Accountability for Public Safety
Summary: Everyone deserves to be safe and public safety should be a top priority of city government. Our police officers and fire fighters need resources and support from city leaders to keep pace with the challenges arising from our growing population. The City Council should work collaboratively with our Mayor to increase community policing to reduce property crime and to implement proven safety measures to reduce gun violence. The City Council should hold the criminal justice system accountable not only by ensuring full compliance with the consent decree police reforms, but also by making sure prolific offenders are not continually released back into communities without proper help and supervision.
Question: There is a growing frustration in District 4 with the rise in burglaries and other property crimes as well as a perception that law enforcement officials are indifferent, under-resourced, or constrained by policymakers. What policies would you advocate in your role as City Council representative to increase public safety?
Answer: Public Safety should be a top priority of city government. In addition to ensuring Seattle adheres to constitutional policing, city leaders should support our police department to keep pace with the challenges that arise with a growing population, which has included a noticeable increase in robberies, aggravated assaults, and burglaries in North Seattle. We can reduce crime by hiring more officers, boosting morale, emphasizing crime prevention, concentrating on problem people/places, reducing paperwork, and having two cost-effective precinct stations to cover our north precinct (which is the largest geographic area in our city). More details below.
Source: SPD’s Crime Dashboard, CLICK HERE. (Note: for 2019, only the 4 months of January through April are available.)
Important Note on Fire Fighters and Public Safety:
While this section focuses on our police department’s efforts to reduce crime, City Councilmembers should be equally focused on supporting our fire fighters in their public safety jobs of preventing and extinguishing fires and responding to medical emergencies. Moreover, the need to support our police officers has become more urgent so that firefighters have the law enforcement protection they need to do their jobs safely in increasingly hazardous environments. Understanding how difficult the job has become for Seattle fire fighters is one of the reasons I’m endorsed by the Seattle Fire Fighters union, IAFF Local 27.
Hire More Officers to Reduce Response Times:
While our population has grown substantially, the number of police officers has not kept pace. The city of Boston, which has a similar population, has several hundred more officers and a smaller geographic area to police. A study of police staffing completed in 2016 said the response times in our large North Precinct are the slowest in the city and recommended hiring an additional 175 officers citywide. One of our challenges is Seattle has been losing the battle to retain police officers. According to a January 2019 article by Crosscut, “Despite a 2015 promise from then-Mayor Ed Murray to grow the department by 200 officers over several years — one reaffirmed by Mayor Durkan — the department was on pace to actually shrink by 33 officers by the end of 2018 as attrition outpaced hiring.” Having enough officers yields benefits beyond faster response times. The more officers we have, the more time and personal bandwidth each officer will have to absorb the latest training such as de-escalation techniques, to handle emergency calls in the field without undue fatigue or stress, and to connect on a personal level with residents in the communities they serve. If we want to retain good officers, we also need to focus on improving morale by treating our police officers better.
Enhance Morale of our Police Officers:
Our brave men and women in uniform have too often been criticized instead of thanked by our City Council. While fulfilling the oversight duties of city departments as expected by our City Charter, I intend to be the City Councilmember who appropriately supports our police officers and encourages them to do their jobs to fight crime in North Seattle. We need to enhance the morale of our police officers so that they feel appreciated and we retain them. https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/crime/seattles-weekend-of-violence-stretched-police-thin-chief-says/
Emphasize Crime Prevention and Community Policing:
Reducing crime requires a focus on preventing crime, rather than just reacting / responding to crime already committed. Crime prevention has several components — helping residents and businesses by offering crime prevention tips, police officers working with neighborhoods on specific problems (often referred to as “problem-oriented policing”), and targeted enforcement (see below). I support efforts to re-introduce our city’s Community Service Officer program. As explained by SCC Insight, Community Service Officers are “unarmed civilian SPD personnel…out in the field to conduct community outreach, mediate disputes, and perform other work that connects the community with SPD without requiring the specific skills and authorities of sworn police officers. It was seen as highly successful for dealing with community needs and building trust and connections with SPD, while freeing up sworn officers to focus on other policing activities (though not relieving sworn officers of their responsibilities to also build relationships in communities).” CSO’s will also be able to link residents in need to social services. For details on the CSO program, please CLICK HERE.
Reduce Gun Violence:
Too many people’s lives are ended or ruined by gun violence. City Hall should collaborate with organizations such as the Alliance for Gun Responsibility on gun safety research and policies that reduce gun violence. When I worked as a legislative aide to the Seattle City Council, I led efforts to fund innovative research with the University of Washington to improve gun safety. When I worked as a legislative aide to the Oakland City Council, I worked on “Measure Y” which, according to a recent report, “helped lay a foundation for an ultimately effective citywide violence reduction strategy that combined law enforcement reforms with the delivery of social services.”
