Seattle City Councilwoman Lisa Herbold hopes you’re suffering from a bad case of amnesia.
She hopes you will forget that she, along with six of her council colleagues, pledged to defund the police department by 50%, ignoring calls to slow down and think through whether they could deliver (they couldn’t).
She hopes you will forget that she stayed silent about a dangerous climate in the occupied protest zone known as CHOP — speaking out only after people died.
And now, she hopes you will blame the media for holding her accountable.
In a Seattle Times Op-Ed [“National crime study recommends urgent action,” Opinion, Feb. 20] Herbold lamented that “the media” covers crime unfairly: “In Seattle, there’s a pattern to some media coverage of crime when, tragically, it happens: Some reporting suggests an untrue narrative that the City Council ‘tied SPD’s hands’ or is ‘unconcerned about crime,’ ” she wrote.
I have certainly accused the council of not caring about crime — because I believe that’s the truth.
When rioters broke windows of the Starbucks at Pike Place on Jan. 20 (apparently in the name of immigration reform) most council members, as has become custom, said nothing.
Councilmember Andrew Lewis, who represents downtown, managed to put out a meek condemnation, characterizing it as “petty vandalism.”
“I can’t be the only one completely mind boggled that Seattle’s elected leaders literally do not care about any of this,” I tweeted in response. “They genuinely do not.”
Perhaps my tweet upset Herbold, but she is ignoring a far more consequential rebuke.
In a Jan. 29 interview on the Q13 FOX Sunday morning show “The Divide,” which I host, interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz expressed concern that frequent acts of criminal unrest were pulling resources from a concerning spike in homicides and shootings.
Asked directly, “Do you think the city council cares about the death rate and the shooting rate?” he could not say for certain.
“I sure hope so,” he said. “I’m not going to put words in their mouth.”
On the same day, Mayor Jenny Durkan answered that question more directly.
“I haven’t had a single city council member ask me about it,” she said.
I reached out to Councilmembers Herbold, Lewis and Tammy Morales for comment — Lewis and Morales because of crime in their districts; Herbold because she chairs the public safety committee. I requested “any specific information on what work they’re doing to help address these critical public safety issues.”
Instead, in her Op-Ed, Herbold deflected responsibility and, most concerning, made excuses for violence.
She cited a report from The National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice that detailed a rise in violent crime and property offenses. It recommended urgent action on three issues: The pandemic; concerns about policing; and funding anti-violence strategies.
Herbold wrote: “ … some are desperate to assign blame for the problems we see in our streets. But like everything we’ve learned through this pandemic, rather than spread blame or misinformation we must work together if we are to survive together.”
An interesting conclusion to an Op-Ed that began by blaming the media.
While it is true that leaders must work together with urgency to address critical issues facing the city, they first have to be honest about what those problems are.
Desperation brought on by the pandemic is not an excuse for violence, nor is it an excuse for council members to bury their heads in the sand on persistent issues like mental health, drug abuse and criminal unrest.
Yet in her Op-Ed, Herbold downplayed responsibility: “Though officer staffing decreased by 135 during 2020, no officers were laid off as a result of council’s budget reductions,” she wrote.
That is misleading at best. Police staffing decreased at record levels in 2020, in part because officers fled over the council’s rush to defund. Essentially, officers left before they could be let go.
While the council continues its effort to re-imagine public safety, crime isn’t standing still. Neither are the city’s deepening crises.
The result is a police department forced to respond to thousands of calls of people in crisis each year. A police department left patrolling homeless camps and babysitting anarchists.
We needed urgency on crime long before the pandemic pushed it to record levels. We needed urgency on police reform long before George Floyd. We needed urgency on homelessness, drug abuse and repeat offenders long before the fabric of a once thriving city started to unravel.
What we don’t need is a study telling us that elected leaders should act with urgency. We need council members who can come to that conclusion on their own.
Until then, it is the media’s job to hold them accountable.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.