Dec 16, 2022
For this Hacks & Wonks week-in-review, Crystal is joined by returning co-host: Seattle political reporter and editor of PubliCola, Erica Barnett! The show starts with yesterday’s acquittal verdict of embattled Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer whose trial followed familiar narratives of an officer fearing for their life, leading to a disappointing but unsurprising outcome. The release of Governor Inslee’s proposed budget hints at Democratic priorities in the upcoming legislative session such as housing affordability, expansion of mental health services, and education. Meanwhile, with Washington state on track to hit a 25-year high in traffic deaths, Crystal and Erica discuss the need to address road design and a possible lowering of the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) level for meaningful improvements in road user safety. Finally, the two talk about the decisions of Seattle City Councilmembers Debora Juarez and Lisa Herbold to not run for re-election as well as a recent King County auditor report showing insufficient data collection by county diversion programs and plans for a 2023 assessment of the traditional criminal legal system for comparison.
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
Follow us on Twitter at @HacksWonks. Find the host, Crystal Fincher, on Twitter at @finchfrii and find today’s co-host, Erica C. Barnett, at @ericacbarnett. More info is available at officialhacksandwonks.com.
“Jury acquits Sheriff Troyer of false reporting in case involving newspaper carrier” by Jared Brown from The News Tribune
“Ed Troyer beat the rap, but can Pierce County’s sheriff outrun the mistrust he’s sown?” by Matt Driscoll from The News Tribune
“Housing, homelessness, and behavioral health: Here are some of Inslee's 2023 budget priorities” by Shauna Sowersby from The News Tribune
“Washington traffic deaths on track to hit 25-year high” by Christine Clarridge from Axios
“The Urbanist’s Ryan Packer Discusses Worsening Traffic Safety Crisis on KUOW” by Doug Trumm from The Urbanist
“Seattle City Council President Debora Juarez won't seek reelection” by Josh Cohen from Crosscut
“Seattle Councilmember Lisa Herbold will not run for reelection in 2023” by Dyer Oxley & David Hyde from KUOW
“King County jail diversion programs not collecting enough data” by David Gutman from The Seattle Times
[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I am Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington State through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.
Today, we are continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week with a cohost. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show and today's cohost: Seattle political reporter, editor of PubliCola, cohost of the Seattle Nice podcast and author of Quitter: A Memoir of Drinking, Relapse, and Recovery, Erica Barnett.
[00:01:00] Erica Barnett: Thanks, Crystal.
[00:01:02] Crystal Fincher: There are a number of things we can cover this week. We will start off with big news in Pierce County about Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer, who was acquitted on misdemeanor charges of false reporting related to an incident he had with a Black newspaper carrier in Tacoma. What happened here?
[00:01:22] Erica Barnett: Yeah, I think you've probably been following this even more closely than I am - living close to, slightly closer to Pierce County than I do. But I - from the coverage I've read, Troyer was acquitted of false reporting in a situation where he had a confrontation with a mail carrier. Troyer is white. The mail carrier was Black - sorry, a newspaper carrier. And the confrontation led to - Troyer at one point called in police, something like 40 cop cars showed up - endangering this newspaper carrier. And he was later charged with false reporting - he claimed that he was threatened by this guy and that he was in fear for his life, gave a lot of conflicting testimony about this over the interceding months. There is body camera footage that indicated that his story was not exactly accurate. The police reports also conflicted with his claim that he was in mortal danger. And yet, a six-person jury - all men, mostly white - decided that he was not guilty of this offensive false reporting. And so he is now claiming that he was vindicated.
[00:02:49] Crystal Fincher: I was not surprised to see Sheriff Troyer characterize this as a complete vindication and justification, that this was a political witch hunt against him by liberals - who hate police, as he would characterize that. I don't agree with that sentiment. But I do - I did see that there were a number of red flags in the beginning of the trial as I was watching it, just as a Black woman who pays attention to these things and who has seen these situations unfold - about the types of motions that were granted and not, the type of evidence that was allowed to be shared that the jury was able to hear and that the jury was not able to hear. Certainly in these situations, we as the public are privy to a lot more information, sometimes, than the jurors are. And so it was clear that we were going to get more information about the mail carrier's background, issues or incidences that may have happened before - even though he was basically the victim in this scenario. And we were not going to hear a number of things about the background and certain elements about Sheriff Troyer. And in those situations, we have so frequently seen those wind up in acquittals of law enforcement officers who are on trial - this is an area that we have notoriously had difficulty with. It's exceedingly rare - still - to see police charged in situations that look like they're worthy of charges. These were misdemeanor charges, they were not felony charges - and so we will see how this is.
But some things that are not in dispute - Ed Troyer is currently on the Brady list of officers who are known to have been dishonest before, and that information needs to be disclosed and can color whether or not those law enforcement officers can testify in court or not, or have their testimony doubted because of prior propensity towards being a liar being shown. So from a layman's perspective, this definitely seems like an unjust result where there are known inconsistencies - he said that his life was threatened when he made that call, which of course - a response to a Black man - that's asking for a violent outcome in today's world and the incidences that we see. So it's just a challenge, and it just is always disappointing, even if not surprising. And just underscores that it is challenging to hold people accountable equally in our society - especially those who hold more power, have more money, or are in law enforcement.
