What's going on with the summer investments in public safety? HSD is dragging its feet.

Updates on the Seattle CSI, the Community Capacity investments, and ongoing discussion about the use of less-lethal weapons in Seattle

The Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting ran behind this week, so they didn’t make it through all their agenda items. Still, it was a pertinent meeting, with more important discussion to come in future weeks.

At this meeting we heard presentations about the Seattle Community Safety Initiative (CSI) and the Community Capacity Investment process. For those who need reminding, both of these projects involve money allocated in the summer 2020 budget rebalancing, which Mayor Durkan then vetoed and the Council then overrode. The Seattle CSI involves $4m set aside for violence prevention programs, and the Community Capacity investments involve $12m set aside to build community organization capacity for community safety-related programs.

The Seattle CSI consists of four organizations: two smaller grass-roots organizations, Community Passageways and Urban Family, and local operations of two larger national organizations, the YMCA (specifically the Alive & Free program) and the Boys and Girls Club. These four organizations are working in partnership, together creating a net and being able to communicate and de-escalate from all sides, and all with Black and Brown leadership. They are excited to have their community hubs be properly resourced and able to provide the following services: Crisis incident response, wrap-around services, follow-up, outreach and recruitment, and continuous training and knowledge sharing. They made a point of emphasizing their programs are not meant to be a replacement for the police, and indeed, it sounds like they are trying, at least some of the time, to coordinate with the SPD.

CM Morales made a point during the presentation that it's important to think of impacting community safety by creating community conditions that lead to more food security, affordable housing, greater access to healthcare, more employment opportunities, etc. Addressing root causes for crime is a key to seeing improvement. This insight is critical for both this violence prevention money and the community capacity investment process discussed further below, and she was concerned at not seeing it being uplifted more.

The Community Capacity Investment process: HSD is only now developing the RFP for this money, which is a bit shocking when you realize this money was allocated for expenditure in August 2020, more than five months ago. Yes, the Mayor then vetoed the budget and it took another month for the City Council to overturn that veto, but that still meant HSD had the entire fall to develop the RFP…and they simply did not. Unsurprisingly then, they are extremely far behind in getting this money out the door to the organizations that need it, with specific contracts not expected to be released until July 1. That’s right, HSD is taking almost a full year to get this money out. In addition, they are anticipating needing up to $1.6m just for administration costs. I don’t know if this is a particularly noteworthy amount, but it is disappointing given how much need there is on the ground for this money.

As for the guidelines for receiving these grants, HSD has been directed to work around the intercept model framework. There is an open question as to how much of this money will be awarded to the work further upstream addressing root causes that CM Morales was discussing versus addressing crime more directly.

Here is HSD’s presented timeline for these investments, which they explicitly said is expedited compared to how quickly they normally move:

Feb 23: another committee update

March 1: RFP released

May 6: another committee update

May 13: rewards will be announced

July 1: contracts will be released

Discussion of the Less Lethal Weapons Draft Bill: This part of the meeting was a mess. There was originally supposed to be a committee vote on this today, after which they’d send the draft bill to the Court to go through the consent decree approval process before it would go to a full Council vote. However, in the end, there wasn’t time for much discussion or any vote. The revised version of this bill had not yet been released for public review, and not even the other CMs had seen the amendments up for discussion, hence the mess, especially for an issue of such importance to the community. Having no access to the presentation slides, I made do by snapping a few key photos explaining the revised bill:

But really, even after listening to the presentation, I’m not clear on exactly what this new version of the bill entails, and CM Sawant rightly asked to postpone to give the public time to review this proposal. She was also very concerned by changes to the private right of action in this new version, which she says is the only way to truly enforce this ban and hold the city establishment responsible. What is the private right of action? It upholds the ability of individuals to sue the City for financial damages should the less-lethal weapons legislation not be followed by the SPD.

Amendments being proposed include two from CM Herbold: one that would allow the use of tear gas in certain circumstances instead of outright banning it, and one that changes the language of the private right of action and narrows it even further. CM Sawant has a few proposed amendments, but the only one we heard about is an amendment that restores the language of the private right of action to that in the original bill passed by the Council this past summer. Interestingly, while CM Herbold is framing changes to this bill as an attempt to make it more likely to be acceptable to Judge Robart (who oversees the consent decree), the private right of action is not something I’d expect him to be especially interested in, so further scrutiny of those changes in particular seems wise.

The committee will continue discussing this at their next meeting in two weeks, along with the ordinance reducing the SPD’s 2021 budget to reflect them going over their budget in 2020, and also hopefully an update on the number of 2020 SPD sworn officer separations. The committee’s discussion on less lethal weapons is worth following closely, particularly given the SPD’s egregious behavior at protests this past summer.