Category: Police

Dear Mayor Durkan: A Letter From a City Employee

Editor’s note: The writer of this letter requested anonymity in order to protect their job at the city of Seattle. This letter has been very lightly edited for style.

I am a City employee. I am white. And I am disgusted by Mayor Durkan and Seattle City Council. I write to you anonymously, as my City employer has recently provided guidance that we employees are not to speak with media, and I firmly believe that my job would be in jeopardy were I to attach my name.

This week, amidst the backdrop of protests across the country related to police abuse of force and the disparate impact of this unchecked force on communities of color, particularly Black Americans, Mayor Jenny Durkan stood in front of protestors in Seattle and sought to draw some parallel between the experience of her Irish ancestors and that of Black Americans. This is not the first time she has evidenced a total lack of understanding, appreciation, or humility as it relates to communities of color.

Here, the story is familiarly white and dominant—that the savior (Durkan) blessed an undeserving African American (Best), not because she had earned it, but to placate a protesting minority community.  Gratitude should flow.

I was an employee at the Seattle Police Department the day that Mayor Durkan announced her appointment of Carmen Best to Chief of Police, following a botched selection process conducted in secrecy that left final decision-making in the hands of unaccountable actors selected by the mayor, with no oversight. Following an uproar from the community—largely rooted in the racial implications—after Best was eliminated from consideration for unknown reasons, Durkan reversed course and not only agreed to reconsider Best, but appointed her to the permanent position in August 2018.

Beware the framing of this as a win, when in fact the process itself was so broken that it did more harm than good. Had the process been transparent, legitimate, and competent, Best—a 26-year veteran to the force, a Black woman—would have been lauded and rewarded for her very real achievements. Instead, she became Chief of Police with a permanent asterisk attached to her promotion —not because she didn’t deserve it, but because white dominant culture moved her through a flawed process that humiliated her and eroded trust in the legitimacy of that process, while also reinforcing racist tropes that the success of communities of color comes only at the benevolent hands of a white savior. Here, the story is familiarly white and dominant—that the savior (Durkan) blessed an undeserving African American (Best), not because she had earned it, but to placate a protesting minority community.  Gratitude should flow.

No white mayor of any major city, having once been a federal prosecutor, has lived in any space devoid of privilege.

I worked for the City when the mayor nominated Jason Johnson to direct the Human Services Department, and then withdrew his nomination amidst a surge of grievances expressed by department employees and City council members that the process had been flawed, and carried with it serious racial implications.  Again, the mayor evinced a tone deafness, responding by installing Jason as an interim director indefinitely, as if her personal pride were more important than the ongoing trauma woven into the fabric American racism. And, as leadership under the interim director has borne out, promoting people unqualified to the challenges of the times ensures a legacy of destruction and oppression, as they, in turn, preside over the hiring of more people unprepared to lead on these issues.

As a City employee, I have sat in numerous rooms when the mayor has mentioned the fact that she was the first out lesbian federal prosecutor in the United States in response to direct questions about how she plans to address the very real concerns of institutional racism in the City’s administrative, social, and political structures. No white mayor of any major city, having once been a federal prosecutor, has lived in any space devoid of privilege.    Continue reading “Dear Mayor Durkan: A Letter From a City Employee”

Another Day of Protests, Small Concessions from the City, and Calls for Systemic Change in Seattle

Community activist and former mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver speaks at a rally in the Central District while two people film on their phones.

Protests against police brutality in Seattle have produced multiple lists of concrete demands from activists on the ground, the leader of the city’s civil rights department, and the three organizational pillars of the city’s police accountability structure. And while action from the city itself has been minimal—nightly curfews ended yesterday, police officers will display their badge number, and cops will stop using tear gas against protesters for 30 days—the protesters are far from done.

It’s hard to see the big picture while events are unfolding. We don’t have the benefit of hindsight or distance, and no one—even reporters with five streaming windows open on their laptops—can be everywhere at once. With that in mind, here are some snapshots of the last two days in Seattle.

• Mayor Jenny Durkan received significant credit for lifting a citywide curfew that was originally put in place at 5pm on May 30, but behind the scenes, the city council may have forced her hand. On Wednesday evening, the council was preparing a motion to lift the curfew on their own, and Durkan reportedly got wind of this information. Shortly after 7pm, Durkan lifted the curfew, saying that she made the decision after meeting with community leaders who told her they didn’t want anyone to be arrested for violating curfew. In fact, the community groups’ demands included the release of anyone arrested during the protests, including but not limited to anyone arrested for violating curfew.

The somewhat last-minute (or last-two-hours) decision to grant a minor concession to protesters was of a piece with Durkan and Chief Best’s announcement yesterday afternoon that they would change the policy on “mourning badges”—black bands that Seattle officers use to cover their badge numbers to mourn fallen officers, in this case a state trooper and Bainbridge Island police officer who died in March and April, respectively—so that the public could identify officers by their badge numbers, not just by their last name and first initial.

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The change to the mourning-band policy happened overnight, after both Best and Durkan said repeatedly that it could not “happen overnight.” Nonetheless, the change is a change in policy, not in legislation, so the council may choose to change the law itself to require that officers display both names and badge numbers, not just last names and first initials.

Durkan attempted to deflect criticism for the city’s motion to terminate a sustainment plan established as part of the federal consent decree, saying repeatedly that she did not support, and would not seek, the termination of the consent decree. However, the motion to terminate was a step toward just that. Yesterday, city attorney Pete Holmes withdrew the motion in response to police actions during the protests. Durkan has not spoken in detail about that decision, and her name was not on the announcement.

• The mayor made a small concession on the use of tear gas against demonstrators—she’s banning it for 30 days so that the Community Police Commission, Office of Police Accountability, and Office of Inspector General can review the use of tear gas and other chemical weapons, such as pepper spray, and make policy recommendations.

