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Alternate Response in Seattle Meets Another Hurdle

Notes from the Emerald City
Alternate Response in Seattle Meets Another Hurdle
By Amy Sundberg • Issue #58 • View online

Seattle News
Amy Sundberg
Good news at today's Seattle's Public Safety committee meeting this morning. There will be a public forum with the finalists for the OPA Director position. This wasn't originally going to be part of the process, but it has been added.
Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee met on Tuesday morning and discussed two items of interest.
First they discussed the process by which the City will hire a new Director of the OPA. As suggested by CM Mosqueda two weeks ago, a public forum was added to meet with the three finalists for the position, tentatively listed as being on June 23. The other change announced was that the search would be conducted by the City’s HR instead of an outside firm. As we’ve seen throughout former Director Myerbeg’s tenure, the OPA Director really sets the tone for the OPA as an organization, so this is a significant appointment. It’s also worth noting the current interim Director, Dr. Gráinne Perkins, spent fifteen years as an operational police officer and did her thesis work on “the risk and danger encountered by members of the South African Police Service in their daily routines.”
Amy Sundberg
Also at this morning's Seattle's Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting is the presentation of SPD's 2022 Strategic Plan by interim Chief Diaz and COO Maxey. You can see the plan here: https://t.co/O4KS9FCJAj
You can read SPD’s 2022 Strategic Plan here, but as The Stranger‘s article about it states, only ten pages of the twenty-seven-page plan actually discusses any plans SPD has for 2022, so you can probably skip it. The bulk of the SPD’s presentation on Tuesday was about the Equity, Accountability, and Quality program (EAQ), which is a program that uses statistical modeling to look for systemic issues and patterns of disparity in police officers’ daily interactions. It’s a program with multiple components, and no materials about it were circulated before (or after) the presentation, although Chief Operating Officer Brian Maxey said there would be another more in-depth presentation later. There are concerning implications of this program, but it’s hard to draw any conclusions from the information given, so I will be interested to hear more details.
Perhaps most troubling during the overall presentation was Brian Maxey’s answer to CM Herbold’s question about the SPD’s analytical work related to 911 calls to identify call types that don’t require sworn officer response. He said they’d be presenting a more granular report at the end of Q1 (which is practically upon us), and he also said as a result of this work, the city will be providing a service currently not being served rather than supplanting officer work.
If you recall, the analytical work being done now was in response to the report the department paid NICJR to conduct that found 49% of 911 calls currently handled by SPD could be handled by organizations other than SPD. SPD immediately pushed back, saying they could only identify 12% of calls they were confident could be answered with an alternate response. They said they needed to do a further analysis themselves to do a risk assessment and create appropriate dispatch protocols. That the first news we hear about this analysis is that officer work will not be supplanted does not bode well for the department’s willingness to offload some of their work to alternate responders like mental health professionals, social workers and case managers, and other civilians.
The only pushback to this announcement at the meeting came from CM Mosqueda, who suggested this evaluation should be done with an outside party. While it does seem it was perhaps asking too much for SPD to do this analysis by themselves in a non-biased way, we’re here in the first place because of recommendations by an outside agency that the SPD said they couldn’t implement without further study. If nothing else, the SPD has been doing a wonderful job stalling any significant alternate response from being stood up in a timely fashion, which serves both them as an institution and their officers more than it serves the community who has been asking for a more robust alternate response for over two and a half years now.
Also this week, the OIG released wave 2 of their sentinel event report of police response to 2020 protests, this one covering June 2-7, 2020. This report has not yet been presented at a committee meeting. As Paul Kiefer reports, one of the key findings is a persistent lack of trust between a portion of the public and SPD. How SPD could address this lack of trust given their behavior in 2020 and the lack of accountability with which much of that behavior has been met is an open question. The report also offers two dozen suggestions to improve SPD’s protest response planning.
Meanwhile, at UW, the university recently expanded its existing civilian responder program with a team to respond to non-criminal emergency calls and removed armed police patrols from its dorms, replacing them with a combination of in-house social workers and campus safety responders. In response, sworn officers filed an unfair labor practice complaint, saying it was a violation of their contract for the university to hand over some of their responsibilities to a new team of employees. Publicola reported on the outcome:
PERC sided with the university, ruling that the decision to use civilians instead of sworn officers to patrol the dorms has a “limited impact” on the police officers themselves—an impact, they wrote, that is outweighed by UW’s “compelling interest” in rethinking how it approaches campus safety. According to the ruling, the change did not require UW to lay off or cut the pay of any police officers, nor did it reduce opportunities for the officers to work overtime. 
Officials in Seattle government could potentially use this ruling as an argument in favor of the legality of creating more alternate response from non-sworn officers who don’t carry a gun.
And lastly, yesterday CM Nelson put forward a resolution to support the development of an SPD staffing incentives program, which rated its own press release including support from CP Juarez. That this resolution should be coming from someone other than the Chair of the Public Safety Committee seems a bit strange, especially as any related legislation would normally move through that body before coming to a final vote at Full Council.
WA State News
Late last week Governor Inslee signed 2037 into law.
We also have more salacious news about WA’s redistricting panel. Not only did the panel violate the state’s Open Public Meetings Act, it now appears dozens of relevant text messages were not released as public records to Crosscut when they should have been, and some of these texts may have been deleted. As Melissa Santos reports:
The withheld text messages show a much deeper level of coordination between state lawmakers, legislative staffers and the Redistricting Commission than what was shown in the records the commission previously released.
State Representative Pollet is considering the possibility of filing a Public Records Act lawsuit in response.
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Amy Sundberg

This newsletter covers Seattle politics and policy with a particular focus on police accountability and criminal legal reform, while also referencing relevant news in Washington State and beyond.

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