With each month, we hear another disturbing and disheartening story of excessive force and racial profiling involving our police department. Too many of our neighbors are over-policed and under-protected by our criminal justice system. 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. Current proposals by our elected officials do 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
It is critical that any police reform passed by the city includes true civilian oversight. The current proposal by City Council creates a “three-legged” stool including the Community Police Commission (CPC), the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA). However, I stand with citizen advocates to demand that the CPC have true civilian oversight over the police department. I believe the CPC must have the power to conduct yearly performance reviews of OPA and to direct the Inspector General to investigate specific issues. I am disappointed in the City Council’s decision to reject both of these proposals. Without true civilian oversight, we cannot be assured that a strong mayor, city council or police union will block needed reforms.
In addition to an independent and empowered CPC, I support the proposal to eliminate the Discipline Review Board in favor of a new, civilian-staffed review board. The Discipline Review Board is over-represented with police management who consistently fail to hold misbehaving officers accountable: the Department of Justice investigation found that in over 200 cases of excessive force and racial discrimination, not a single police officer was fired. Creating a civilian-staffed review board as well as requiring all OPA employees to be civilians are important steps toward holding officers accountable.
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. 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 prevented 5,000 overdoses in the 13 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 also 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.
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.