Those three groups, however, had already expressed their unanimous opinion that the city should stop using tear gas, full stop—asking the mayor and police chief Friday morning to “stop using CS gas, commonly known as tear gas” and calling it “a serious and indiscriminate use of force.” In a letter elaborating on their announcement, the three groups noted the adverse health impacts among people exposed to tear gas and to note that its use in warfare is banned by international convention.

A partial view of the crowd at Friday’s rally and march in the Central District. More photos available on Instagram @ericacbarnett.

 

The CPC asked the city to ban the use of blast balls, pepper spray, “and other projectiles” during demonstrations back in 2016. At a press conference on Friday, both Durkan and Best said that they were not aware of these recommendations, which were covered in the Seattle Times.

Later in the day, Office for Civil Rights director Mariko Lockhart—a Durkan appointee—sent an open letter to the city’s race and social justice “change teams” calling on the mayor to “immediately halt the use of militaristic law enforcement against demonstrators”; cut the police budget and “invest in community infrastructure within Black and Brown communities”; and stop sweeping homeless encampments and “shift funding away from the law enforcement component of the Navigation Team and invest more deeply in outreach, support services, and preventive strategies.

The leaders of the of the city’s Race and Social Justice Initiative Change Teams, as well as other groups representing Black and brown city of Seattle employees, are also drafting letters that will call for immediate changes to police use of force against demonstrators and significant longer-term changes to the way the city holds police accountable for violence against civilians.

• The mayor has often taken a defensive tone in responding to complaints about police brutality, the use of military-style weapons against large crowds of peaceful protesters, and requests for relatively minor policy changes like the use of mourning bands that cover badge numbers. For example, Durkan has emphasized the fact that the federal judge overseeing the consent decree “approved the crowd management plan” for back in 2017, “before I took office.”

Similarly, a letter from Durkan to city staff today recalled the mayor’s comments earlier that people “apparently” think that cops should display their badge numbers in addition to their last names and first initials. After centering her comments, as she has consistently, on large, systemic national issues (rather than the specific Seattle issues around which the protests have coalesced), Durkan wrote, “While Chief Best and I each have worked for decades for greater police accountability and a more just criminal justice system, we now hold positions where holding us accountable is also critical.” It’s the non-apology apology of conciliatory statements: We hear your concerns, but perhaps you didn’t realize that, actually, we’re on the same side.

• Late in the day, the leadership of the 43rd District Democrats created a petition calling on Durkan to resign, saying that she “has repeatedly used her powers to declare curfews that infringed on the First Amendment rights of protesters to peacefully assemble” and “failed to implement meaningful police reform to address police violence, specifically against Black and Brown communities (Durkan is up for reelection next year, assuming she decides to run). At this writing, it has more than 1,300 signatures.

Turning Points and Sticking Points in Seattle’s Protests Against Police Violence

The Community Police Commission met yesterday to discuss the recent actions by Seattle police during protests against police brutality.

This post originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

Seattle’s protests against police brutality, which began after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, continued into a sixth night on Wednesday as crowds moved throughout the day from City Hall in downtown Seattle to the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct on Capitol Hill. And while it might seem as though little had changed since the night before, when police officers released tear gas and unloaded pepper spray, rubber bullets, and flash grenades on a crowd of hundreds of peaceful protesters, several things were materially different.

No, Mayor Jenny Durkan and Seattle’s police chief, Carmen Best, hadn’t budged on their commitment to a version of the protests in which a few “bad people” throw objects at police, forcing them to deploy chemical weapons indiscriminately against large crowds. If anything, the list of projectiles that the police claim have been deployed against them only grew throughout the day and now includes urine, feces, “cans of food” and a fire extinguisher.

No, the mayor and police chief have not backed down from their contention that asking officers to remove “mourning bands” that conceal their badge numbers is something that “can’t happen overnight. Asked about widespread calls to end the practice, Best responded, “we’re not going to do that right today,” but said SPD would come up with some way to make badge numbers visible in due time. During the meeting and throughout the day, Best herself wore a mourning band in the center of her badge, sending what could be seen as a message of solidarity to officers who continue to wear them during the protests.

When Durkan tried to refute complaints that she cried over broken windows downtown, but not about police violence in her own city, saying, “I cry for the generations that have been dispossessed…” longtime CPC member Rev. Harriet Walden cut her off.

And no, they wouldn’t commit to stop using tear gas and other chemical weapons against protesters or to try to focus their attention on the handful of people who are causing trouble. Although Durkan lifted the 9:00 curfew, which was supposed to be in effect every night until Saturday, by tweet at 7:05pm (so much for “don’t believe what you read on social media”), she and Best pointedly refused to commit the city to no longer using these weapons against protesters. At the CPC meeting Wednesday morning, Best said, “At the moment we don’t have another tactic to disperse large crowds when we have people throwing rocks and bottles. …I just don’t have an answer better than what we’ve got at our fingertips.”

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During this unprecedented time of crisis, your support for truly independent journalism is more critical than ever before. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation supported entirely by contributions from readers like you.

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But there were some indications throughout the day that changes may be on their way, whether Durkan wants them or not. The first came at a morning meeting of the Community Police Commission, which was created to address unconstitutional policing in 2012, when Durkan was repeatedly cut off by commission members and staff when she attempted to use her time to speak in lofty terms about the ways in which the nation—not the city—had failed Black and brown Americans. When Durkan tried to refute complaints that she cried over broken windows downtown, but not about police violence in her own city, saying, “I cry for the generations that have been dispossessed…” longtime CPC member Rev. Harriet Walden cut her off.

“We are here because Mr. Floyd, bless his heart, has made it into heaven by being murdered,” but also to address what is happening in Seattle right now, Rev. Walden said. The protests against police brutality aren’t just about lofty American ideals or generations of institutional racism in America, Walden said; they are also about “how the officers escalated” their tactics against lawful, peaceful protesters, by responding to a few thrown bottles by tear-gassing entire residential neighborhoods and wrestling umbrellas away from demonstrators trying to protect themselves from pepper spray.

