Seattle Police Department brings ‘perfect storm’ concerns to East Precinct community crime meeting

Wednesday night’s virtual meeting of the East Precinct Advisory Council brought community members fatigued by ongoing pandemic restrictions and months of protest together with Seattle Police officials who described the situation around crime in the East Precinct as a “perfect storm.”

SPD brought statistics to back up its claims including what the department says is a near 13% rise in overall crime in the East Precinct. That’s in line with CHS’s report on summer crime trends that showed overall crime down but the core, most serious crimes up 12% in a surge that began in January well before the pandemic and protests set in.

Focusing on the most serious crimes that SPD uses for its statistical analysis like assaults, burglaries, and vehicle related crimes, CHS showed crime was down 4% through August in 2020. In June during the height of CHOP, crime — including everything from animal cruelty to street robberies — dropped a whopping 14% from recent years across the precinct.

There have been areas of frustration, however, as burglaries have surged around Pike/Pine and in the area between Broadway and I-5. Homicides and gun related crimes have also climbed. There have already been nine murders across the East Precinct — there were five in all of 2019 and three the year before.

And the month since CHS’s analysis has not been a good one. In September, the East Precinct recorded a 23% jump in overall crime compared to the same month last year.

The surging stats come on the heels of months of demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality often based at the East Precinct on Capitol Hill that have frequently resulted in arrests. One community member said they were frustrated demonstrators weren’t being punished more for “tearing this city up.”

SPD officials said Wednesday night that it is difficult to prosecute these cases with lower jail capacities due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the time it takes to complete paperwork on each case.

“I think everybody is tired of all the protests and all the violence and all the property destruction,”  Lt. Paul Leung said. “This is almost a perfect storm.” Continue reading

10 things CHS heard at Sawant’s 2020 People’s Budget town hall

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant opened her annual People’s Budget town hall Tuesday evening with a central question animating much of the city’s politics this year: “Who is paying and who’s going to pay in the future for this pandemic and the economic collapse that has happened around us?”

In the two-hour virtual town hall, Sawant and many panelists laid out a road map for how they plan to push back against what they term an “austerity budget” for 2021 from Mayor Jenny Durkan over the next month as negotiations continue between the mayor’s office and the city council.

CHS reported earlier on the timeline and issues for the 2021 city budget process here and the push for community-driven participatory budget in Seattle.

Here are 10 things CHS heard Tuesday night:

  • Specific issues speakers from the council member’s office and supporters with the mayor’s proposed budget unveiled last month included a failure to defund the Seattle Police Department, to stop sweeps of homeless encampments, and budget cuts to transportation, libraries, and community centers. “Mayor Durkan’s proposed budget attacks working people,” Sawant said. Continue reading

How King County Sheriff’s Office charter amendment votes on your November ballot can also change policing in Seattle

Girmay Zahilay thinks next month’s election is a once-in-a-decade opportunity for changing the way Seattle communities police themselves, but not in the way you might think.

The debate for months locally has been around the Seattle City Council’s moves to defund the police and shift some functions, such as 911 operations and parking enforcement, out of the department. Meanwhile, the Metropolitan King County Council has no such authority to change the ways law enforcement works at the county level.

The first step in improving how the King County Sheriff’s Office works, county councilmember Zahilay argues, is through a charter amendment on the ballot next month that grants the council the ability to decrease the department of public safety’s duties

“All of these structural barriers create a situation where, yeah, we can do budgetary sticks and carrots, but we can’t really have the true accountability and the true innovation to public safety like other jurisdictions can,” Zahilay told CHS. Continue reading

Amid progress on community ownership of Central District properties, plans for Africatown Plaza taking shape

The early preferred massing concept for Africatown Plaza (Image: GGLO)

Africatown Plaza is coming to 23rd and Spring (Image: GGLO)

Africatown Community Land Trust is working to finalize plans for its 7-story project that includes about 130 affordable housing units on 23rd and Spring in the Central District with construction estimated to begin late next year.

