(CLICK PLAY TO WATCH ARCHIVED VIDEO OF EVENT)
5:35 PM: Click the window above to watch West Seattle/South Park City Councilmember Lisa Herbold‘s Town Hall, scheduled to spend the first hour on public safety, the second on the bridge closure. We’ll be chronicling each hour separately, as they happen. First, public safety, with the backdrop of the council’s recent vote to cut Seattle Police funding, leading to a veto fight with the mayor, who lost and just today announced the council’s planned cuts will take effect, including suspension of the Navigation Team.
Police Chief Adrian Diaz is the first guest; moderator is Brian Callanan, a West Seattleite who works for Seattle Channel. The chief starts with his five priorities for SPD, and says he’s a former West Seattleite who still has family here. He notes that the Southwest Precinct has had 2 homicides – with arrests in both; assaults, arsons, and motor vehicle thefts are up, while burglaries, robberies, and rapes are down. He acknowledges concern about street racing and Alki issues. He says staffing, however, is an issue almost daily, citywide, but today is the first day for a redeployment of 100 staffers citywide back to patrol/911 response. “Our core mission is responding to calls for service and preventing crime.”
5:40 PM: The chief says he has to leave, and turns it over to SW Precinct commander Capt. Kevin Grossman. He says crime in West Seattle is down 15 percent overall, perhaps because of the pandemic and bridge closure. But he says he’s been hearing a lot about quality-of-life issues in Alki and South Park. “I’d like to address them (but) the biggest problem I’m facing … is staffing.” As we’ve reported before, he’s lost 10 percent of the sworn officers to resignations, retirements, and lateral (other department) moves. He talked about how it took an hour for a repeat caller to get a response because the four officers on at that time were busy with higher-priority calls. “That illustrates my point – we just don’t have the staffing to get to all the calls.” He says the redeployment isn’t going to help much because “50 percent of the people assigned (to the precinct) have indicated their intention to leave.” Half his staffing most nights also has been lost to dealing with protests in other parts of town, but the chief has come up with a way to address that, that should help, he says.
5:46 PM: Back to Councilmember Herbold, who talks about the plan for alternative means of community safety, and the mayor’s announcement that – in addition to going ahead with cuts – means that violence-prevention organizations will get the funding allotted by the council. She says participatory budgeting – with everyone from small businesses to activist groups participating – will help shape the changes. She says the size of the police force may decline as some functions move to other types of responses, but that doesn’t mean no police – it means that officers will be able to focus on what they’re truly needed for. She mentions an Oregon program called CAHOOTS that’s been cited before, saying it handles 20 percent of 911 calls in its jurisdiction.
She moves on to LEAD – Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion – which is expanding to West Seattle, into a long-planned move for which Herbold has advocated. Guests from the program, including a Prosecuting Attorney’s Office rep – join her. First, Tracy Gillespie, the program’s operations director, who explains that it’s for people who have repeat contacts with police, and referrals can be made by community members as well as by law enforcers. It’s meant to be a very neighborhood-centered program. Project manager Aaron Burkhalter speaks next. He says he’s been talking with community members already “to try to get a good sense of what’s going on … trying to prioritize as much as we can.” He says they’re already handling “high-priority referrals … from West Seattle.” firstname.lastname@example.org is his email address. The King County PAO who supervises three LEAD-liaison lawyers, Natalie Walton-Anderson, a West Seattleite, calls the program “amazing” in its ability to address people “engaging in public disorder and low-level crimes” while dealing with substance disorder and untreated mental illness. Prosecutors’ role: “We want to come up with a solution that doesn’t involve jail.” But that doesn’t mean no accountability – they also want to hear what’s not working, as well as what is.
6:04 PM: Questions and comments from viewers now, read by Callanan. First – how will community safety be measured post-defunding, and what happens if it doesn’t work? Herbold says the term “defunding means a lot of different things to different people.” She says metrics will be used, from crimes reported to 911 calls received to the annual public-safety survey. It’s not about not policing, she stresses: “This is about allowing law enforcement to focus on its core mission.” The SPD budget reductions proposed in the new budget largely involve transferring functions outside the department. As for the initial reduction in officers passed by the council, that’s going to take a while because they have to be “bargained” (as also noted in the mayor’s announcement today). Herbold mentioned again that they want reductions to come from a list of officers who have troubled histories – “about 25 of them.” There’s a hiring freeze right now pending “the conversation about the future” of public safety.
Second, Capt. Grossman is asked about how cuts will affect policing in our area. “We will always look to ensure we’ve got adequate 911 coverage, especially when it comes to life-safety issues.” He adds that he doesn’t like the term “defunding” either but “there’s nothing wrong with a reset, society-wise,” discussing what police’s role should be. “It’s a good time to have that conversation,” he says, acknowledging SPD “takes a large part of the city’s budget.”