Roxana Garcia, a CPC staffer, said the commission has repeatedly pushed for reforms to the way police officers deal with civilians, but that those efforts have “been halted for the last three years by city leadership… So I encourage you all to start voting these folks out.” A few moments later, Garcia got specific. “If I can give you all a name, her name is Mayor Jenny Durkan.”

The second sign that something in the air had shifted came when Durkan agreed to come outside and address the crowd that had gathered to protest police brutality and present her and the chief with a list of demands. Durkan got off on the wrong foot with the crowd right away by drawing a parallel between her own Irish ancestors and that of enslaved Africans, saying, “I know, as mayor, that I have enormous privilege, and that my ancestors came here from Ireland to seek freedom, but that many black Americans’ ancestors came here in shackles.”After a brief speech about the need for systemic change at the national level, Durkan briefly responded to a question about mourning bands and went inside, followed by raucous boos.

Roxana Garcia, a CPC staffer, said the commission has repeatedly pushed for reforms to the way police officers deal with civilians, but that those efforts have “been halted for the last three years by city leadership… So I encourage you all to start voting these folks out.” A few moments later, Garcia got specific. “If I can give you all a name, her name is Mayor Jenny Durkan.”

Moments later, Oliver told the crowd that the mayor hadn’t addressed any of the group’s three demands—defunding police, reinvesting the money into communities, and the release of people arrested during the protests. “In fact, she told us about how her family immigrated to the US while black people came in chains!”

The third possible turning point came late in the afternoon, when city attorney Pete Holmes announced that the city would withdraw its motion to terminate a “sustainment plan” under the federal consent decree that the police department has been under since 2012, a step that would have begun a path toward lifting federal oversight. At the CPC meeting, Durkan insisted that the motion had nothing to do with lifting the consent decree—even accusing an attorney for the commission, David Perez, of lying when he Durkan was “trying to end the consent decree—but by this afternoon, her tone had changed.

In a press release after Holmes announced his decision, Durkan said, “I oppose being released from the Consent Decree at this time,” a position she said she had “discussed with” Holmes before releasing her statement. The city’s reversal, though somewhat technical, is a clear concession to police reform advocates who have disagreed with Durkan’s contention that “Seattle police officers have become a national leader in policing and de-escalation with a commitment to true and lasting reform,” as she put it when the city filed the motion to lift the sustainment plan last month.

Continue reading “Turning Points and Sticking Points in Seattle’s Protests Against Police Violence”

Durkan Praises Police As Tear Gas Engulfs City

The lens of crisis shifts so quickly now that it can be hard to keep everything in our heads at once. Last week, the city held a five-and-a-half-hour hearing on the injustice of our city’s policy toward its homeless residents, which includes pushing them from place to place if they do not “accept” a specific shelter bed on a specific day—a one-size-fits-all policy that is especially inept at responding to the conditions of vulnerable people in the middle of a nationwide public health crisis.

Over the weekend and today, and almost certainly tomorrow and the rest of the week as well, the city and nation have focused our attention on another crisis that, like the criminalization of homelessness, has racism and dehumanization at its core: Police violence against black and brown Americans.

The cameras don’t look away, even when political leaders do.

The protests against the murder of George Floyd are multifaceted and raise real questions about whether cities have the right to dictate the “proper” way to protest, as well as legitimate concerns that a movement for justice (“peaceful,” as that term is defined by law enforcement, or not) has been hijacked by outside forces on the right or left. But they also may be an inflection point (it seems far too optimistic to talk of turning points) in the debate over the role of police in Seattle and other cities, and to what extent cities should allow police to act with impunity, and unquestioned, for behavior that any rational person would consider unreasonable: Putting a knee on a young man’s neck, or spraying mace indiscriminately into a mostly peaceful crowd, or covering up badge numbers with rubber tape on the grounds that it is an inviolable “tradition.”

This weekend, the city described young white men showing up in Seattle from elsewhere bent on sowing “chaos” and destruction, using projectiles, Molotov cocktails, and “frozen water bottles” to attack police. By today, those young men had morphed into “thousands of people out there with nothing but ill intent,” as Best put it, and their weapons had evolved into huge backpacks full of the aforementioned projectiles along with rocks, “urine, and feces.”

This afternoon, Mayor Jenny Durkan and her police chief, Carmen Best (and fire chief Harold Scoggins, who always looks and sounds like he knows he isn’t going to be quoted at these things) stood up and intoned the same lines they have been reciting all weekend, repeated with a bit more fervor and flourish. A protest by “peaceful people” of color and allies got hijacked by outside forces, “young white men,” probably right-wing or perhaps left-wing, “bent on destruction and chaos,” with “nothing but ill intent” in their hearts. (The phrase “ill intent” was repeated so often that it started to sound more like a mantra than a talking point.) The nightly curfews, initially imposed with less than 15 minutes’ notice, are meant to “take the lawful people off the street” and are necessary, night after night, to “protect public health and safety.” Looting, rioting, fighting back when police throw tear gas canisters and flash bangs indiscriminately into crowds: “This is not what people trying to express their opinions do,” Best said. “This is what criminals do. So we have to differentiate between the two.”

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If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and supporting, The C Is for Crank.

As the protests have stretched into their second week, the rhetoric from the mayor’s office and the police department has grown more pitched and baroque. This weekend, the city described young white men showing up in Seattle from elsewhere bent on sowing “chaos” and destruction, using projectiles, Molotov cocktails, and “frozen water bottles” to attack police. By today, those young men had morphed into “thousands of people out there with nothing but ill intent,” as Best put it, and their weapons had evolved into huge backpacks full of the aforementioned projectiles along with rocks, “urine, and feces.”