While the broad project timeline hasn’t been affected by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, what has been altered is the developers ability to procure retail tenants, said real estate project manager for Africatown Muammar Hermanstyne.

“Retail is dying, no one is coming out,” Hermanstyne told CHS, adding that this has made it difficult to sign on specific Black-owned retail for the shop.

Being planned as more than 100 units of 100% affordable housing plus street-level retail and commercial space, the project will be built at 23rd and Spring on the south end of the site of the former Midtown Center. It will include around 130 affordable housing units, specifically for “those who have been displaced due to rising rents,” as well as several thousand square feet of retail space. The collaboration between Africatown Community Land Trust and Community Roots Housing is hoped to build on the success of the nearby Liberty Bank Building which opened two years ago in what many hope will be a model for equitable development in the Central District and Seattle.

The Africatown Plaza project is joined by a small ripple of progress in putting some key Central District properties into community ownership as efforts like the King County Equity Now coalition have increased the call for ownership and development opportunities for the Black community.

Community property progress
Later this month the city will likely move to transfer several important Central District properties to community ownership. After seven years, Fire Station 6 at 23rd and Yesler would go to Africatown, which will look to turn the decommissioned space into the William Grose Center for Cultural Innovation.

The center, named after a local Black pioneer, will look to serve as a technological hub of a community that hasn’t had as much access to the resources needed to be successful. Community organizer TraeAnna Holiday noted, for example, that she hopes children will be able to use 3D printers there they wouldn’t have had otherwise which could make them better candidates for local jobs. Continue reading

Seattle Police Department rolls out new Community Response Group with 100 officers to speed up 911, ‘respond to demonstrations’

The Seattle Police Department is unveiling its new Community Response Group, a 100-officer unit that interim Chief Adrian Diaz said is helping bring down 911 response times on Capitol Hill and across the city.

Diaz said in a Wednesday afternoon press conference at the SPD’s West Precinct that the group has responded to 400 incidents and they are arriving at the scenes of crimes in under seven minutes. The unit also includes 10 sergeants.

Diaz used the example of the response group’s work last Friday, as police responded to major vehicle collisions, violent crime, and continued demonstrations against police brutality simultaneously, to argue that the city should not look to cut the police force as some Seattle City Council members have proposed. The council and Mayor Jenny Durkan have just begun their 2021 budgeting process, which will continue into November.

“This just tells you the need for officers to be out and being engaged and being connected and being able to respond to 911,” Diaz said. “I am concerned when we talk about making the department smaller because a Friday night, it tapped almost every level of resource that we had, but we were able to do that because we made these adjustments early on in my tenure.” Continue reading

43rd District’s Chopp and Lascelles trade barbs over policing, racism, and ‘incrementalism’ in Seattle U candidates forum

With the election less than a month away and ballots set to be mailed out in just over a week, community advocate Sherae Lascelles criticized the incrementalism they see as epitomized by Rep. Frank Chopp, a Democrat who has served in Olympia since 1995, who in turn touted years of accomplishments in a virtual forum Monday evening.

When Chopp noted he supports a state income tax and laid out his past work on estate and big business taxes, Lascelles argued this past work doesn’t go far enough and called for taxes on capital gains and wealth, saying “we can’t just add the word progressive to a legislation and say that it’s actually enough.”

Lascelles, who represents the Seattle People’s Party, noted that their goals haven’t changed in the face of months of protests against police brutality and systemic racism because they see their campaign as already aligning with the movement.

“My priorities have always been with them because I am a part of them,” said Lascelles, a non-binary person of color. “I will bring the movement that impacts the municipal level and the county level to the state one. We no longer can just say the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ and do nothing and not have our actions speak as loud, if not louder, than our words.”

Chopp noted his work on the police accountability measure, Initiative 940, which passed in 2018 with 60% of the vote, but said that was only the beginning. He also called for the abolition of qualified immunity for police officers and changing collective bargaining agreements that allow law enforcement to skirt transparency. Lascelles pushed for divesting from the state Department of Corrections and reinvesting in communities of color.