Third, another question for Capt. Grossman, about street racing, drug use, and other disorder: “When are we going to get support and relief on Harbor Avenue SW?” He replies, “I don’t know if I’d been here a day when I started getting emails from neighbors about those issues.” But it’s a “resource issue” and they’re “very very short-staffed at night …. times when I’m down to 4 officers.” The new citywide Community Response Group is intended from hereon out to handle protests so Southwest Precinct officers can stay in this area. He says maybe longterm, changes – maybe making Alki 1-way? – could help more than enforcement. “Long-term issues like street design are going to be longer-term solutions.”
6:15 PM: Herbold says Capt. Grossman is also supportive of making the Alki Point Keep Moving/Stay Healthy Street permanent, and thanks him for that. Next question – from an advocate for reducing gun violence. They want to know if Herbold’s office is developing relationships with community organizations like theirs. Herbold says that sort of thing is part of the community-organization funding just approved by the council (and vetoed by the mayor, then upheld by the council). She’ll be meeting with Human Services Director Jason Johnson to see whether funding will go to expand current contracts or whether new ones will be added. “If you’ve got particular programs that are doing work in West Seattle, let me know.” Callanan then asks the captain “what’s being done to address gun violence in South Park?” Grossman mentions his time as South Precinct commander, dealing with much more gun violence than this area, but as he’s said before, shots-fired calls are a priority, and he stresses the importance of his officers thoroughly investigating them. He also mentions the importance of working with youth to prevent violence before it starts.
Next, for Herbold (and Callanan says they might stretch the public-safety discussion beyond 6:30 pm) “how will your vote to reduce police funding affect your constituents; will we lose the precinct” (as once suggested by former Police Chief Carmen Best)? Herbold says this is an opportunity “to clarify what we actually did.” Budget rebalancing – not just SPD cuts – was necessary because of the revenue decline caused by the pandemic. It’s important to understand “how little we actually cut,” she says. She also explains that the precinct is NOT in jeopardy – it was at the time a reaction to another councilmember’s proposal for dramatic cuts that were never going to happen – and she ensured that by “legislatively establish(ing) budget levels for each precinct.” That bill meant no precinct could be closed without a council vote, which she would “never, ever support.”
Next, “When are you going to do something about all the RVs parked on Andover next to the West Seattle Health Club?” Herbold says, “I worked in the budget process several years ago for funding the RV Remediation Program .. when problem areas are identified, RVs are either asked to minimize their impacts to the areas where they are located, or move … I also worked to get funding through Seattle Public Utilities for RV pump-outs … The city’s approach is not one where we’re out there just towing RVs because they’re unlawfully parked or people’s living in them … we’re really focused on minimizing the impacts to surrounding communities … not having people’s RVs towed, one of the only things they have of value. … Unfortunately we have a lot of people living in their vehicles, and our focus is not to be punitive, but to minimize the impacts they have to surrounding communities.” Grossman adds, “It’s always been a challenge” and notes that the mayor’s office has a moratorium on moving campers or RV residents because of COVID. He underscores that they try to do what they can about reducing impact, and sometimes his officers can try to get them to leave for a while, though they often come back.
LEAD’s Burkhalter says they do work with people living in vehicles, working with the Scofflaw Mitigation Team (though this area wouldn’t be in their initial West Seattle focus, which will be in Cottage Grove and The Junction).
Next question – why does SPD put so much focus on “managing protests” instead of focusing resources elsewhere? “We have to make sure we facilitate people’s First Amendment rights but also have to make sure people’s lives are not in danger, and significant property damage is not occurring,” he says. He also adds that decisions are made based on projections from what police are seeing on social media. But again, he’s hopeful the department’s new protest-response team will free up his officers for what needs to be attended to here.
Asked for her thoughts, Herbold says she is also opposed to property damage, hate speech, arson, violence against officers, and if that happens or seems likely,”police are going to err on the side of caution and show up.” But reimagining public safety can lead to decisions freeing up police, too.
Then she adds that she wants to address the defunding of the Navigation Team, though that was not asked: The funding for it was reallocated to expand service providers’ contracts, she says, to make sure the work of reaching out to people living outdoors continues. Those providers have a better success rate than the Navigation Team did, she says. “Our vote is not about stopping that engagement or stopping the efforts to mitigate the impacts of people living outdoors.” She says letters today from the mayor don’t mention the reallocation of funding, so she’s concerned. “I’m really concerned that this omission is going to manufacture chaos by stopping the work of the Navigation Team and not replacing it, which was not the council’s intention.” LEAD can help, she says. She asks Gillespie to elaborate. “There’s a huge gray area between public disorder and criminal activity.” The organization REACH – the LEAD service provider – specializes in working with people “on their longterm behavior” and what they need to improve that behavior. She says stabilizing people has “extremely effective results.”
6:44 PM: That’s it for the public-safety discussion; we’re covering the Town Hall’s second hour, more like 3/4 of an hour now – on the bridge – in a separate story (go here).