Police and Criminal Justice Reform
With each month, we hear another disturbing and disheartening story of excessive force and racial profiling involving our police department. Most recently, Charleena Lyles tragically lost her life at the hands of police who had been called to help her. Too many of our neighbors are over-policed and under-protected by our criminal justice system. We know that our most marginalized communities are disproportionately impacted by police violence. Nationally, half of people killed by the police have a disability and African-Americans are three times more likely than white people to be killed by the police.
While there are many dedicated officers on the force who truly work to protect and serve, we must take a systemic approach to solving the problem of police misconduct. The recent legislation passed by City council does not go far enough. We need to enact true police and criminal justice reform, including greatly expanding civilian oversight and investing in alternatives to incarceration.
Strengthen Civilian Oversight of the Seattle Police Department
The future of police accountability in our city requires robust oversight from community members, bodies like the Community Police Commission and the Inspector General, and active participation from our City Council.
The recent police accountability legislation is a step in the right direction to provide civilian oversight of the police department, but there is more work to be done. We must establish a complainant appeal process that allows for the community to draw lessons learned from incidents where civil rights and/or community expectations of our police department were violated, even if the disciplinary process failed to provide a sanction for that behavior. We must also establish independent external investigations of serious uses of force, consistent with recommendations of the 21st Century Policing Commission. We can look to Snohomish County for one example of how this presently works in this state. We must demand an end to coercive interrogation techniques that produce false confessions and erode confidence and trust in our police department.
Additionally, we must require our City Council to step up to the plate in using its budget authority to support positive policing changes SPD has already embraced, while precluding problematic practices that injure or harm people. Our City Council must expand funding for effective policing practices like the LEAD program. At the other end of the continuum, the Council should proviso the SPD budget to prevent use of blast balls for crowd control.
The city should not support contracts that don’t include accountability measures for officers who brutalize people. Additionally, civil rights, and the lives and safety of citizens, should not be bargaining chips. All police union negotiations around discipline should be opened to the public.
Finally, we must support the work of community members organizing for Initiative 940. Washington law, as it pertains to prosecution of police brutality, is among the most regressive in the country. We need to support changing the law to create a system for independent investigations of police shootings.
Invest in Restorative Justice, Not Youth Jails
Data show that jailing non-violent youth puts our entire community at risk because those same youth are more likely become violent offenders as adults. Young offenders who are incarcerated are 67% more likely to be in jail again by the age of 25 than similar young offenders who were not incarcerated. Additionally, according to the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative’s December 2015 assessment, only 16% of crimes committed by youth were designated as “violent.” The majority of violent offenses committed by youth were simple assaults, which is a misdemeanor. The juvenile justice system also disproportionately impacts people with disabilities, with one study finding that 65-70% of justice-involved youth have a disability. For these reasons, I strongly oppose construction of the Children and Family Justice Center (“youth jail”).
As a community, we can do better. States and communities across the nation recognize that finding alternatives to incarceration reduces recidivism, reduces crime rates, and saves municipalities money. We should take the $225 million earmarked for the Youth Jail and instead invest it on community-led, restorative justice based programs.
I strongly support alternatives to youth-detention. We should expand city grants to organizations like Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) who are already doing excellent, community-based work to rehabilitate youth who offend. Schools all over King County and in Seattle are starting to invest in restorative justice programs. I support expanding access to these programs while reducing reliance on punitive discipline strategies in schools. In Seattle Public Schools, black students are 18.6% of the student population and are suspended at a rate of 12.9% while white students make up 43.2% but are only suspended at rates of 3.8%. I support ending out of school suspensions in favor of restorative justice practices.
Finally, I oppose construction of the new North Precinct. For $160 million, we can greatly expand our investment in incarceration alternatives, community-based policing and restorative justice instead of new infrastructure.
Prioritize Decriminalization and Diversion Policies
We need to invest our public safety resources in community-based, harm-reduction solutions. I believe that investing our resources in harm-reduction strategies like safe consumption sites and the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD program) will better serve our community than incarceration.
King County's safe consumption site pilot program is based on the program in Vancouver, BC, which has prevent 5,000 overdoses in the 13 years it years it has been open. Expanding safe consumption sites in Seattle and King County is a smart, practical and compassionate way to address drug use and deaths in our community.
I support expanding the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program citywide. The LEAD program provides caseworkers to chronically homeless individuals, low-level drug dealers and users, and sex workers, instead of pushing those people into the criminal justice system. The LEAD program has reduced criminal recidivism rates by up to 60% among the population it serves. We should expand the LEAD program citywide to better serve our communities. In 2018, we can challenge the County to match $1 million in city funding and we should set a goal to reach $5 million in yearly funding long-term to bring LEAD citywide.
In addition to these existing programs, I also support alternative forms of accountability for crimes of poverty like loitering/disturbing the peace and driving with a suspended license and crimes like DUIs, sex work, drug-related offenses and any offenses that take place in public schools or public educational facilities. Arrests for these types of offenses funnel vulnerable populations like undocumented immigrants, people of color, transgender and queer people, and the homeless into the criminal justice system. Identifying alternatives to arrests and incarceration is a crucial immigration, racial and social justice issue.
Invest in the Community Service Officer Program
We should invest in rebuilding the Community Service Officer (CSO) program, which places unarmed Seattle Police Department employees in communities to respond to low-level calls like property crimes and landlord-tenant disputes. The CSO program was dismantled in 2004; it’s time to bring it back. CSOs could play an important role in working with houseless people and individuals dealing with drug addiction by connecting people to services instead of routing them into the criminal justice system. Instead of investing in 200 new police officers, the city should direct funding to expanding the CSO program.