Touring the Seattle Police Department’s North Precinct station didn’t change City Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s mind. She says the planned construction of a replacement building wouldn’t be the best use of $149 million. Crude political stickers in the locker room didn’t help.
Before touring the Seattle Police Department’s existing North Precinct station, City Councilmember Kshama Sawant said the planned construction of a replacement building wouldn’t be the best use of $149 million.
Following the Friday tour, her opinion hadn’t changed.
Though Mayor Ed Murray and police officials have said a new North Precinct is needed because the existing building is overcrowded and run-down, Sawant says the money for the project would be better spent on affordable housing and social services.
The council member says the existing building is good enough for now and argues the project’s $149 million budget could pay for 1,000 units of public housing.
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“I think we owe it to the public that taxpayers’ dollars are used in a very responsible manner. For me, the question isn’t whether this building is absolutely perfect. That’s not the standard I’m using,” Sawant said.
“The most urgent needs are to address our lack of affordable housing, the raging homelessness crisis … Those are the priorities,” she said.
The city’s public schools and the work spaces that other city employees use are also crowded, Sawant said.
Police officials gave Sawant the tour at her request and allowed some journalists and others to tag along, including Seattle King County NAACP President Gerald Hankerson. Some of the visitors spotted locker-room stickers that disparaged President Obama, prompting questions about appropriateness.
Three other council members have visited the building, said Brian Maxey, the Police Department’s chief operating officer.
The 1984 building near North Seattle College is shabby compared to the replacement the city plans to build at Aurora Avenue North and North 130th Street.
The project has been in the works for years but began making headlines recently when it came to light that the initial price tag of $89 million had grown to $160 million.
In response to pushback from council members and citizens, Murray last month agreed to cut about $11 million by halving the size of a garage for officers’ personal vehicles and by waiting to build out a training facility and to install some solar panels.
That didn’t stop hundreds of people opposed to the project and the price tag from rallying at City Hall for the council to halt the plan, many of them mentioning the department’s record of using excessive force as well as racial bias in policing nationally.
The council instead passed a resolution ordering a racial-equity analysis of the project, putting off any decision about the overall project until budget talks this fall.
Officials say the existing North Precinct station was meant to serve as a base for 154 staff members, but now serves 254. They say there’s no space for an expansion there.
To demonstrate the building’s cramped conditions, officials showed the visitors a room reclaimed from the lobby that staff members use to store their riot gear. They pointed to sergeants sharing cubicles in a windowless room. And they walked through the building’s “sally port,” where officers unload detainees from their vehicles. The sally port is being used on an ad-hoc basis as a patrol-bicycle storage and maintenance area.
The building wasn’t crammed with staff members during the tour, however. They use the building across three shifts, and there were multiple open cubicles Friday morning.
The visitors trudged through a building that looked like what it is: something from the 1980s. They saw a dingy shooting range in the basement where one of the shooting stalls had yellow caution tape draped over it because it was out of operation.
The tour stopped near a basement room where a sump pump was running. The building has flooded before, destroying equipment.
The building isn’t exactly falling apart, however, and the room with the sump pump is being used as a fitness center by Seattle Police Gyms, a private, membership organization. The building hasn’t flooded badly since the late 1990s, officials acknowledged.
The tour didn’t include a peek at additional space the department leases for North Precinct staff members in an office building across the street.
Officials have said a new station will help the department train officers to better carry out court-ordered reforms and serve the community, including people of color.
But Sawant said the changes needed to have more to do with the department’s culture than with a building. She cited the crude locker-room stickers spotted by a journalist from The Stranger and by one of her council aides.
Officials didn’t let the aide photograph the stickers, Sawant said. One incorporated an Obama campaign logo into the words “Bend Over,” and the other showed Calvin from the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon strip urinating on the logo, The Stranger reported.
In a video commentary afterward, Ijeoma Oluo, a writer who took part in the tour, called the stickers taking aim at the country’s first black president offensive.
“How is a new building going to fix your culture when you haven’t even addressed something as simple as these images in your locker room?” she said.
The Police Department’s Maxey said late Friday that the stickers had been taken down and the responsible officers given a talking to.
While the stickers violated no specific department policies, officials are disappointed in the officers for showing disrespect to the nation’s commander in chief and for not understanding or caring that the stickers might be viewed as race related, Maxey said.