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Continued Institutional Resistance to a Civilian Alternate Response Service in Seattle

Notes from the Emerald City
Continued Institutional Resistance to a Civilian Alternate Response Service in Seattle
By Amy Sundberg • Issue #65 • View online

Seattle Public Safety Committee Meeting
Amy Sundberg
Good morning, and welcome to Seattle's Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting! Everyone is here, and we'll be hearing about the 911 call type for civilian response report status, CM Nelson's resolution re SPD hiring incentives and CM Herbold's related legislation.
We had a doozy of a Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting yesterday morning.
911 Call Types and Risk Management Status Report
First the committee members listened to a presentation on the status of SPD’s 911 call analysis/risk analysis, attempting to determine which calls could be answered by a civilian response. Present for this report were Director of Public Safety Andrew Myerberg and SPD’s Brian Maxey and Loren Atherley. As you may recall, last year a NICJR report on this subject found that almost 50% of 911 calls could be eligible for a non-officer response. At that time SPD agreed on 12% of calls that could benefit from this type of response, a consensus that led to the proposal of the (now probably defunct before it even started) Triage One program.
Now, however, SPD is walking back from even that low 12% number, saying it was simply a rough estimate and that the analysis they’re doing now is much more sophisticated. So sophisticated, in fact, that instead of classifying call types into 300 call types like NICJR, they’ve broken them into 41,900 types. No, those zeroes aren’t typos. Unfortunately, SPD’s highly technical presentation was not made available to the public ahead of time and is still unavailable at the time of this publication.
This presentation raised a few salient points. First, SPD has already been working on this analysis for quite some time, and they’re still not finished. They hope to have a populated risk matrix to present to the Council in July. Meanwhile, in spite of council member encouragement to stage the work (most of the CMs seem eager to move forward after two years of unmet promises to community), Andrew Myerberg sounds reluctant to push forward with much of the work until the SPD report is entirely finished…which may be July or even later. He mentioned he might be able to provide a timeline of when the City will stand up related work groups (not, you may notice, when they might be able to launch an actual pilot program).
Second, CM Lewis brought up the excellent point that several other cities have managed to stand up successful alternate response programs without doing this complex risk analysis: most notably, the STAR program in Denver, a comparably-sized city that has had such success with STAR they’re in the process of greatly expanding it. CM Pedersen also referenced a similar pilot that launched in Oakland, CA last month. CM Lewis asked why we weren’t visiting Denver and other relevant cities and learning from the work already done there.
The answers were revealing, to say the least. Andrew Myerberg’s response was that they had been studying such programs but wanted to wait until the data analysis and risk mitigation work was done. SPD’s Brian Maxey said he’d met with Denver’s STAR and that they’d developed call center protocols for triaging calls but hadn’t done a risk assessment like SPD is doing now.
However, Brian Maxey had two reasons to offer as to why Denver’s success wasn’t relevant to Seattle. First, he said in Denver there was an organic group that said they were interested in providing such an alternate response service. To this, CM Lewis said he was aware of several such groups in Seattle and would be happy to coordinate connections in this regard. Second, Brian Maxey said STAR mostly responds to calls that police didn’t historically respond to. CM Lewis rebutted this false claim, saying that of 2700 calls answered in the STAR pilot, 2294 of those calls would have in fact been responded to by the police. For those not wanting to do the math, that’s almost 85% of the total calls answered by STAR.
Over the course of the meeting, it became increasingly clear that SPD is going to continue dragging their feet and throwing up whatever obstacles come to mind to delay or prevent any meaningful non-police alternate response from being stood up in our city. It is popular to blame the city council members for such failures, but in this case it will ultimately be up to Mayor Harrell as to whether we push through this resistance and stand up an alternate response pilot program on a reasonable timeline.
SPD Hiring Incentives/Strategies Resolution and Legislation
The Public Safety committee then moved onto discuss CM Nelson’s resolution on hiring incentives and CM Herbold’s legislation lifting a proviso on $650k of salary savings to pay for another SPD recruiter and moving expenses, primarily for lateral hires, at least to start.
Both of these ended up with amendments. The language of CM Nelson’s resolution was amended to signal intent to release only the amount necessary to fund the incentive program, acknowledging some salary savings could be used to address 2023 budget challenges. CM Herbold’s legislation was amended to release more money from the proviso (for a total of $1.15m) in order to pay for a national search for a new police chief and a national officer hiring campaign.
Both passed out of committee with CM Mosqueda being the sole “No” vote, and because the vote was divided, they will come before Full Council for a vote on Tuesday, May 24. If nothing changes in the interim, we can expect both to pass, potentially with a 6-3 vote. It doesn’t seem like these measures will lead to much of an increase in SPD hiring but are instead passing on the merits of “doing something.” CM Nelson in particular repeated that she doesn’t care about the details as long as they’re doing something right now.
Other News
The City of Seattle settled the Seattle Times lawsuit over former Mayor Durkan and former Chief Best’s missing text messages, agreeing to pay a sum of $199,855 (that is taxpayer money, to be clear), and follow the rules/laws they were supposed to follow in the first place. Not a very satisfying conclusion to a betrayal of the public trust.
At the end of last week the Seattle Municipal Court voted to accommodate City Attorney Davison and exclude her “high utilizers” from using community court. An analysis by the King County Department of Public Defense shows that most of these high utilizers are either unsheltered or experiencing extreme behavioral health issues, neither of which are successfully addressed by a year in the County jail.
Will Casey reported this week on a new public database put together by the American Equity and Justice Group that contains all of Washington State’s adult felony convictions from 2000-2020. Obtaining reliable data about our criminal legal system tends to be dodgy at best, so this is a valuable resource for lawmakers and activists alike. AEJG plans to expand and improve upon their database; if you are a software engineer interested in volunteering your time, you can attend their launch event on May 17.
Finally, Kevin Schofield, lately of SCC Insight, is back with a new site, Seattle Paper Trail. His most recent piece is a breakdown of the 2021 Seattle Public Safety Survey conducted by Seattle University. While I always take this survey with a grain of salt, given its troubling weaknesses, he does draw some interesting conclusions from the flawed data:
First, it continues to be the case that the city’s Black neighborhoods are largely not the ones where fear of crime is high, even though they tend to be over-policed to the detriment of Black residents; they have some of the lowest levels of social disorganization in the city, and also some of the lowest fear of crime. Second, police legitimacy dropped across the board, with only a handful of exceptions in places where fear of crime also rose (though most of the places where fear of crime rose did not see an increase in police legitimacy; it seems to be necessary but not sufficient). Third, social disorganization also decreased nearly across the board, for reasons that are unclear though perhaps related to COVID and more people spending increased time working from home and populating their own neighborhood around the clock.
Recent Headlines
Last Call for a Progressive King County Prosecutor Candidate - Slog - The Stranger
District Court Judge Who Used Racist Language Has Been Taken Off Cases, Court Says | South Seattle Emerald
Families of Those Killed by Police Honor Their Memories | South Seattle Emerald
Attorney General Bob Ferguson on using his platform to pursue justice | Crosscut
Black police, blue line: What happened when a Tacoma officer challenged institutional racism | The Seattle Times
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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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