Mourning bands, black bands that many officers placed over their badge numbers, making them harder to identify, had evolved from something people might not be aware of (“Google it,” Durkan said this weekend, helpfully spelling it out: “M-O-U-R-N-I-N-G bands”) to a tradition so hallowed and ingrained that it was actually offensive for the public to suggest that concealing badge numbers during a protest about police accountability might send the wrong message. Durkan, exasperated, insisted, “There was no attempt by anyone to cover badge numbers” and called the very existence of badge numbers on officers’ badges “a fallback and in some ways an unnecessary redundancy” to the first-initial, last name identification on officers’ name tags.

Herbold, who heads up the council’s public safety committee, was hardly the only council member who raised concerns about the behavior of police this week, or who will be demanding answers from the mayor and police chief about why police acted with such apparent indiscretion during protests against police violence. (One reasonable answer might be that they felt empowered to do so.)

Durkan even expressed surprise when a reporter asked about reports (described, videotaped and posted on social media by hundreds of witnesses for anyone to see) that officers had fired tear gas, flash grenades, and pepper spray indiscriminately into crowds that were mostly peaceful, saying that she would follow up with city council member Lisa Herbold, who had spoken earlier in the day about witnessing many such instances herself over the weekend. “I don’t know the facts of the case that she’s indicating… but we’ll reach out to the council member to find out what she’s concerned about,” Durkan said. Continue reading “Durkan Praises Police As Tear Gas Engulfs City”

Two More Encampment Removals as Council Prepares to Consider New Restrictions on Sweeps

This post originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

People wheeling suitcases, lugging hand baskets, and pushing grocery carts trailed slowly out of a large homeless encampment on South Weller Street Thursday morning, passing through police barricades and a crowd of onlookers as the city’s Navigation Team removed an encampment that, as recently as last weekend, included nearly 70 tents. About 30 police were on hand to escort an estimated 36 residents away from the area.

The sweep was the second in two days by the Navigation Team, which is led by the Human Services Department. The team has touted its success at getting people to accept referrals to shelter from the two sites, plus another one at the Ballard Commons that was swept two weeks ago, through advance outreach and during the actual encampment removal. 

Officially, sweeps are no longer happening. According to a March order by the city, “all encampment removal operations have been suspended” during the COVID-19 outbreak unless the encampment constitutes an “emergency” and there are appropriate shelter beds available for every person living there.

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If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and supporting, The C Is for Crank.

In reality, sweeps are still happening, and opponents believe they are ramping up. The city has acknowledged removing four encampments during the pandemic—the one in Ballard, one at South King Street on Wednesday, and two, including today’s, outside the Navigation Center. The justifications for these removals have varied widely, and not all of them fall under the criteria the city gave as examples of “extreme circumstances” in the March announcement. At a city council meeting on Monday, council member Lisa Herbold, the council’s longtime Navigation Team watchdog, said that “there seems to be continued divergence between what [people at HSD] say the policy is and what it is that the Navigation Team is actually doing.

In a blog post, the Human Services Department said it referred 88 people to shelter from the two locations between April 1 and today. As of last weekend, the two sites combined had around 80 tents, and dozens of people were walking around, so it’s unclear whether people who received referrals simply returned to the encampment. Team director Tara Beck, who was on site at both removals, said the team has offered shelter to every person living at the encampments.

Beck, who was on site at both removals, said the team has offered shelter to every person living at the encampments.

“I can guarantee that everyone here, we’ve explored shelter with them, and if they wanted shelter, we’ve explored transportation barriers,” Beck said. “Our job is to offer, and the person’s job is to accept. We do our part and we have to trust that the person is doing theirs. If they’re choosing to walk away, they were not interested in the services that we were able to offer.” Beck said the city is not providing actual transportation to shelter right now because of the need for social distancing in vehicles operated by city staff; instead, she said, they can call an Uber to transport people to shelter.

But several people I spoke to at both encampments said that they were not offered shelter, or, if they were, that it did not fit with their needs. One man who was helping a friend move his stuff across the street during Wednesday’s sweep at South King Street, who identified himself as “Smiley” Dixon, said he had been living outdoors for three years and had never been offered shelter. His friend, Jacob Davis, said that the Navigation Team had “come through to let us know that they’re going to remove us,” but that “no one offered us anything.” 

When I talked to Davis and Dixon, they were standing on South Jackson Street, exactly one block away from the encampment where Davis had been staying. Davis called the team’s claim to have offered shelter to every person “a bald-faced lie”—not that he would go “anywhere near” a mass shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I don’t want to get the virus,” he said.

Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control says that cities should not remove encampments during the COVID-19 pandemic unless every person is offered “individual housing” such as a hotel room, rather than mass shelter, where disease can spread easily from person to person. King County has been following this guidance by moving people from existing shelters into hotel rooms, a strategy King County Executive Dow Constantine has credited for the fact that every person moved from the Downtown Emergency Service Center’s downtown Seattle shelter into a Red Lion hotel in Renton had tested negative for the virus. 

“That clearly would not have been the case if they had been left in the close quarters of a congregate shelter,” Constantine said during the first meeting of the Regional Homelessness Authority governing board on Thursday.

In contrast, the city is only offering shelter beds, not hotels or housing. “The first thing we did, based on CDC guidance, was to de-intensify our shelters and set up hundreds of of new beds throughout our city,” Durkan said at the RHA board meeting, referring to community centers and other facilities that have opened up so that shelters can place se existing (not new) beds further apart.

Davis said he had been moved by the Navigation Team or police “more than 100 times” in four years, and “I’ve never been offered housing.” Dixon added: “I would go to any hotel.”  Continue reading “Two More Encampment Removals as Council Prepares to Consider New Restrictions on Sweeps”

Morales Proposes Eliminating Most Encampment Sweeps, Mayor’s Office Says Huge New “Shelter Tent” Is Coming, and More

Two of the beds the city is counting as “temporary housing” for homeless people, at an isolation/quarantine facility for COVID patients

1. City council member Tammy Morales plans to introduce a budget proviso that would restrict the Navigation Team’s ability to remove encampments that are not true hazards or obstructions. The proposal, a proviso on the adopted 2020 budget, would bar the city from spending money on sweeps except in a few specific circumstances.

