a Community Service Officer (or CSO) program that went into effect this year.

CSOs assist with mediating disputes, follow up on calls for non-emergency services, help residents navigate services, support programming for at-risk youth, and attend school and community-hosted events. Some of the work involves assisting homeless persons and individuals struggling with substance abuse to access programs like diversion opportunities, housing, and behavioral health services.  One study shows that law enforcement spends 21 percent of its time responding to and transporting people with mental illnesses.

As noted in the press release announcing the jobs, “SPD seeks to fill the open CSO positions with individuals from demographic groups currently underrepresented in the Police department, including elders, immigrants, and individuals with past involvement in the criminal justice system.”

When the job applications were posted, the response was overwhelming, with more than a 1,000 people applying, eager to participate in a different model.

There is more information about the Council’s efforts to redirect police department funding to community-based alternatives in a separate article at the end of this blog post in the Budget Committee article.

 

West Seattle Bridge Update, June 12

SDOT released a decision tree about the path forward for resolving the closure of the West Seattle Bridge. The starting point is a decision during the summer about whether a repair is feasible, based on bridge structural testing, including core samples taken from the bridge last weekend to test the corrosion of steel.

One path in the chart leads to repair, with opening as soon as 2022, with a lifespan of up to 10 years. In this path, the bridge would still need to be replaced around 2032.

The second path leads first to replacement, with controlled demolition.  SDOT estimates that a new bridge could take roughly four to six years, opening approximately 2024-2026, depending on the type, size and location of replacement.

The bridge will need to be stabilized and strengthened for both options, before work can proceed. SDOT says,

“Again, we will know more as to whether or not repairs are feasible later this summer, once we complete our analysis on the structural stability of the bridge. Any decisions before then would be imprudent, but has and will not preclude our efforts to prepare for all pivots that data might suggest.” 

The decision tree also notes that if the Repair pathway is chosen, changing circumstances may lead to moving to the Replace path. Repair could potentially mean fewer lanes of traffic than the bridge carried before.

As I mentioned in last week’s blog post, after SDOT released their Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for design of a replacement for the bridge, I requested clarification from SDOT whether the RFQ would allow for a tunnel option, since the RFQ did not specifically reference a bridge as the only replacement option for the West Seattle Bridge.

SDOT revised the Request for Proposals released last week that specifically notes a tunnel, and coordinated options with Sound Transit, as follows:

 Purpose and Background to include the following statement:

Other replacement alternatives will be evaluated as part of the contract, and will include but may not limited to tunnel and Sound Transit coordinated options.

SDOT held the first meeting of the West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force. At this meeting the members introduced themselves and their backgrounds, and the neighborhoods they live in, and SDOT went over the project at a high level with information previously public. Here’s the Project Milestones timeline they shared at the meeting with actions through 2021:

The second meeting will be next Wednesday.

Here’s an update on the most recent traffic data; traffic remains high on West Marginal, and Highland Park Way.

Below are recent travel times, by time of day:

Here’s a graph showing vehicle traffic volumes since early February:

Budget Committee Meeting and Rebalancing Package

On Wednesday the Budget Committee met and began an inquest into Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) budget. Council Central Staff presented a detailed analysis of SPD’s budget which totals just over $409 million. 75% of SPD’s budget is dedicated to salaries and benefits plus another 7% for overtime. Over the next several weeks I and the rest of Council will be taking a forensic look at SPD’s budget and having a conversation about the hiring goals and whether reliance on growing the size of the department is the best way to make our city safer.  Most importantly, we will commit to reinvesting these funds into people and communities most harmed by historical involvement with law enforcement – black and brown people and communities.

Then Dallas Police Chief Brown noted in 2016, “Every societal failure, we put it on the cops to solve,” several days after a sniper killed five officers in his city.

“Not enough mental-health funding, let the cop handle it. Not enough drug-addiction funding, let’s give it to the cops,” he said. “Schools fail, give it to the cops. That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems. I just ask other parts of our democracy along with the free press to help us.”

Some are demanding that the Council defund the SPD, which could mean a lot of different things, one specific target is 50%.  Others are demanding that we dismantle the police department.  For instance in Camden New Jersey a few years ago, they relieved all officers of duty, including the Chief, and made them all reapply to the new department.

Though the Council will be looking for cuts to make in the SPD budget to reallocate community-based alternatives, we can’t just flips a switch and then have no police. For instance, in Minneapolis they have committed to a one year process; they aren’t abolishing the police department today.  Minneapolis City Council members are saying they will gradually “dismantle” the department and replace it with one that uses health-care workers and social workers instead of police officers to respond to substance abuse, homelessness or mental-health calls. Violence prevention would be the work of community-based counselors.

What I hope we can have is a systematic questioning of the specific roles that police currently undertake, and then develop evidence-based alternatives so that we can dial back our reliance on them, and identify the most effective public safety approaches.

For instance, we should do an analysis of 911 calls to see how many of them are for mental health distress, overdose, social disorder, or simply filing out a police report after a theft (work that often happens many hours after the crime itself) to determine whether we need SPD response in all cases, or would social workers or substance abuse disorder professionals, CSOs, experts in dispute resolution, or other professionals be more appropriate?

In response to a youth protest Friday, and the position of the Seattle teachers’ union, the Seattle Education Association, the Seattle School Board has expressed an intention to end the practice of having armed “school emphasis officers” stationed across Seattle schools: South Shore PK-8, Aki Kurose Middle School, Denny International Middle School and Washington Middle School.  The School District ending the use of these officers could allow the City to stop providing funding for these officers.

The Budget committee also discussed Councilmembers Morales’ and Sawant’s revenue package. There are three bills included in this legislative package: the tax itself, an interfund loan (IFL), and the spending plan. According to central staff the tax would raise $500 million annually via a 1.3% tax on business payrolls of $7 million or more annually. The bill exempts grocery stores and businesses with payrolls below the $7 million threshold.

As I’ve previously written about before, the city is facing an estimated $300 million shortfall for 2020 according to the City Budget Office. The Budget Committee was set to hear a proposed budget package from the Mayor to address this shortfall, but the legislation was delayed by the Mayor for at least one week to make further adjustments before proposing the package to Council.

Wednesday’s Budget Committee meeting kicked off a six-week budget process where the Council will be meeting on Wednesdays regularly through July 15 and is aiming to have a Public Hearing on the rebalancing package on June 23 at 5pm.

 

Virtual Office Hours

On Friday June 26, I will be hosting virtual office hours between 3pm and go until 6pm, with the last meeting of the day beginning at 5:30pm.

Due to the nature of virtual office hours, you will need to contact my schedule Alex Clardy (alex.clardy@seattle.gov) in order to receive the call-in information and schedule a time. We will be using Skype for Business, and you can either utilize the application or the dial-in number.

Additionally, here is a list of my tentatively scheduled office hours. These are subject to change.

  • Friday, July 31, 2020
    Southwest Customer Service Center, 2801 SW Thistle St
  • Friday, August 21, 2020
    Senior Center of West Seattle, 4217 SW Oregon St
  • Friday, September 25, 2020
    South Park Community Center, 8319 8th Avenue S
  • Friday, October 30, 2020
    Southwest Customer Service Center, 2801 SW Thistle St
  • Friday, December 18, 2020
    South Park Community Center, 8319 8th Avenue S

 

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