Concentrate Enforcement Efforts on Problem Places and Worst Offenders:
Much of the well-informed essay on effective policing and crime reduction written in January 2012 by former police officer, Councilmember, and Mayor Tim Burgess is still relevant. The first two recommendations call for a focus “on problem places, those micro locations spread across the city where crime is concentrated and anchored” and “persistent, high frequency offenders who commit a hugely disproportionate amount of crime in our city.” As recently as February 2019, a report confirmed the persistent challenge with problem places and people. The report called System Failure: Report on Prolific Offenders in Seattle’s Criminal Justice System found that, “A substantial portion of the criminal activity that has the greatest impact on Seattle’s busiest neighborhoods is committed by prolific offenders who are well known to Seattle police officers and have a large number of criminal cases in Seattle and King County courts.” The City Council should support the Police Department in using data and technology to focus on problem places and the worst offenders.
Patrol the Beats More; Fill Out Paperwork Less:
We need to leverage the technological innovations of Seattle to reduce the paperwork police officers fill out so they can spend much more time patrolling their beats. Our small local business districts would like to see more police patrolling on bike or foot along Eastlake Ave, Roosevelt Way, 35th Avenue NE (Bryant/Wedgwood), NE 65th Street (Ravenna), 45th Street (Wallingford), and even more in the U District. While studies of police walking their beats do not all show a reduction in crime, it will enable the police to build rapport with residents and shop owners, to be visible in a positive way when crime is not in progress, to increase the public’s feeling of safety, and to exchange crime prevention information in the neighborhood.
Two Cost-Effective Police Stations in the North Precinct:
The north precinct is by far the largest geographic area of the city (and the most populated of the 5 precinct areas), but we have just one police station. After the City Council failed to build a new police station due to controversy and cost overruns, the people of North Seattle and their police officers were left to retrofit the existing sub-standard station near North Seattle College.
To reduce response times when calling the police, it would make sense to have two cost-effective stations to cover such a large geographic area. In other words, instead of a single North police station west of Interstate 5 (our current station), we need both a Northeast station and a Northwest station to maximize public safety.
Seek Opportunities for Diversion and Restorative Justice
Based on the initial promising evaluation of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, City Council should continue to expand LEAD while continuing to monitor its effectiveness. As explained by our King County Prosecutor’s Office, “LEAD diverts individuals who are engaged in low-level drug crime, prostitution, and crimes of poverty away from the criminal legal system–bypassing prosecution and jail time–and connects them with intensive case managers who can crisis response, immediate psychosocial assessment, and long term wrap-around services including substance use disorder treatment and housing. By working with law enforcement to intercept individuals and channel them into community-based interventions at the point of arrest or pre-arrest, LEAD effectively disrupts the cycling of individuals with behavioral health issues through our criminal legal system and uses a low barrier, harm reduction based model of care to help participants work toward achieving stability in the community.” Moreover, jailing people charged with their first low-level misdemeanor is often not cost-effective and having a criminal record will make it harder for the person to obtain housing, thereby potentially exacerbating our city’s homeless problem.
In addition, we should continue to seek opportunities to employ “Restorative Justice,” especially for youth. As explained by the King County Prosecutor’s Office, “Unlike the traditional criminal justice approach that often focuses on punishment and labeling conduct, restorative justice achieves accountability by offenders taking responsibility for their actions, understanding the harm they have caused, and providing an opportunity for redemption. Restorative justice has been shown to reduce recidivism and produce greater satisfaction for victims of crime. As such, restorative justice strategies have the potential to improve public safety and better meet the needs of those harmed by crime. Because restorative justice may reduce future re-offending, it also has the potential to reduce the use of detention as many youth find themselves incarcerated due to repeat offending.
King County Juvenile Court currently employs several restorative justice programs that encompass varying restorative approaches.”
Accountability and Public Safety:
Ensure Full Compliance with the Consent Decree for Police Reform:
While I believe Councilmembers should be more supportive of police officers for the good work they do keeping our communities safe, city leaders must ensure the police department is in full compliance with the constitutional policing reforms initiated by the 2012 consent decree and subsequent 2017 reform ordinance. Accountability includes continuing to hold our police officers to high professional standards such as de-escalating confrontations and refraining from excessive force. It also includes making sure investigations into allegations of police misconduct are handled fairly so that the public has full confidence — an urgent goal that is requiring more work to achieve.
Track How Criminal Cases are Resolved to Improve Our Criminal Justice System:
There is a recurring theory among some public safety advocates that our police officers have little incentive to enforce many of the laws because our criminal justice system often fails to prosecute the people the police risk their lives to arrest. As a City Councilmember, I will work closely with the offices of the City Attorney, King County Prosecutor, and our municipal courts to track and report what ultimately happens after arrests are made by police officers in our District.
- A February 2019 report titled System Failure: Report on Prolific Offenders in Seattle’s Criminal Justice System concluded that our criminal justice system does not follow through and/or adequately address the persistent criminal activity in our neighborhoods. The report stated, “A substantial portion of the criminal activity that has the greatest impact on Seattle’s busiest neighborhoods is committed by prolific offenders who are well known to Seattle police officers and have a large number of criminal cases in Seattle and King County courts…Most of these defendants have cycled in and out of the criminal justice system for years…[Our] criminal justice system is not working for prolific offenders and the neighborhoods that they victimize.”