The city has suspended most encampment removals during the COVID epidemic, but several homeless advocates expressed concern this week that the city plans to aggressively sweep encampments as soon as the crisis is over. Prior to the pandemic, the team, made up of police officers, outreach workers, and a cleanup crew, was removing most encampments without notice or mandatory outreach, thanks to a loophole in the city’s encampment rules. Although these rules, known as Multi-Departmental Administrative Rules, or MDARs, require the team to provide 72 hours’ notice and an offer of shelter to every encampment resident, the Navigation Team has gotten around this requirement by designating the overwhelming majority of encampments as “obstructions,” which allows them to remove encampments with no notice or outreach.

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During this unprecedented time of crisis, your support for truly independent journalism is more critical than ever before. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation supported entirely by contributions from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job.

Every supporter who maintains or increases their contribution during this difficult time helps to ensure that I can keep covering the issues that matter to you, with empathy, relentlessness, and depth. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104.

Thank you for reading, and supporting, The C Is for Crank.

Morales’ proposal would allow the Navigation Team to remove encampments only under a narrow set of circumstances. For example, if an encampment obstructed the entrance to a building; presented an immediate fire hazard; or was located inside a children’s play area, it could be removed without warning. A draft of the bill lists six situations when a removal would be justified.

Morales says the Navigation Team “is using this obstruction language as an excuse, really, to remove people, and so we are trying to limit the funds that can be used to remove encampments. … [Withholding funds] is the only leverage we seem to have. People have been calling on the executive branch since longer than Jenny Durkan’s been there to stop this process, and that message doesn’t seem to be getting through.”

2. During a presentation about the challenges the city faces in opening parks restrooms and standing up portable toilets for people experiencing homelessness during the COVID crisis, deputy mayor Casey Sixkiller repeated what has become one of the mayor’s favorite talking points: “We recently announced our partnership with the county in creating 1,900 new spaces” for people experiencing homelessness, he said. Sixkiller’s comments came shortly after street outreach workers and advocates described the situation on the ground, where thousands of homeless people without access to shelter or public restrooms lack places to use the restroom or wash their hands. Sixkiller said the new beds were part of the city’s efforts to “[move] people inside so hygiene can be accessed there.”

When council members pointed out that this number is not correct—the 1,900 spaces are mostly hospital and isolation/quarantine beds for people who are sick, and the 700 “new” shelter spaces are existing spaces that have been relocated during the crisis—Sixkiller called their objections “semantic.”

When council members pointed out that this number is not correct—the 1,900 spaces, which the mayor’s office has also described as “temporary housing,” are mostly hospital and isolation/quarantine beds for people who are sick, and the 700 “new” shelter spaces are existing spaces that have been relocated during the crisis—Sixkiller called their objections “semantic.” “The reality is that there are 1,900 beds coming online,” he said. King County’s website is the most accurate guide to these 1,893 beds, some of which may not yet be online; they include about 700 existing shelter spaces that have been relocating to achieve social distancing, plus more than 1,000 hospital beds for people in isolation, quarantine, or recovery.

3. SIxkiller also said the city planned to open a “shelter tent for 180 individuals” in partnership with the Salvation Army. Homeless advocates who were participating in, and watching, the meeting said that this was the first they had heard of such a tent, and it was unclear whether the new tent would be for redistribution or an entirely new shelter. (I’ve asked the city for additional details about the tent). Up and down the West Coast, cities are beginning to move away from congregate shelters, which put people in close proximity, with people sleeping head to foot on mats or cots six feet apart and sharing air and mass restroom facilities. California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced this week that the state would pay for 15,000 motel rooms for people experiencing homelessness, and the city of Los Angeles plans to pay for 15,000 more.

A common objection to putting homeless people in hotel or motel rooms is that they need high levels of “staffing” to supervise them, a claim that advocates say is not true for most homeless people, who are capable of caring for themselves but lack the money to pay sky-high rents. Another objection, which came up at a county briefing on shelter and behavioral health on Wednesday, is that hotels aren’t interested. Some homeless advocates, including Seattle University law professor and Homeless Rights Advocacy Project director Sara Rankin, have suggested that the city or county should put out a request for qualifications to hotels and see who bites. “Right now [the Downtown Emergency Service Center] is trying to reach out to hotel and motel facilities themselves, which shouldn’t be DESC’s problem. That should be something that the city is streamlining,” Rankin says.

Human Services Director Resigns Days After Contentious Meeting Leaves Navigation Team’s Future in Question

Jason Johnson, the embattled acting director of the Seattle Human Services Division, announced his resignation in a letter to staffers Friday morning—two days after an off-the-rails presentation to the city council about the work of the encampment-clearing Navigation Team. Johnson will leave the city in June. Navigation Team operations manager August Drake-Ericson, who presented at that meeting alongside Johnson and team director Tara Beck, announced her retirement shortly after Johnson’s resignation announcement went out. The high-level departures come on top of a wave of resignation notices within HSD’s homelessness division, which recently started offering unprecedented incentives to keep staffers from leaving.

I first reported the news of Johnson’s resignation on Twitter.

Johnson’s tenure as HSD director has been contentious. As deputy HSD director under former mayor Ed Murray, Johnson oversaw the implementation of Pathways Home, a realignment of the city’s homelessness spending toward “rapid rehousing” rather than temporary shelter or transitional housing, a framework that has ended up being more theory than practice. Also as deputy, Johnson oversaw the department’s shift toward performance-based contracting, in which agencies do not receive full funding unless they meet performance goals. And he oversaw the city’s new investments in enhanced shelters—shelters that offer some combination of 24/7 access, storage, services, and a lack of barriers such as sex segregation and sobriety requirements.

