Tag: defunding police

After CHOP Sweeps, Mayor Durkan Says City Will “Memorialize” Protests, “Reimagine Policing”

This post originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

About 10 hours after Seattle police officers moved in to remove barriers, tents, artwork, and people from the Capitol Hill Organized Protest area this morning, Mayor Jenny Durkan, police chief Carmen Best, and other department heads called a press conference to explain their actions.

There was a lot to unpack. Why did the mayor issue the executive order in the pre-dawn hours, a time when most people living in tents in the area (and most reporters) would be asleep? Will the city prevent protesters from gathering at the East Precinct building in the future, and are they planning to use force? What will happen to the art and community gardens? Why did the city expel members of the media from CHOP, when the press is explicitly allowed to remain in an area after an order to disperse?

Durkan did get into a few specifics. For example, the mayor said the city would consider “memorializing” the protests by creating space for “a new garden, a speakers’ corner, or new art,” and would add a “community room in the East Precinct and things in and around Capitol Hill and the East Precinct.” It’s unclear how a community room could fit into the cramped layout of the East Precinct, leaving aside whether anyone would want to go there.

For the most part, though Durkan’s comments focused on lofty, nonspecific goals, like “statewide reforms,” “generational change,” and “investing in community.” The word “reimagine” appeared no fewer than seven times in Durkan’s 12-minute statement. “I will continue to refocus our energy on the hard but critical work to answer the voices demonstrating and demanding change, to reimagine, with Chief Best, what policing looks like in our city, and to invest in the true health and safety of our communities,” Durkan said.

Best, characteristically, described the CHOP in near-apocalyptic terms. “If you have watched the news footage you have seen how absolutely devastating the damage to this neighborhood is,” she said. Walking around the perimeter of the area, she said, “I was just stunned by the amount of graffiti, garbage, and property destruction.” She described residents and business owners coming out of their homes, like survivors of a natural disaster, to “profusely” thank her officers. “We don’t even know how much trauma” the protests caused to residents and business owners in the area, she said.

Durkan has reportedly been at odds with Chief Best in recent weeks, but there was no sign of division this afternoon. Instead, Durkan effusively praised the police chief and her officers (who Durkan described, in an apparent slip of the tongue, as “troops”), calling her “one of the best leaders in this country on policing” and crediting her “very steady hand” for this morning’s relatively smooth removal of tents, people, and barricades from the CHOP.

Durkan said she was expediting assistance to businesses in the area that experienced property damage or lost revenues, and had already spoken to the city attorney’s office about expediting their tort claims so that they could get financial reimbursement quickly. “I heard very clearly from them the pain of seeing their businesses close, the graffiti on their walls, calling back their employees but not yet able to open,” she said.

Asked whether she bore any responsibility for the two young men who have died in shootings in the area, Durkan declined to answer the question directly, calling the deaths “regretful” and saying that she hoped to meet with the victims’ family members. “We’ll have lots of opportunities to do after-actions on what people could have done at what junctures,” she added.

Best said the police would welcome peaceful protests outside the reopened East Precinct, but “there’s not going be lawlessness.” The police force is under a federal court that bars them from using “less lethal” weapons such as tear gas, pepper spray, and blast grenades, and the city council passed legislation barring the use of such weapons last month.

Earlier this week, city council public safety committee chair Lisa Herbold wrote a blog post revealing that Best had confirmed that one of the police department’s primary reasons for setting up heavily fortified barricades around the East Precinct was not true. The chief and mayor had previously claimed the FBI had informed them of specific threats to bomb or burn down the East Precinct. In fact, Herbold revealed, what Durkan previously described as “credible threats” were actually “a generalized assessment of threat to ‘police and government structures’ in Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle.”

The mayor and police chief have had to walk back a number of false or misleading statements about the protests, including claims that armed guards were forcing people to hand over ID and pay a bribe to enter (not true) and that police used force against protesters because one threw an “incendiary device” (it turned out to be a candle.) This afternoon, Best was not ready to let the threats to the East Precinct go. There were “threats to police precincts and to government facilities,” Best said. “We verified that and that information came from our local special agent in charge at the FBI.” 

