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Budget Update // Public Safety: The Budget Reality vs. Rhetoric // Ingraham Students Rally // Public Safety Civil Service Commission Adopts Community Service Preference Points // Redistricting Commission Adopts New Council District Boundaries

Budget Update

On Monday, the Budget Chair presented her initial Balancing Package for the 2023/24 budget.

The Budget Chair’s balancing package incorporates some of the amendments Councilmembers proposed to amend the Mayor’s proposed budget discussed during the last several weeks. Now that the Chair’s balancing package is out, the next step is for City Councilmembers to propose new amendments to the Balancing Package.

Those new amendments were due on Wednesday.  They will be made public today to prepare for votes planned for the Budget Committee meeting on Monday, November 21st.   A final City Council vote is planned a week later, for the 29th.

The priority amendments I sponsored are included in the Balancing Package:  funding to maintain a ladder truck at Fire Station 37 and a medic unit at Fire Station 26, and funding for human service provider contract inflation, and Office of Labor Standards funding to enforce new labor standards that I have championed, like PayUp.

Additional information about the Chair’s balancing package is linked here on the Council’s budget website.

Public comment will be taken at the start of the November 21st meeting.  You can sign up for public comment here.

Public Safety: The Budget Reality vs. Rhetoric

Public safety problems in Seattle are real. Concern about crime is understandable; homicide and gun violence rates have risen and addressing these issues must be a very high priority for everyone at City Hall.

Strong concerns deserve strong communication. It is important that elected officials be transparent with Seattle residents to ensure we have an informed city of neighbors that will hold us accountable. In order to discuss the major public safety issues of Seattle, we must work collaboratively and from a place of fact sharing.

As a matter of fact, we’ve seen some welcome encouraging trends during the last few months.

SPD’s Crime Dashboard notes that overall crime, while higher than anyone would like, has trended below 2021 levels during the last two months. In October, it’s been lower than during 2020. Interim Chief Diaz has noted these trends during our regular meetings.  I understand that statistics are cold comfort to anyone who has been a victim of crime.

2021/2022 overall crime trends:

2022/2020 overall crime trends

Police officer hiring has had bright spots recently as well. In September, SPD hired 12 new officers,  five above the hiring target. In October, only 4 officers departed the department.

The Budget Chair’s balancing package fully funds the SPD hiring plan, the same as this year and the previous year. Though hiring fell short, it was not from a lack of funding in the SPD budget, which again was fully funded for more hiring.

To improve hiring, the Council adopted legislation to offer hiring incentives and allow for relocation costs to be covered.

Most reductions to the SPD budget made in previous years consisted of shifting functions to other departments from 2020 to 2022 (911 call center, parking enforcement, emergency management, victim advocates). Those functions totaled $45 million in the 2022 budget.

If you add the 2022 SPD budget of $355 million, and the $45 million, you get total funding of $400 million, as high as the City has ever funded these services. As reported by several news outlets over the last couple years: “defunding” really happen.

In addition to the funding in past years budgets for traditional public safety approaches, there is broad public support for alternative approaches. This spirit is reflected in the ongoing collaborative work between the Mayor’s Office, Council Staff, the Seattle Police Department and the Community Safety and Communications Center by way of the Risk Managed Demand (RMD) research and analysis presented in the Public Safety and Human Services committee. Many constituents who write in support of hiring police officers also express support for alternatives.

In the Public Safety and Human Services Committee, we’ve also heard presentations about the innovative violence prevention work done by King County Public Health.

We have a collective responsibility to emphasize what actions we are taking for public safety, using both traditional and alternative approaches. If we stick to the facts about the actions we are taking, it will help with recruitment and retention in community safety jobs, whether traditional public safety—the Police Department—or in our innovative alternative community safety approaches.

Unfortunately, some seem unwilling to highlight the things we are doing in their communications or even note positive trends. This creates false narratives, fear, and ultimately is a contributing factor towards making our City less safe. For example, because of misinformation, constituents are often surprised to find out, when informed, that the SPD hiring budget is fully funded and has been fully funded in the last two years’ budgets.

King County Councilmember Zahilay recently wrote an editorial titled “Public safety is about solving tough problems, not scoring political points.” The editorial notes, in the context of a restorative justice program, “It’s about a political strategy that capitalizes on the public’s fears while hiding the full story.”

Debate about community safety, and any other issue, is vital to democracy. When your starting point, however, doesn’t acknowledge that, future location of parking enforcement officers aside, 99% of the Mayor’s SPD proposed budget is included in the current balancing package; that, once again, the SPD hiring budget is fully funded; and that hiring and staffing have shown some promising recent trends – it does not help public safety. Especially when minor reductions to the remaining 1% of that budget are emphasized and exaggeration and harmful rhetoric are used to describe the impacts of those very small reductions.