Johnson came under fire from the beginning of his tenure as acting director. As soon as Durkan sent his name to the city council for nomination (nine months after she tapped him for the job), HSD employees raised objections, saying he was not responsive to lower-level staff and requesting that the city do an open search process for a new director. (Employees from the homelessness division, in particular, were unhappy under Johnson and his predecessor Catherine Lester’s leadership; according to internal surveys, the number of people in the division who felt unappreciated and unacknowledged increased under their tenure.) During his appointment process, council members grilled Johnson on allegations of harassment and intimidation within the department, as well as whether he would make decisions independent of political direction from Mayor Jenny Durkan; after it became clear that he did not have the council votes to win nomination, Durkan withdrew his nomination, and he has served on an interim basis ever since.

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Under Johnson’s leadership, the Navigation Team, which removes encampments from parks and public spaces, shifted its focus away from its nominal purpose—navigating homeless people to shelter and housing—to simply removing encampments whenever they pop up in parks, on rights-of-way, and in other public spaces, with no advance notice or offers of shelter or other services. As the team’s latest quarterly report revealed, the Navigation Team now declares virtually all the encampments it encounters  exempt from all of the once-standard notice and outreach requirements established in 2017, by deeming then “obstructions”—a designation that allows the team to remove them right away. As Johnson articulated on Wednesday, HSD considers any encampment or tent in any park to automatically constitute an “obstruction,” whether it is actually obstructing anyone’s ability to use the park or not. In the last quarter, the team provided advance notice and outreach to just 11 encampments, compared to 292 encampments that were deemed “obstructions” or “hazards” and removed without warning. This is likely among many reasons that only a tiny fraction of the team’s contacts with people living in encampments  lead to shelter.

At the same time, the total number of encampment removals has continued to escalate; in the last quarter of 2019, according to a memo by council central staff, the number of encampment removals doubled compared to one year earlier. This escalation corresponded with annual increases in the size of the team: Over two years, the team ballooned from 16 members, including eight outreach workers from nonprofits that specialize in case management, to 38, which allowed the team to remove encampments seven days a week. Also over that period, contracted outreach workers from REACH (Evergreen Treatment Services) stopped participating in encampment removals, citing the damage their participation caused to their relationships with the vulnerable people they serve, which prompted the city to hire two in-house “system navigators’ to be on site during encampment sweeps. The Seattle Police Department also trained 100 bike and Community Police Team officers to remove encampments directly, vastly increasing the number of police officers who can remove encampments without any participation from outreach workers.

Johnson’s departure (and Drake-Ericson’s, for that matter) leaves the future of the Navigation Team in question. Although most of the functions of the homelessness division are moving over to the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority over the course of 2020, the city insisted on keeping the Navigation Team in-house, moving it to another division within HSD (likely Youth and Family Services.) The council, which has been reluctant to rein in Durkan’s yearly expansion of the team, may finally balk this year, as council member Teresa Mosqueda takes over as head of the budget process.

And whoever Durkan nominates to replace Johnson should expect intense scrutiny. As new council member Tammy Morales—a former member of the city’s Human Rights Commission who opposes encampment sweeps—put it, “Seattle deserves leadership who listens, even when they might not like what we have to say, and it’s incumbent on this city’s leadership to include the community for HSD’s next director in the hiring process.”

Police Lieutenant Had Navigation Team Haul Her Personal Trash

Trash piled up for pickup at an encampment next to I-5.

Seattle Police Department Lieutenant Sina Ebinger, the SPD lead for the city’s encampment-clearing Navigation Team, directed Cascadia Cleaning and Removal, a city contractor that removes trash from encampment sites, to haul away bulky items from her house over the weekend of February 8-9, the C Is for Crank has learned. According to several sources, Lt. Ebinger asked Cascadia staffers to pick up some large items from her house because it was “on the way” to where they were going.

In a statement, the Human Services Department said, “The Human Services Department (HSD) and Navigation Team leadership are aware of an alleged incident involving two HSD and SPD Navigation Team members. Within hours of becoming aware of the incident, HSD notified SPD, which forwarded the matter to the Office of Police Accountability to review. In addition, HSD Human Resources will be reviewing the matter to ensure all proper protocols and policies are in place.”

“The OPA will be responsible for determining if any policy violations occurred and will provide any disciplinary recommendations to Chief Best.”—SPD

Separately, an SPD spokesman said that “following Seattle Police Department policy, we have forwarded the alleged incident to the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) for further review. The OPA will be responsible for determining if any policy violations occurred and will provide any disciplinary recommendations to Chief Best. Until that time we will not have further comment.”

OPA has confirmed that a complaint was filed about the incident. Anne Bettesworth, OPA’s deputy director of public affairs, says the police-accountability agency is “conducting a preliminary investigation” into the incident, but said she couldn’t comment further on the open case.

Last year, the Navigation Team expanded to seven-day operations, allowing the team to post 72-hour removal notices and clear trash on weekends. The amount of trash the Navigation Team picks up each quarter is one of the performance metrics it reports to the city council; more “tonnage,” under this metric, means better performance.

HSD would not say whether Lt. Ebinger remained on the Navigation Team, and did not specify what items Ebinger had Cascadia haul away from her home.

Cascadia is one of eight companies the city contracts with to pick up garbage, bulky items, and hazardous materials at homeless encampments throughout the city; according to their most recent contract, the city pays Cascadia $80 per worker, per hour, for encampment trash removal.

The Navigation Team’s work does not include picking up personal household trash from the homes of team members. Lt. Ebinger’s alleged improper use of city encampment cleanup resources could fuel criticism that the Navigation Team is insensitive to the gravity of its work, which involves removing homeless encampments, disposing of trash and personal items, and informing encampment residents about available shelter beds. Mayor Jenny Durkan has expanded the Navigation Team every year she has been in office, often over the objections of homeless advocates, who say the team does little more than move homeless people from place to place without providing viable alternatives to sleeping outdoors.

HSD would not say whether Lt. Ebinger remained on the Navigation Team, and did not specify what items Ebinger had Cascadia haul away from her home. Cascadia did not respond to a request for comment.