Providing the public and police officers greater transparency and fuller explanations on the resolution of criminal cases would have the dual benefit of identifying whether there are problematic trends or gaps that need to be addressed and ultimately instill greater confidence that the professionals in our criminal justice system can work together to reduce crime.
- Ultimately, the City Council can use its oversight authority under the City Charter to gather data and hold the criminal justice system accountable, so that the most prolific offenders are not continually released back into communities without proper help and supervision, as documented in the report System Failure.” I carefully reviewed the report “System Failure” and followed up with its author as well as with the University District Business Improvement Area (BIA) in D-4. The report should have been a wake-up call to the current City Council. Yet we have not seen real action. On the one-month anniversary of that report’s publication, I issued a press release calling on the City Council to use its oversight authority from the City Charter to launch public hearings. The hearing the City Council had on May 22, 2019 was unproductive and disappointing with no action steps.
- UPDATE: After assembling a broad criminal justice working group, Mayor Durkan announced on September 12, 2019 a handful of pilot projects to attempt to fill the gaps in the system. For the Seattle Times article, CLICK HERE. For the actual “High Barrier Individuals Working Group” report, go to the SCC article by CLICKING HERE. The City Council should closely monitor these efforts and continue to fill any remaining gaps in the criminal justice system to ensure offenders are not prematurely released without getting them the help they need to keep themselves and our communities safe.
Control Police Overtime Costs:
The City Council controls the city’s $6 billion budget (all funds) and police overtime has often come in over budget. City Council should monitor this cost closely and take proactive measures to reduce overtime. We could reduce overtime costs if we examine best practices and other big city police departments and if City Council collaborates with the Mayor, Police Chief, and officers to consider various strategies including: hiring more police officers, managing and collecting the full costs of special events, ensuring police are assigned/deployed in the most effective manner possible (e.g. patrol and prevention vs. special operations).
Activate a 3-1-1 Call Center Available 24/7:
In addition to giving citizens an easy-to-remember phone number (3-1-1) to call day or night for city services that encourages accountability, a 3-1-1 Call Center will reduce the overload on our 9-1-1 Call Center and the “non-emergency” line that is staffed by the same team as the 9-1-1 Call Center. This has worked well for more than a decade in cities from San Francisco to Chicago to New York. Seattle’s current “Customer Service Bureau” is available ONLY on weekdays. While the “Find It Fix It” technology works for some, a 3-1-1 Call Center open 24/7 will enable residents without access to smart phones to receive the best customer service.
Why I Can Deliver Solutions:
I will work with, not against, our police department. By participating in “ride alongs” with our police department, I have seen firsthand the dedication and expertise of our brave men and women in uniform. They risk their lives in an effort to keep us safe. An attitude of collaboration from a City Councilmember will be a breath of fresh air for our police department and will give me the trust and credibility to improve public safety in our district. Yes, vigorously ensure the reforms firmly take hold and that we have constitutional and compassionate policing — while also supporting our police officers to do their jobs effectively to prevent and reduce crime.
I have the experience as a City Council legislative aide for one of the foremost crime prevention experts who chaired the Council’s Public Safety Committee: Tim Burgess, himself a former police officer. This experience goes beyond knowledge of enforcement issues to include tangible crime prevention programs. With so many public policy challenges, one of the most effective strategies is often to “go upstream” to address root causes and prevent problems before they occur. A proven long-term strategy for reducing crime is to invest in high-quality early childhood education. If it is truly high-quality and based on evidence-based strategies, early childhood education can literally change lives for the better and keep growing kids out of trouble with the law. We are fortunate that Seattle has supported numerous early learning programs and I’m proud to have worked on many of them when I was a legislative aide at City Council.
- Nurse Family Partnership: I crafted and presented the budget amendment enabling Seattle to become 4th city in nation to fully fund Nurse Family Partnership, the evidence-based program that empowers low-income moms and their infants. Longitudinal studies have followed the NFP kids into adulthood and found them to enjoy much better life outcomes (including less criminal activity) than the control groups.
- Seattle Preschool Program: Thousands of Seattle children are on a safe and secure path thanks to the 70% of Seattle voters who approved the high-quality Seattle Preschool pilot program in 2014. I am proud to have crafted the original resolution and plan (#31478) for this program which we based on evidence-based strategies and which has become a nationally recognized model of success. Seattle voters generously expanded that program at the polls in November 2018. Under the original pilot and the recently approved expansion, approximately 18,000 Seattle preschoolers will benefit.
- Gun Safety Research: Despite resistance from the National Rifle Association, I led the effort to fund innovative research with the University of Washington to improve gun safety – the first of its kind in the nation. This research at Harborview Hospital resulted in a cost-effective program to help gunshot victims (while still in the hospital recovering from their wounds) avoid future gun-related tragedies.
So, as we work with our police department to reduce crime and enforce the law, we should be proud of — and build upon — the solid and progressive foundation we created to prevent crime in the future.
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