“There is so much more we need to do,” Chopp said. “I will definitely actively sponsor and advocate for and push through legislation that would restrict the use of police force.”

Chopp, who served the longest tenure of any Washington House speaker from 1999-2019, described Olympia as the “most progressive Legislature in the nation,” but conceded “we’ve got to do a lot more and a lot more better things.”

“But we have a strong record of progressive legislation,” he said in an apparent attempt to pushback on Lascelles’s characterization of him as too moderate to represent the 43rd Legislative District, which includes Capitol Hill, Madison Park, and Montlake.

Lascelles, meanwhile, argued that “incrementalism kills folks” because of the difficulties disadvantaged communities face in accessing existing systems. Continue reading

‘A start’ — Durkan 2021 budget proposal cuts police funding by 12%, adds record homelessness spending, and makes brutal decisions for the next year under COVID-19

The $6.5 billion 2021 budget proposal Mayor Jenny Durkan sent to the Seattle City Council Tuesday includes nearly $50 million in cuts to police funding in the form of reductions to sworn officers and moving various units out of the department.

The police department’s budget in 2020 totaled $409 million and the new budget proposal totals nearly $360 million. That would amount to about a 12% reduction. Black Lives Matter protests in Seattle have called for at least a 50% reduction in the police budget.

“This budget is a start,” Durkan told reporters Tuesday. “There’s some hard choices in it, but those hard choices mandate us in hard times to do what I think Seattle has always done and it is to put its values front and center. And for us, that means making true on the promises of so many people in the streets who have said ‘We want to and support the civil rights reckoning we’re going through here. We acknowledge and admit that our city and our country have been built on systemic racism and we need to break down those systems, rebuild those systems with just systems.’”

Nearly half of Durkan’s proposed cuts to SPD next year would come from reducing the police force — both sworn and civilian — and overtime expenses as well as a continuation of the department’s existing hiring freeze. Funding would be reduced to 1,400 sworn officers after being budgeted for 1,422 this year. Continue reading

Override: Seattle City Council overcomes mayor’s veto of 2020 cuts to police budget — UPDATE

Note: Councilmember Juarez did not appear via video and spoke only during votes in Tuesday’s session

The Seattle City Council voted Tuesday to override Mayor Jenny Durkan’s veto of a 2020 budget rebalancing package that marked the immediate start of funding reductions for the police department with cuts of the salaries of 100 officers and the elimination of the Navigation Team that clears homeless encampments.

Going into the meeting, the council appeared likely to instead pass what it considered a compromise with the mayor’s office that scaled back the already modest reductions in the initial measure that council members had called a “down payment” on the way to deeper cuts to police funding. The move came as large-scale demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality dominated conversation in the city. Protest leaders have called for an at least 50% cut to the Seattle Police Department budget, which totaled $409 million in 2020. Seven of the nine council members indicated support for such a reduction.

While council members Kshama Sawant, Teresa Mosqueda, Andrew Lewis, Dan Strauss, Lisa Herbold, and Tammy Morales as well as Council President Lorena González voted to override the mayor’s veto, council members Debora Juarez and Alex Pedersen voted to sustain it.

Sawant was the only member to vote against the original bill in August, calling it an “austerity budget” and Juarez was absent.

Seven votes were needed to overcome the mayor’s vetoes.

“When I look back in this moment in time, I want to be able to tell my daughter, who I am currently holding in my arms, that I did the right thing and that I voted on the right side of history,” González said. “My vote today to override the mayor’s veto is one action to move our city toward a more just society.”

UPDATE: “At the end of the day, after previous promises of a 50 percent cut to SPD, the reductions to the SPD budget are almost exactly those proposed by the Mayor and former Chief Best, but none of the other issues Council admitted are problems have been addressed,” Kelsey Nyland, spokesperson for Durkan’s office, said in a statement after the vote. “For weeks, the Mayor has worked with Council and offered solutions in an attempt to find common ground. The Mayor thought they had built that consensus on many issues in the compromise legislation introduced yesterday. While councilmembers have publicly stated they wanted to work with Mayor Durkan to address issues in the 2020 budget, they chose a different path.”