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The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

Council Members Respond to Shootings and Pass a Nonbinding Resolution on Nonbinding Resolutions

(Center-to-right): Mayor Jenny Durkan, council member Lisa Herbold, council member Andrew Lewis

1. City council member Tammy Morales was the only council member to vote yesterday against a resolution by council member Alex Pedersen broadly  condemning “all forms of oppression affecting communities throughout the world.” Pedersen proposed the resolution in response to legislation by council member Kshama Sawant weighing in on national policy in India and Iran, saying he hoped it would prevent the council from passing resolutions against “every horrible thing that our president or any world leader does” in the future. At the request of other council members, Pedersen amended the resolution to stipulate that it does not impede future resolutions, winning praise—and votes—from three of his colleagues.

“It’s music to my ears to hear you say that we want to honor future requests” for resolutions, council member Lisa Herbold said before voting “yes.” Andrew Lewis, who said he would not allow the resolution to “inform, limit, or stymie” any future resolutions on world affairs, added. “I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt to my colleague and vote for this.”

In the end, all four of the council’s white members voted for Pedersen’s resolution, while Morales—the only person of color on the dais—voted no.

Before casting her vote, Morales said, “it’s important to condemn oppression, but we must caution against universalizing the shared experiences of oppression itself [because] doing so can minimize the ways that different groups experience oppression.”

I contacted Morales after the meeting and asked her if she was especially conscious of being the only council member of color on the dais during Monday’s discussion. “I didn’t feel it when I started speaking, but the more I kind of processed that list of specific resolutions”—a litany of resolutions in Pedersen’s legislation that appears intended to illustrate the pointlessness of resolutions—”it did.” Most of the resolutions Pedersen included in his legislation aren’t about oppression in far-flung places at all, but about US immigration policy.

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Morales says council resolutions “aren’t intended to be a distraction from the other work that the council has to do,” as Pedersen suggested when he introduced the legislation. Instead, “they are intended to reflect the priorities of our local community as well as the families and friends that our neighbors have in other parts of the world, and I think it’s important that we respect that.”

2. Pedersen, who is head of the council’s transportation committee, sent a letter to Uber and Lyft this week asking whether they charged any customers higher-than-normal prices in the aftermath of last week’s shooting downtown, which, he said, “would be deeply disturbing in a city that permits you to use our public streets. Access to mobility during emergencies should not be determined by ability to pay.”

Several people tweeted last week that they tried to call an Uber or Lyft downtown shortly after the shooting, only to see “surge” prices of $100, $150, or more.

This isn’t some radical Marxist argument; it’s basic capitalism. If you want to jump the line in front of everyone else who’s trying to do the same thing you are, you should be willing to pay for the privilege. Otherwise, you can wait on the bus with the rest of us.

While both companies have said that they’ve issued refunds to anyone who paid extra-high surge rates to leave the downtown area during the shooting and its immediate aftermath, Pedersen’s letter seeks to ensure that anyone who paid even “relatively higher rates during the crisis as they attempted to flee downtown while suspects were still at large” receives a refund.

As someone who was downtown during the shooting myself, let me offer a counterpoint: There is no “right” to a low-cost ride from a private company. Instead, there is the market—a market determined by supply (the number of drivers willing to drive into an active shooting area) and demand (the number of people in that area who want to leave by car.) Because there was heavy traffic into and out of downtown during the shooting, what might have ordinarily been a $20 ride to Wallingford became more valuable—because a driver’s time, like an office worker’s, is worth money, and a 90-minute ride is worth more than a 20-minute one.

Second, private cars aren’t public transit; drivers decide where they want to go and which rides to take based on whether the money justifies the time and risk. No driver is obligated to come into an active-shooting area just because someone on the app really, really wants them to. This, in fact, is the whole reason for surge pricing—to give drivers an incentive to go one place when they would, left to their own devices, go somewhere else. If you don’t think drivers should be paid extra to come into an area you are trying to “flee,” you’re saying that you value their safety less than your own.

This isn’t some radical Marxist argument; it’s basic capitalism. If you want to jump the line in front of everyone else who’s trying to do the same thing you are, you should be willing to pay for the privilege. Otherwise, you can wait on the bus with the rest of us.

3. In other downtown shooting-related news, council member Lewis (District 7) has proposed stationing at least six Community Service Officers—unarmed civilian employees of the Seattle Police Department—in a storefront office somewhere in the Third Avenue corridor. The idea, Lewis says, is to have a permanent location, open 24 hours a day, to take police reports, provide “deescalation and mediation,” and “increase the visibility” of police in the area in a way that “can have a potential deterrence effect” on crime.

“The budget action [in 2019] to expand to 18 CSOs [was intended] to allow them to work in teams in the five police precincts. Calling for six of 18 to be in the West Precinct seems to be an inequitable approach unaligned with the Council’s budget actions in November.” —District 1 City Council Member Lisa Herbold

“Having a new location in the Pike-Pine corridor that is brick and mortar, that won’t be relocated like a mobile precinct, sends a message that our commitment is locked in—that we’re going to have a presence here beyond just a traditional law enforcement-based response,” Lewis says.

SPD opened a storefront in the area in 2015 as part of the “9 1/2 block strategy,” in which police arrested dozens of drug users and dealers in an area of downtown that included the site of last week’s shooting. That storefront was shut down after the operation wrapped up, and Third Avenue remained much the same as it has been for decades—a place where people buy and sell drugs, hang out, and sometimes get into fights.

But Lewis thinks a CSO storefront would be different, because CSOs aren’t a traditional law-enforcement approach. During the first iteration of the program, which ended in 2004, CSOs dealt with low-level calls, including minor property crimes, freeing up sworn officers to respond to calls that required an armed response. The program is starting up again this year, with funding for 18 full-time officers.