Local public safety debate often mirrors national politics, with no agreed upon set of facts. It’s a fact that crime is higher than during previous years. It’s a fact that we have significantly fewer police officers than before. It’s a fact that there was not a single officer laid off as a result of minor SPD budget reductions.

It’s normal to debate budget issues, and fear of crime is understandable. However, false narratives do not make us safer.

Ingraham Students Rally

On Tuesday, November 8, Seattle’s Ingraham High School lost a student to gun violence on campus, in an act of violence that shook our entire city to its core. We must do more. And I am proud of the students of Ingraham High School and other members of the Seattle Student Union for organizing a powerful rally in City Hall Plaza this recent Monday.

I am thankful to Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda for allowing the Budget Committee to go into recess so that we could join the students in their demonstration and listen to their demands for justice and safety. This inspiring display of activism is a reminder that our youth are not the leaders of tomorrow, they are the leaders of today. And we must do more to hear them and protect them.

Ingraham students at the rally shared their heartbreaking stories of that day – the terror they felt, the courage they were called to act on, and the rage they rightfully felt in the wake of more gun violence. They called on the City to further invest in mental health counselors in their schools, and Council is working towards meeting this demand with a proposed $2 million increase to funds I championed for in 2022, expanding mental health services in schools. This is in addition to Mayor Harrell’s proposed increase of $500,000.

As a City, we must come together and continue to find ways to support our young people in their safety as they build their educations. As Washingtonians, we must also press this importance upon our state legislators, who are able to pass impactful gun legislation and act as the primary funders of school districts.

As many of the students’ signs and chants echoed, now is not the time for thoughts and prayers alone. Now is the time for action.

Public Safety Civil Service Commission Adopts Community Service Preference Points

The Public Safety Civil Service Commission (PSCSC) has voted to support adding community service preference points for entry level police officers.

I began work on this policy changes to expand the use of preference points during budget deliberations in 2016, to help recruitment. Under state law veterans can also receive preference points. These are points that are added to the test score of an applicant who passes the civil service exam.

This action helps implement a section of the May 2017 police accountability legislation adopted by the Council, which said,

“Consistent with Chapter 4.08, SPD shall use preference points in hiring sworn employees who are multi-lingual and/or have work experience or educational background providing important skills needed in modern policing, such as experience working with diverse communities, and social work, mental health or domestic violence counseling, or other similar work or community service backgrounds.”

In 2019, the PSCSC adopted a rule to adopt preference points for people who fluently speak a language other than English. Former Councilmember González and I sponsored the language.

Some have suggested that when SPD is hiring all qualified applicants, as they are now, that language and community service preference points are meaningless.  This is incorrect.  When recruitment materials publicize that the City grants extra points in hiring for language skills and community service experience, it lets a broader segment of the public know that their skills and experiences are valued, and helps to attract and hire more people as police officers who have demonstrated commitment to service and community

Here is the rule the PSCSC adopted earlier this week:

PREFERENCE FOR COMMUNITY SERVICE (2022 PROPOSED RULE) 9.21 –

In an open graded examination for police officer, candidates who receive a passing grade, and  who have two or more years of verifiable full-time professional or volunteer experience or  equivalent (4,160 cumulative hours) delivering direct human/social services, such as but not  limited to the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, domestic violence counseling, mental, or behavioral  health care, and/or homelessness programs, shall have 10% of their examination grade added to  the passing mark, grade, or rating only, based on upon a possible rating of one hundred points as  a perfect percentage. Said credit may be applied anytime during the life of the examination register. Candidates who qualify for preference points under any other Rule shall be limited to the application of a maximum of only 10% in preference points, regardless of the type of points that are applied. Rule 9.21 shall be effective June 1, 2023

The PSCSC is an independent body that administers the civil service system for police and fire department recruits and employees. They direct development of entry-level and promotional civil service exams in those departments, an increasingly important role given staffing shortfalls, approve rules, and hear some disciplinary appeals.

Redistricting Commission Adopts New Council District Boundaries

The Seattle Redistricting Commission has adopted updated boundaries for Seattle’s seven City Council districts, that will go into effect with the 2023 election cycle.

The ballot measure Seattle voters adopted to establish Council districts called for a commission to establish updated boundaries.

The 2020 census showed a 21.1% increase in Seattle’s population since 2010. The increase has not been equally divided in the seven districts, and redistricting criteria requires each district have the same population, within 1%. This amounts to about 105,288 people per district. This means that Districts 1, 2, 5 and 6 must increase in population, and Districts 3, 4, and 7 must decrease in population.

Because population growth in District 1 is less than in other parts of Seattle, District 1 needs to expand by roughly 6,000 people, and over larger area of geography. It will expand from West Seattle and South Park to include Georgetown, SODO, and Pioneer Square.

Here are the links to the new map provided by the Seattle Redistricting Commission, and the new map. The area to the east of the Duwamish is the new portion:

 

 

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