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The Fight Over a Seattle Alternative Response Pilot Continues

Notes from the Emerald City
The Fight Over a Seattle Alternative Response Pilot Continues
By Amy Sundberg • Issue #71 • View online

Seattle News
Yesterday morning Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Resources committee received their long-awaited update from the Mayor’s Office regarding the development of alternative responses in Seattle.
Amy Sundberg
Good morning, and welcome to Seattle's Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting. CM Mosqueda is excused from this meeting.
And the news, while not surprising, was not good. The Mayor’s Office continues to drag their feet on standing up any kind of pilot for alternative response like other similar cities have already done. Indeed, other cities’ alternative response have had time to launch pilots and begin to scale up their programs in the time it has taken Seattle to…string together a lot of empty words. The Mayor’s Office said they expect SPD’s risk management report any day now, and promised to share it with City Council very quickly…which turned out to mean in August, at least a full month after its expected receipt. CM Herbold asked for this to happen at the end of July instead.
Both CM Herbold and CM Lewis pushed multiple times for more urgency in this work, although their arguments seemed to have little visible impact on Senior Deputy Mayor Harrell and Director of Public Safety Andrew Myerberg. The white paper regarding standing up a third public safety department was once again referenced as being expected “by the end of the year”, with no apparent plans for any pilot program in the meantime. CM Lewis said he’d had a pilot priced out, and it would only cost $700k-$1m, which is a drop in the bucket of Seattle’s overall budget.
Council members also pushed for CSOs (Community Service Officers) to potentially be given the task of answering certain low-acuity 911 calls, at which point we learned the hiring pipeline for CSOs is apparently having difficulty. CM Lewis cautioned against giving the CSOs work that didn’t fit with their “culture” of being a police auxiliary, but CM Herbold shared the news that this culture has shifted since last year, and there is now more diversity of opinion within the CSO unit as to what their duties should entail and perhaps even where they might best be housed. Moving the CSOs out of SPD so they are able to develop their own culture separate from SPD matches more closely to what many advocates have been asking for when it comes to alternative response.
Meanwhile, while the Mayor’s Office has promised to work together with City Council’s Central Staff on these issues, it came out that the interdepartmental team (IDT) that would include Central Staff hasn’t been active, and they’re still working to put meeting dates on the calendar. You can read more about all these issues from Will Casey at The Stranger.
The meeting also featured a presentation on the new 988 behavioral crisis system, which launches on July 16. It is being handled by King County Behavioral Health and Crisis Connections, with opportunities for partnership with Seattle. They have a three step plan for implementing the 988 vision: first, making sure the state hotline is fielding 90% of calls by next year; next, that 80% have access to a rapid crisis response by 2025; and lastly that 80% have access to community-based crisis care by 2027. There has been some money allocated to help make this happen. However, the mobile crisis team, while in the process of being doubled, is still quite small, and one of the biggest identified gaps in the system right now is the lack of enough mental health crisis facilities, so this development of a continuum of behavioral health supports is going to take time.
Meanwhile, Initiative 135 for social housing collected enough signatures to go onto November’s ballot…hopefully. They need 26,500 signatures and were able to collect 29,000, which doesn’t give much buffer should some of those signatures prove to be invalid. Cross fingers! Unfortunately Washington State Initiative Measure No. 1922, which would have decriminalized personal drug possession and provided funding for additional prevention, treatment, and recovery services, did not collect enough signatures to make the ballot this year.
Finally, Publicola‘s Erica Barnett published an article with a gem of a headline this week: Times Columnist Wants Seattle to Have So Many Cops, They’ll Rush Across Town to Arrest IPhone Thieves.
Nationwide News
CBS released a news story this week that everyone is talking about. They reviewed US murder clearance rate statistics from the FBI and found that the rate for 2020 was at around 50%, its lowest rate in more than fifty years. Murders involving Black and Hispanic victims were much less likely to be solved than those involving white victims during this time. While the usual culprits of not enough police staffing and backlogged courts are blamed for this low rate, CBS’s story says that “police are also contending with a breakdown in trust between their officers and the communities they serve, a result of decades of tensions that spilled over during high-profile cases of police misconduct in recent years.”  
Recent Headlines
The Bright Side of SPD's Staffing Shortage - The Stranger
Seattle Might Soon Defund a Promising Police Alternative - The Stranger
The King County Jail knew these bunks were a suicide risk. And still, more people died | The Seattle Times
Seattle police officers won’t march in Pride Parade, frustrated chief says | 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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