Continue reading

‘Recall Kshama Sawant’ — Court to decide if recall against District 3 leader can move forward — UPDATE: ‘Certified for election’

The homepage of the recall campaign’s site

UPDATE 4:44 PM: The recall campaign can move forward. Judge Rogers ruled Wednesday that the charges in the case are sufficient to certify the petition on the four allegations argued in the day’s hearing and that the matter can now move forward to the election process meaning signature gathering to place a vote on the ballot.

In the decision, Rogers outlined his role as gatekeeper and noted there is evidence to support both the recall effort and Sawant’s responses to some of the alleged improprieties. “(I)n this proceeding, this Court’s role is not to weigh factual disputes over allegations,” Rogers writes, “but to examine whether, if the the allegation, taken as true, are sufficient.”

Details on the four allegations that will move forward in the recall process are below. The full response from Rogers is embedded here..

Sawant was scheduled to make a speech to supporters following the decision. According to a Sawant representative, Sawant will launch an appeal supported by the City Attorney.

Judge Jim Rogers, top right, Iglitzin, top left, and McKay, bottom during the Wednesday morning videoconference hearing

UPDATE 12:30 PM: The closure of City Hall this summer due to the COVID-19 crisis and Kshama Sawant’s appearance at a protest outside Mayor Jenny Durkan’s Northeast Seattle home could be key factors in the decision on whether the recall effort against the District 3 councilmember should move forward.

In a Wednesday morning hearing, Judge Jim Rogers heard Sawant’s legal counter arguing against certifying the recall petition against her that would clear the way for a ballot decision on her recall next year.

In his presentation to the judge, Dmitri Iglitzin of the Barnard Iglitzin & Lavitt law firm representing Sawant argued the recall effort lacks “specificity” and said the issues cited are political and not legally substantial. “This is not a campaign event,” Iglitzin said.

Meanwhile, Davis Wright Tremaine lawyer John McKay representing the recall campaign said Sawant’s acts including opening a COVID-closed City Hall to protesters and participating in a protest in front of the “confidential” location of the mayor’s residence are violations worthy of the recall being sent to the ballot. Continue reading

43rd District forum: Chopp touts years of political experience, Lascelles calls for change of ‘political will’ in Olympia

The fundamental division of the race between state Rep. Frank Chopp and activist challenger Sherae Lascelles was brought into stark relief Thursday night during a virtual forum hosted by the 43rd District Democrats. The election is not just a referendum on policy proposals, but a question of what voters value more: a candidate in Chopp who was the longest serving House speaker in state history with extensive experience shepherding legislation or a candidate like Lascelles who has been the subject of decisions made in Olympia as a non-binary person of color.

So while there are differences between the candidates, like Lascelles bluntly calling themself an “abolitionist” while Chopp stops at saying he supports reducing police funding and funneling that money into housing and mental health services as well as independent oversight of law enforcement, the incumbent Thursday night focused on specific measures he has pushed in his 25 years in the state legislature, while Lascelles focused on how those policies affect people like them.

Thursday, Chopp called for a permanent extension of the statewide eviction moratorium implemented because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, lifting the statewide ban on rent control that has stunted local efforts to cap rent, and an increase in funding for affordable housing. Lascelles called these measures, which would face uphill battles in Olympia, a “great start.”

“We quite literally need to cancel rent and cancel mortgages,” Lascelles said on the Zoom forum to about 120 attendees. “It’s gonna hit us hard, it’s gonna hit us for a while. I’m currently living in precarity because I’m one of those individuals that without the eviction moratorium, I would be homeless again. It’s not enough to just delay the debt. That debt can cripple the entirety of someone’s future and life.” Continue reading