Proposed Surveillance Tech Can Lead to Biased Policing

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Notes from the Emerald City
Proposed Surveillance Tech Can Lead to Biased Policing
By Amy Sundberg • Issue #81 • View online

Seattle News
There have been no budget meetings during this second week of Seattle’s budget season, as both CMs and the public analyze the proposed budget and consider its ramifications and any changes they’d like to see. The next opportunity for public comment is on Tuesday, October 11. There will be public comment at the beginning of the budget meeting beginning at 9:30am (sign-ups starting at 7:30am), AND the first public hearing, also for public comment related to the budget, will be that evening at 5pm (sign-ups starting at 3pm). You can give your public comment at both meetings either in person at City Hall or remotely.
Speaking of budget season, the Solidarity Budget will be having its virtual volunteer orientation tomorrow night, Thursday 10/6 at 6pm. You can sign up to participate here.
One of the more controversial line items of the proposed budget is the $1m allocated in SPD’s budget for ShotSpotter. Mayor Harrell has been a long-standing proponent for the technology, which places microphones throughout specific neighborhoods in order to pick up the sounds of gunfire. Not only would this increase SPD’s surveillance capacity in a more diverse and lower income neighborhood in Seattle, but its efficacy is also in question. The OIG in Chicago found that ShotSpotter rarely results in evidence that leads to evidence of a gun-related crime, and the presence of the technology changes police behavior; areas with a perceived higher frequency of ShotSpotter activity leads to the justification of more stops and more pat-downs during stops, aka biased policing. In addition, prosecutors in Chicago are having to withdraw evidence generated by the technology. It is perhaps no surprise that the cities of Charlotte and San Antonio have dropped use of this technology in past years, or that the city of Buffalo recently blocked its implementation.
If you ever wonder how effective public comment is, wonder no more! Apparently one public comment made by programmer Scott Shawcroft at a redistricting commission hearing, in which he suggested putting Magnolia in District 6 and Fremont in District 7, prompted the amendment discussed in this newsletter last week that puts all of Magnolia in one district and divides Fremont into THREE districts. The last public hearing for the redistricting commission in Seattle is this Saturday, October 8 from 10am-12pm. You can register to give public comment online here, where you can also get the relevant Zoom link, or alternately you can show up in person. If you’d like to support the Redistricting Justice for Seattle proposed map, you can find talking points here.
In the story that keeps giving, remember those pesky deleted text messages of our former Mayor Durkan? New forensic evidence found that 191 of her texts were MANUALLY DELETED. This is very different from previous statements that the missing text messages were simply due to a setting mysteriously set to delete texts after 30 days. In addition, six other city officials had “factory resets” performed on their phones during the relevant period in 2020. This new evidence could strongly impact current lawsuits against the city.
The SPD announced they fired Officer Andrei Constantin, who took to Twitter to make fun of protesters and victims of police violence, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and local activist Summer Taylor, who was killed while protesting on I-5. Constantin had racked up at least nine other OPA complaints during his tenure at SPD, which began in April of 2016.
At the Council Briefing on September 26, CM Herbold announced that SFD has been doing an analysis of calls they respond to that can lead to violence. The analysis suggested an automatic joint response of SPD officers escorting SFD personnel to both overdose and seizure calls, as patients can be unaware of their surroundings and have an initial violent reaction after receiving NARCAN or coming out of a seizure. Along with this near-term change, the Joint Safety Committee is considering other recommendations along these lines.
King County News
Budget season has also begun in King County, and now is the time for you to email your King County council members about your budget priorities. People Power Washington has a script for you to use if you are so inclined. You can find the King County budget schedule, including opportunities to make public comment, here.
We conclude today’s newsletter on a somber note. Erica C. Barnett recently did an investigative piece on the King County youth jail, which is well worth a read. While the occupancy rate of the jail is rising and the number of staff is falling, the jail frequently uses solitary confinement for its juvenile occupants:
King County officials are aware that keeping kids in their cells is a problem, but the use of the practice has been escalating. In July, there were 13 days when kids were locked in their cells between 18 and 20 hours a day because of short staffing at the jail. Additionally, an independent monitor’s report released in May found a “significant increase” in the number of times youth were put IN “restrictive housing” (solitary confinement) because of a risk of “imminent and significant physical harm to the youth or others,” along with a spike in the length of this form of confinement; in the first quarter of this year, 41 kids were put in restrictive housing for an average of 6 hours per session.
We have kids in King County who have already experienced the trauma that resulted in them being in jail in the first place who are now having their trauma compounded by being locked into their cells for 18 to 20 hours per day. While the County has convened an advisory committee to make recommendations for how to phase out youth incarceration, little progress has been made thus far, which is concerning giving the urgency and gravity of their mandate.
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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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