The area that used to be CHOP will be closed to anyone who isn’t a resident or business owner for the next 10 days, Best said. According to at least one report on social media, police are requiring people to show identification to enter their own homes or businesses—exactly the scenario police department officials accused protesters of setting up last month.

Council Looks Inside the “Black Box” of the Seattle Police Department Budget

Anyone needing evidence that demands to “defund the police” by redirecting half their budget into community organizations have gained traction should watch yesterday’s City Council budget meeting (conducted via Zoom and available online), where council members began the process of what budget chair Teresa Mosqueda has called an “inquest” into the Seattle Police Department’s budget. The forensic look at a budget that council members called a “black box” comes at a time when the mayor and council were already looking for about $300 million in cuts, thanks to a recessionary revenue shortfall that has blown a hole in this year’s budget, and will almost certainly produce an austerity budget in 2021.

Wednesday’s meeting was mostly a deep dive into that budget, which totaled $409 million in 2020. Much of the information came from prior to the police actions against protesters over the last few weeks, which involved what will likely be massive overtime costs, since officers were working 12-hour shifts, as well as unknown costs for the huge number of tear gas canisters, “blast ball” grenades, rubber bullets, pepper spray, and other weapons deployed against protesters.

Still, the look into the police budget was illuminating. Some highlights:

• The overwhelming majority—75 percent—of the police budget pays for personnel, and most of those are sworn officers. Despite a hiring freeze in every other city department, SPD has hired a net total of 23 new officers this year (that is, the force grew by 23 after accounting for attrition). This hiring is currently on hold due to a lack of funding (and despite an upsurge in interest because of the recession), but council central staffer Greg Doss said it could pick up again in the fall—unless, of course, the city council reaches agreement to slow or stop police hiring before then.

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• Sworn officers make dramatically more than their civilian counterparts at SPD, including those in positions the city council and Mayor Jenny Durkan have said are critical to police reform, such as community service officers. An average patrol officer, for example, earns a total compensation of around $150,780, not counting overtime. About 25 percent of that compensation consists of benefits, so a patrol officer’s annual salary is around $113,000. For a sergeant, that goes up to around $133,500.

In contrast, a parking enforcement officer with a total compensation of $96,850 actually takes home just over $50,000 a year, because benefits make up a full 48 percent of civilian SPD staffers’ salaries.

These six-figure salaries—which are significantly higher in practice for officers who, like the ones tear-gassing protesters on Capitol Hill last week, make extra money from working overtime—are worth considering in light of claims that it’s impossible to recruit officers from within Seattle city limits because they don’t make enough money to live here.

 

• More than a third of the budget for sworn officers goes to 911 response, a fact that Doss called “a statement of policy that the department is making.” Last year, Durkan announced the creation of a new emergency service called “Health One” to respond to non-emergency calls involving issues such as mental health and substance abuse. The program has never been expanded beyond downtown, however.

A common criticism of using armed officers to respond to 911 calls is that many of these calls are made because someone is in distress, not because there is a crime in progress. Many people call 911 in situations that demand trained mental health professionals or social workers, not armed officers with the authority to use deadly force against civilians.

• Overtime, mostly for sworn officers, costs the city about $30 million a year, although this year’s budget for policing protests could blow the lid off that number. In a typical year, about a third of that goes to providing security at events, including sports events. The city spends another $2.25 million a year on overtime for emphasis patrols in neighborhoods, an amount that has nearly doubled in the last year as Durkan has added more of these patrols. And security for the mayor herself costs another $393,000 a year.

• In a preview of upcoming presentations on what the police department’s overwhelming response to, and use of force against, protesters will cost the city, the police department provided a cost breakdown for every weapon and piece of protective equipment they use when responding to protests. Kevlar helmets? $531.02. Batons? $71.12 a pop. Those crazy-looking forearm plates that make cops tricked out in riot gear look like wannabe superheroes? A fairly affordable $22.99. “It seems that each officer goes out to each demonstration in about $900 in protective gear,” council member Tammy Morales observed.

The presentation, which you can read for yourself here, provides a baseline for the department budget and a framework for the council to start digging into how much SPD spent on the recent protests, from armored vehicles to overtime to weapons like tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash grenades. Next week, Mosqueda said, council will look at how other cities have moved toward community-based public safety models, followed by additional meetings on the 24th and July 1.