King County Able to Produce Risk Index of 911 Calls With Little Fuss, Unlike Seattle

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Notes from the Emerald City
King County Able to Produce Risk Index of 911 Calls With Little Fuss, Unlike Seattle
By Amy Sundberg • Issue #69 • View online

Seattle News
The Seattle City Council’s final vote on the SPMA contract was delayed for a week to allow both CMs and community more time to understand the ramifications of this new contract. The CMs voted to approve this contract yesterday with an 8-0 vote (CM Sawant was not present.) You can read more about the new contract here.
The forum for the finalist candidates for OPA Director was changed from June 23 to June 8 with very little notice to the public. The Mayor’s Office didn’t tell CMs about the new forum date until late the preceding Friday, when such details were likely to slip through the cracks. After public complaint, the Mayor’s Office finally published a press release about the forum late on the day of June 7. People Power Washington has asked for the selection process to begin anew with greater community engagement. That being said, an announcement on the selected candidate is expected in early July.
At Tuesday’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting, CMs discussed SPD’s quarterly report on finances and overtime. SPD’s use of overtime is up, creating worries that the department will overspend their annual budget on overtime, something they have a history of doing. The bulk of overtime in the first quarter of the year was used for emphasis patrols, but as we move into the summer season, more overtime is typically used for big events. CMs asked questions related to the prioritization of officer hours and the possibility of transferring certain kinds of work to civilian workers.
We learned that SPD’s new scheduling and timekeeping software solution has run into implementation issues that have led SPD to decide not to deploy this solution after all, after spending many years working on this project. The original auditor’s report referencing this project came out, in fact, in 2016. SPD is now exploring a different software solution, and in the meantime continue with their abysmal timekeeping system. The SPD has also implemented a new call triage policy called Z-Disposition Clearing. Finally, 911 call response time is up.
CM Herbold announced that at the committee’s June 28 meeting, there will be a briefing on the next steps around the analysis of which 911 calls could be handled by alternative response. She said this report will be less about the outcome of the analysis and more focused on the process and who is involved and next steps. The length of time this analysis is taking is fascinating, particularly in light of the fact that the King County Auditor’s Office has already been able to create a risk index of 911 calls answered by the King County Sheriff’s Office. More on that in a bit.
Meanwhile, the City Council is also working on a new bill that would close a loophole in the police accountability system when complaints are lodged against the Police Chief; a substitute bill is expected to be introduced in an upcoming meeting. Will Casey’s article in The Stranger explains how the loophole played out following the 2020 protests:
What the OPA manual didn’t account for is what Mayor Durkan did next. Instead of following through on OPA’s recommendation to secure an outside investigator, Durkan did … nothing. By simply failing to act at all, she effectively covered up any alleged misconduct in which her police chief engaged for the rest of her term in office.
King County News
Also this week, the King County Auditor’s Office gave a presentation and delivered their report looking at racial disparities in arrests and use of force and looking into alternative response for King County.
In their work around alternative response, the Office produced their own risk index of 911 calls based on calls answered by the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) over the last few years. They determined that 58% of these calls fall into the lowest-risk category of call outcomes and that about 15% of calls could be answered by an alternative response. They studied alternative response programs in Denver, Phoenix, Austin, and Albuquerque to develop a list of best practices the programs have in common. King County is currently working to develop a pilot alternative response program.
Regarding racial disparities, KCSO only collects racial data on about 4% of its service calls, which is obviously insufficient. From the small data set available, Black people are more likely to be arrested and more likely to be subject to use of force. White officers are also much more likely to use force. You can read more about this here. The Auditor’s Office recommended that KCSO begin collecting and analyzing data on all calls for service where an officer stops someone, begging the question as to why this wasn’t already being done.
Washington State News
Last week in a landmark decision, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that race and ethnicity must be taken into account when the police stop someone. As David Gutman wrote in The Seattle Times:
The court also clarified state law to say police have seized a person if an objective observer would conclude that the person was not free to leave or refuse a request. But, the court wrote, that “objective observer” must be aware that discrimination and biases “have resulted in disproportionate police contacts, investigative seizures, and uses of force against Black, Indigenous, and other people of color.”
Recent Headlines
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Assistant police chief gets $1.5 million settlement after displaying Nazi symbols - The Washington Post
Eight weeks of therapy, plus some cash, can change the lives of violent men - The Washington Post
Special edition: California elections roundup
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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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