Tag: community service officers

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.”

As City Revives Civilian SPD Patrols, Role of Unarmed Officers Remains Open Question

Last month, the Seattle Police Department and City Council member Mike O’Brien announced that the city would spend $2 million over the next two years to reinstate the mothballed Community Service Officer program and hire around a dozen new CSOs—unarmed SPD employees trained to respond to low-level calls, including minor property crimes, landlord-tenant disputes, runaway kids, and “nuisance” crimes like public intoxication. Over the course of 2017, a team of representatives from city departments, along with the independent Community Police Commission, will decide what the CSOs’ job descriptions will be, what kind of services they will and won’t provide, and even to whom they will report.

The CSO program, which lasted 33 years before it was shut down in 2004 under then-mayor Greg Nickels and his police chief Gil Kerlikowske, was originally launched in response to allegations of racially biased policing and excessive use of force against African Americans in the Central Area in the late 1960s. The goal of using unarmed officers was twofold: To deescalate tensions between SPD and Central Area residents, and to create a recruiting and training pipeline to hire more African American police officers. In practice, the CSOs did everything from mediating landlord-tenant disputes, to driving children home from court when their parents were taken into custody, to reuniting homeless youth with their families.

csos-1971
Seattle Daily Times, 1971

“It was sort of the civilian version of the fire department pulling cats out of trees,” says Lisa Daugaard, director of the Public Defender Association and co-chair of the CPC. “A lot of times, sworn officers with weapons are just not the right profile for those jobs.” Council member Tim Burgess, who served on the police force in the 1970s when the program was just getting off the ground, recalls that the program was “an attempt to have an arm of the police department that was not perceived as enforcement oriented, as a positive community relations effort.”

Community activist Nancy Amidei, who has worked with homeless youth in the University District since the ’90s, says that when the program was in effect, “no matter what was going on, you knew that if you called on them the situation would get defused, because everyone quickly learned that they don’t make arrests. … They managed to build up enormous trust among businesses, church people, and street youth” alike. In its heyday, the program boasted three dozen civilian officers, who carried radios instead of guns and could call for backup when they needed—which, according to the former CSOs I spoke to, was almost never.

“We could help you or we could hinder you,” says Michale Crooks, who worked as a CSO from 1993 to 2002. “We could get officers to deal with a situation if there was a problem, and so there was a certain authority that came along with it, even though we didn’t have the arresting powers or gun.”

Nearly 13 years after the CSO program ended, a lot has changed in Seattle. Crime, including property crime, has declined across the board since the late 1990s and early 2000s, although Washington’s property crime rate remains one of the highest in the nation. Homelessness has increased in scale and become common in neighborhoods where visible poverty was once rare. The heroin and opiate addiction epidemic has put increasing numbers of people with substance use disorders on the streets, where they leave needles in public places and are themselves a newly visible presence. And the city is under a consent decree from the department of justice because of racially biased policing—a sign, perhaps, that some things change more slowly than others.

“No matter how much progress we have made in recent decades, one could argue that we’re back to where we were decades ago,” says council member Bruce Harrell, who vowed in his campaign last year to reinstitute the CSO program. “The tensions between the African American community, and other underrepresented communities [and SPD] are still there. … I continue to go to places in 2017 where you see many officers who routinely do not speak, do not smile, and do not interface with the community, and what I liked about the CSOs is that they epitomized what a personable representative of the police force could look like.”

Tensions between SPD and communities of color are so fraught, in fact, that some advocates are suggesting that the CSO program should be housed outside the police department altogether, perhaps as an independent body or within a community group not affiliated with the city. Dustin Washington, director of the American Friends Service Committee’s community justice program in Seattle, says the the only way to establish “authentic relationships” between CSOs and the communities they serve is “for [the program] not to be housed in SPD. I think it needs to go through a more rigorous community process, [where] what’s important is engaging in communities who have a sense of their own power.”

O’Brien, who represents a largely white district where community complaints are mostly about property crime, rather than negative interactions with police, says, “frankly,  as a white male from the upper middle class, I don’t particularly feel intimidated by police officers, but I know that a lot of folks do.  So having someone that’s in uniform, that carries some authority but is clearly not a police officer, is a middle ground that I think addresses some of that concern.”

SPD, for its part, seems adamant that CSOs should be an in-house operation with police-like responsibilities; otherwise, SPD chief operating officer Brian Maxey says, CSOs will just be “softer police officers with community engagement responsibilities.” Maxey says that, ideally, CSOs would act more like “a civilian patrol support unit” that responds to lower-priority 911 and nonemergency calls, like domestic disturbances and car prowls, than “one-stop social service workers” that take care of problems that communities don’t trust SPD to address.

“This concept that somehow police officers are unable to successfully have community engagement—I reject that, and I do not think we should create a specialized unit to do that,” Maxey says. “I hear that a lot from some of our city partners, that we need CSOs who are unarmed and not as scary or intimidating as regular cops that can help with community engagement. They’re missing the point. The point is that every police officer has got to be capable of engaging with the community.”

Harrell, who represents Southeast Seattle, is skeptical that uniformed cops will be able to turn on that particular dime. “Whatever department they ultimately report to, it’s very critical that they have autonomy from the police department,” Harrell says. “Many times, they might take action that the police department might not have preferred, and they have to have that autonomy. To me, the critical issue is how the public perceives them, and if they just see this persona as a uniformed police officer without a gun, that’s not going to work.”

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