A council discussion about whether to expand funding for the successful Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, which is understaffed and over capacity, was derailed Wednesday afternoon when deputy police chief Marc Garth Green defended SPD’s recent return to the old, widely discredited policy of targeting sex workers, rather than buyers, for arrests. (That story was reported by Crosscut.)
The exchange came after council member Teresa Mosqueda challenged claims that the city needed tools besides diversion, such as “enhanced probation,” to address “prolific offenders” because LEAD wouldn’t work for certain people. (Mosqueda’s point was that there’s no way to prove diversion doesn’t work for people who have never had the chance to enter a diversion program, and that the problem was funding, not lack of evidence that LEAD works).
I’ve transcribed much of the exchange, but here’s where it got heated:
Garth Green: We have people who are working the streets that aren’t necessarily substance abusers. They have homes. Some of them choose to do what they’re doing. [From the dais, Mosqueda can be heard saying, “No.”] We need to have some type of intervention with them, whether it be LEAD or something else, but we have to address these types of things. To simply go about doing the same thing over and over again becomes problematic. … We’ve had two homicides in the North Precinct on Aurora directly related to prostitution activities and we have to make that population safe as well. [At this point, Mosqueda tried to speak.] Please, ma’am. I firmly believe in LEAD. We should fund LEAD. All I’m saying is I need a lot of resources to deal with the complex problems that we have up there.
“We have people who are working the streets that aren’t necessarily substance abusers. They have homes. Some of them choose to do what they’re doing… That [knowledge] comes from my experience of actually working the street up there and talking to a young lady who specifically told me that she was there to make money and enjoyed it “—Seattle Police Department Deputy Chief Marc Garth Green
Mosqueda: You’re talking about people on Aurora making choices? The only people making a choice in terms of prostitution are the johns on Aurora who are stopping to see if people are willing to get in their car. Those folks who are working on the street are not making a daily choice to go out there. They are… sustaining themselves, their families, their kiddos. This is not a choice people are making, as in, they’re housed, they have all access to health services, and they feel economically stable. … If you’re basing referrals for arrests instead of to LEAD based on your assumption or gut or sense that somehow it was better to arrest them than to get them into LEAD, then I want to see the data.
I’d also like to see data that shows that people are making this choice, because absolutely, in my 15 years of working on this issue, from human trafficking and labor trafficking and standing up for workers’ rights, I have never been so shocked by such an assertion.
Garth Green: I appreciate that, councilwoman. And that comes from my experience of actually working the street up there and talking to a young lady who specifically told me that she was there to make money and enjoyed it and I still believe that that young lady had some problems—
Sawant: This is just unacceptable. Did you just say that that young lady enjoyed it? I mean—
Garth Green: That’s her words, not mine, but what I’d like to say—
Sawant: I don’t think you should be speaking for women at all, much less in the context of the worldwide statistics that the people who get into sex work primarily get into it because of financial constraints imposed on them by the system.
Later in the afternoon, SPD’s official Twitter account responded with a statement attributed to Garth Green, clarifying his “earlier remarks that I was unable to finish at City Council today.” The statement suggested that, contrary to his previous “she enjoyed it” claim, SPD considers all sex workers to be trafficked victims who may be safer behind bars.
“There is a reason we refer to those engaged in prostitution as High Risk Victims,” the SPD account said. “In our experience, victims are forced into prostitution through violence, deception, and other factors not of their choosing. Diversion options can be limited, and we may need to arrest them to disrupt the cycle of violence and abuse. For people trafficked in prostitution, jail can be a safer place than out on the street. That said, our primary enforcement focus will ALWAYS be those who profit from and support this form of human trafficking.”
Garth Green’s comments came in the middle of a presentation on LEAD by representatives from the budget office, the mayor’s office, and the police department, who were defending the mayor’s decision to effectively flatline LEAD’s funding in 2020. (The mayor’s office proposed a $288,000 increase, but Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard said that increase will be eaten up by rent increases and boosts to caseworker pay aimed at reducing turnover).
LEAD’s caseload continues to increase dramatically, but its funding has not, and by next year, the Public Defender Association estimates that its 19 caseworkers will be doing the work of 58 people. Hundreds of additional clients have been accepted into the program but have not been assigned a caseworker, and LEAD has effectively ended “community referrals” by community members who see someone who could benefit from the program. Daugaard said LEAD needs about $4.5 million in additional funding, conservatively, to keep up with the growth in referrals to the program through 2020
“What’s happening now is that the referrals aren’t even being made, because it’s kind of pointless to make a referral to nowhere,” Daugaard said.
LEAD is a collaboration between the PDA, local prosecutors and police, and neighborhood groups that diverts people committing low-level theft, drug, and prostitution-related crimes into social and health services instead of jail. “The goal of LEAD,” Daugaard said Wednesday, “is to reduce crime. That is its single goal.” Despite that mission, the city’s budget classifies LEAD as a homelessness program, and judges it by much the same criteria as it judges tiny house villages and shelters.
On Wednesday, city budget director Ben Noble said the mayor’s office hoped to see more “data” about whether the program is “successful at finding [clients] long-term housing.” Durkan’s homelessness advisor, Tess Colby, added that the city was interested in “data-driven investments and understanding what the value proposition is of everything we’re investing in,” suggesting that the city may move to the same kind of “performance-based contracting” for LEAD as it has for other human service contracts. Under performance-based contracting, the city can withhold part of service providers’ annual funding until they demonstrate that they are meeting their goals for moving clients into permanent housing.