Lewis’ proposal would deploy six of those officers in his downtown district, leaving just 12 for the rest of the city. That idea doesn’t sit well with District 1 council member Herbold, who notes that she has been working to get a similar storefront office in South Park, where shootings are common, since last year. “The budget action [in 2019] to expand to 18 CSOs [was intended] to allow them to work in teams in the five police precincts,” Herbold says. “Calling for six of 18 to be in the West Precinct seems to be an inequitable approach unaligned with the Council’s budget actions in November.”

The Downtown Seattle Association has been enthusiastic about the proposal, saying in a statement that “locating a Seattle Police Community Storefront along Third Avenue is a welcome first step toward improving public safety in the heart of downtown.” However, Mayor Jenny Durkan was less effusive. Asked if Durkan supported Lewis’ approach, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office responded, “Our 12 CSOs are currently finishing their months-long training, and will be deployed in February in neighborhoods throughout Seattle. Their deployment plan already includes a presence downtown as well as neighborhoods throughout Seattle.”

Durkan Withholds Funding for Nationally Recognized LEAD Diversion Program

Mayor Jenny Durkan on a tour of Ballard businesses in October.

After squabbling with the city council over funding for Seattle’s nationally recognized arrest-diversion program Mayor Jenny Durkan has decided to withhold a majority of the program’s funding for 2020 and hire a consultant to analyze the program and make recommendations on whether and under what conditions to fund it.

The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program, created and run by the Public Defender Association in collaboration with city and King County law-enforcement agencies, provides case management and referrals to services and housing for people engaged in low-level drug and prostitution crimes. Started as an arrest-diversion program in Belltown in 2011, LEAD has expanded to cover much of the city, and now accepts referrals through “social contacts” in addition to arrest diversions. Last year, PDA director Lisa Daugaard won a MacArthur Foundation award (commonly known as a genius grant) for her work on the program.

The council agreed to provide an additional $3.5 million to LEAD last year after lengthy negotiations and a promise of $1.5 million from Ballmer Group that was contingent on the $3.5 million in additional city funding. The money was supposed to allow LEAD to reduce case managers’ caseloads and expand the popular program geographically. Last month, though, at Durkan’s direction, the city’s Human Services Department sent LEAD a contract that only includes the $2.6 million the mayor proposed in her initial budget, with the rest contingent on an evaluation by New York City-based consultant Bennett Midland, which signed an $86,000 contract with the city in late December.

“The consultants will address appropriate protocols for referrals in partnership with SPD and LEAD and surface best practices in case management, behavioral health treatment and diversion,” senior deputy mayor Mike Fong told LEAD’s senior management in an email in December. “This information will inform their recommendations of relevant performance metrics to be incorporated into an amended contract and for overall consideration of what caseload levels should be. We expect the final report and recommendations this Spring.”

“Revising the contract to add the increased funding of $3.5 million will be informed by the recommendations from an independent program evaluation,” Fong wrote.

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According to Bennett Midland’s contract, the goal of the consultants’ work will be “to establish a shared understanding of LEAD’s existing deliverables, reporting capabilities, protocols, and procedures in order to develop an appropriate set of performance metrics, inform future program evaluations, and align future budget resources and contract provisions with the program’s foundational goals.”

LEAD says that if the mayor does not release the approved funding this year, LEAD will have to cancel its expansion plans and lay off staff. Currently, LEAD project director Tara Moss says, “LEAD is breaking, because legitimate demand far exceeds our capacity to provide case management. By its nature, it’s a program meant to help officers resolve new current problems, as well as provide long term support to people whose behavior has been problematic in the past.  So for LEAD to be healthy and useful, it has to take appropriate, priority new referrals from police and businesses.  Our police partners are making appropriate high priority referrals that we have no space to absorb, and even if we shut our doors to new referrals tomorrow—which would be the end of LEAD as we know it—we can’t even sustain the current caseload.”

“We are hopeful that the Mayor’s office will release the full funding. We would be really disappointed to see the nature of our grant fundamentally change from expanding a successful program to simply paying for something we thought government had agreed to fund. That would be a loss for the city.” — Statement from Ballmer Group

Durkan’s decision to withhold approved funding from a city contractor is highly unusual and introduces a new uncertainty into the annual budget process. Ordinarily, the mayor proposes a budget, the council amends it, and the adopted budget becomes the budget for the following year. There is little if any precedent for for the mayor’s office to reject the adopted budget for a specific program on essentially a line-item basis. Council member Lisa Herbold, who chairs the council’s human services and public safety committee, says she can’t recall “any budget adds not being funded” after a budget was finalized and passed in the two decades she has worked as a council aide or council member. A resolution “declaring that the City is committed to ensuring that evidence-based, law enforcement-engaged, pre-booking diversion programs, such as LEAD, receive the funding necessary to accept all priority qualifying referrals” passed unanimously in November.

Funding from Ballmer Group was explicitly tied to the $3.5 million in additional city funding, although [UPDATE] a spokesperson for the group says they do not intend to rescind the funding now. In a statement, Ballmer Group said, “We are hopeful that the Mayor’s office will release the full funding. We would be really disappointed to see the nature of our grant fundamentally change from expanding a successful program to simply paying for something we thought government had agreed to fund. That would be a loss for the city.”

“Very sad that we are facing this uphill battle AGAIN.  I thought we had your funding straightened out and on a smooth path; after our budget was complete, Council’s  intentions to fund LEAD expansion was clear.”—Former City Council member Sally Bagshaw

LEAD had already begun to expand its services to include new parts of the city, signing leases on new field offices in SoDo, Capitol Hill, and North Seattle and preparing to add staff through a nationwide search, Daugaard told key LEAD stakeholders in an email last month. “Now it’s far from clear that we should proceed with any of this.” According to Moss, LEAD’s current preference is to “act as if” the $3.5 million will come through midyear, but that’s a gamble—one that Moss says “requires City assurance that the approved funding will be made available by mid-year,” regardless of whether Durkan decides to fund the program after her consultants come out with their report.

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