The preamble to the Seattle City Charter states the purpose of municipal government is “protecting and enhancing the health, safety, environment, and general welfare of the people.”
When discord and disagreement threaten the effective discharge of these essential duties, government becomes dysfunctional. Every resident feels the impact.
Seattle policing is at such a place. Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell inherits a situation where the various officials and advocates involved with public safety are badly out of sync. They don’t even seem to inhabit the same universe.
We call on Harrell to convene a public-safety summit to gather input and forge a coherent strategy. It will take the community at large — not just the loudest or most persistent voices — to push elected officials to get over their differences and develop a unified plan.
This approach faces challenges. But trying to move forward when competing philosophies and interest groups each claim their own mandate is a recipe for failure. Consensus must be reached before more lives are lost, more resources are wasted and more community goodwill squandered.
What’s more, Seattle will not be able to recruit and hire the highest caliber police chief unless and until the mayor, council and residents can agree on what community safety — in all neighborhoods — should look like.
The latest dust-up on the 2022 city budget reflects deep divisions. On Tuesday, Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda released a spending package that cut $10 million from Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposal for the Seattle Police Department.
During a Wednesday presentation, council members seemed oddly content to note the salary savings that come as officers continue to leave. At the same time, council members Kshama Sawant, Lisa Herbold and Mosqueda sponsored amendments to reduce overtime funds and hiring incentives, which would seem to make a bad situation worse.
Mosqueda said an amendment to cut technology projects was vetted by the monitor of the federal consent decree overseeing SPD reform. “We did make sure to ask the police accountability monitor to make sure the items we were considering reducing from technology were not of concern,” she said.
But in an email to The Times editorial board after the council presentation, the monitor, Dr. Antonio Oftelie, shared a letter he sent to the council on Nov. 8 warning that proposed cuts to data collection and analysis “may place the City at further risk of noncompliance” with the consent decree.
Oftelie noted: “Contrary to statements made, no member of the City Council has reached out or discussed this with me.”
With revenue expectations coming in weaker than expected, every penny had to be pinched, explained Mosqueda. At the same time, the council’s overall package includes $200,000 for a guaranteed basic income program, $360,000 for a Victim Compensation Fund and $5 million for pre-arrest diversion and restorative justice programs.
Durkan called the council’s actions “déjà vu all over again.” Harrell said the council “needs to listen to voters’ desire for immediate investments in public safety.” The Downtown Seattle Association called it “a tone-deaf budget proposal.”
All of which leaves residents scratching their heads. Just a week before, they elected Harrell, Ann Davison as Seattle City Attorney and Sara Nelson to the City Council — all of whom supported law enforcement during their campaigns.
There is precedence that a community conversation can lead to positive results.
In 1990, Mayor Norm Rice led a citywide education summit with 32 community meetings and thousands of attendees, which eventually paved the way for a successful Seattle schools levy.
Four years ago, Durkan, King County Executive Dow Constantine and other leaders convened One Table, a regional group focused on homelessness. It led to the creation of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which takes over coordinating emergency shelter next year.
When it comes to community safety, much is at stake, and it’s not just low-level crimes that deserve attention. Last year, there were 52 homicides in Seattle. FBI statistics reveal the department cleared just 16 cases (crimes are not necessarily cleared the year they occurred). By comparison, the San Diego Police Department investigated 56 homicides, and cleared 48 cases.
A report to the City Council in August showed lengthening SPD response times across the city. For example, Priority One calls such as shootings and assaults in the North Precinct averaged 12 minutes in the second quarter of the year. It was nine minutes in the same time frame last year.
Questions about public safety in Seattle are many: Do we want a department that is staffed so that some cops walk a beat and know their neighborhood? Do we want police to only respond to potentially violent situations?
Could a public-safety summit fail? Rice faced those doubts when he took on busing and education. Yet he moved forward and beat the odds.
In his 2020 book, “Gaining Public Trust,” Rice wrote, “Framing questions around values first, with issues second, allows for building common ground and lessening the divisiveness prevalent in today’s toxic political environment.”
When it comes to policing, common ground is fast disappearing. Harrell should tap public sentiment to help him — and the City Council — together, chart a new course.