[00:05:41] Erica Barnett: Yeah - in the trial, Troyer's attorney kept referring to him as "a great man" and there was clearly this - or at least once referred to him as "a great man" - but portrayed him as this incredible, upstanding citizen who's protecting the people of Pierce County. And I think there was just this narrative of - how could this white sheriff have done such a thing? That's just impossible - look at him. And definitely playing into the sort of veneration of law enforcement and particularly white law enforcement. Again, I also can't speak to the jury's state of mind, but all those tropes came into play during this trial. And I think were probably very effective at convincing the jury that he could not have been guilty of the things that he was accused of - and seemed quite guilty of, in my opinion, reading the coverage.
[00:06:40] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, there are some things that are not in dispute and that evidence has shown. He did say that his life was threatened when he did initially call in. And he says - I called the non-emergency number, then the other number. He knows the non-emergency number, he can call that - it still was with the goal of eliciting a response. And then did not repeat that, did not say that was the case when officers did come onto the scene. And that there were just inconsistencies in the story throughout, which even if that is aside from the level - from the issue of guilt or innocence under what the jury can consider in these circumstances, technically in that situation - it goes to how honest is a sheriff? How honest is law enforcement?
And the one thing that I haven't seen talked about in this is - so we saw the sheriff deputy who took the report, which did contradict what - or which Ed Troyer ended up contradicting and saying that he didn't say some things that were in the report. What's the status of that deputy? Is that deputy in fear of reprisal, as we've seen in several other departments where people who do speak against their superiors or even their fellow law enforcement officers - have been ostracized, have been assigned to desk duty, less than ideal assignments, have in some situations not received appropriate backup, or been placed in harmful situations, or been allowed to be in harmful situations. So I do wonder what things are like within that department right now and what the conversations are about the deputies who contradicted what Ed Troyer said.
[00:08:27] Erica Barnett: Yeah, that's a great question.
[00:08:29] Crystal Fincher: That's concerning. So we will continue to see what is happening in the aftermath of this trial and continue to follow this as we see what happens.
Now, we are in December - the legislative session is starting in less than a month and Governor Inslee released his proposed budget, which gives an idea of at least what he is focusing on, perhaps what Democratic leadership in the Legislature - and they have majorities - so what they're focusing on is likely to either pass or dominate conversation in the session. What did we see as Inslee's priorities in the budget?
[00:09:12] Erica Barnett: I think the biggest priority is this proposal to raise $4 billion over the next six years to increase the housing supply across the state. Now that would require a statewide referendum because - although it wouldn't raise taxes, it would basically allow the state to issue more debt - and so statewide voters would have to approve that. $4 billion over six years - that's a lot of money, it's probably not up to the need - so we're talking about thousands of units of housing rather than tens or hundreds of thousands. But that's the big highlight. He also has proposed expanding Western State Hospital to 350 more beds, which would essentially open up a new facility for Washington state residents in crisis. So that remains to be seen - how that will, how that proposal will go, or whether there'll be controversy over expanding a large mental health facility that has had some problems in the past. And there's some climate commitment goals, of course - spending money out of the Climate Commitment Act, that recently passed. And again, as usual, Inslee is focusing on things like clean energy and electric vehicles - not so much on reducing the number of vehicle miles traveled or doing things to get people out of those cars, electric or otherwise. And that's been a consistency theme with him that he's been criticized for by transportation advocates, who say that the only way that we can meet our climate goals is to stop driving so much and stop letting our communities sprawl out into the hinterlands and the forests. So I think that may also be a source of discussion this session. Are you hearing about anything else, Crystal?
[00:11:21] Crystal Fincher: I think I'm hearing a number of things that are consistent with what you're saying - a lot under the housing umbrella - certainly what you talked about are the headlines, some other action related to that. But there does seem to be a recognition that action is necessary to address the housing affordability crisis that we have across the state. A lot of times Seattle makes headlines for how expensive it is - and it certainly does appear to be one of the most expensive places in the state, certainly throughout King County. There are a few that top the list in the state. But also what happens in Seattle and in the major metropolitan areas impacts every city - impacts the suburbs and even rural areas - and impacts housing prices there. And so we've seen housing prices steadily creep up in suburban areas throughout the state where lots of people have traditionally looked to to find affordable housing. There are lots of areas that are no longer affordable for people who make an average income. And it actually looks like in the majority of areas, it's very challenging to find housing that an average income earner can find affordable, in addition to all of the other expenses in life - and so it is a concern.
Education is another area where there has been a lot of talk and consideration of need. We saw a number of teacher strikes earlier in the year, leading into the beginning of the school year, where they talked about special education funding and special education programs - in particular - being at the top of this crisis. In addition to staffing concerns in several areas - definitely within special education, but also just generally in teachers and in transportation for school districts, which has forced a number of school districts to enact less than ideal bell times, school start times, or transportation schedules because of shortages of drivers. So I think that certainly from an advocate's point of view and from some legislators, they were trying to highlight that. And there does seem like there is some inclination to address some of the funding, but whether it will make a meaningful dent - or if there's enough support among Democrats in the Legislature to take this action - we will see. But I think that's going to be another area that gets a lot of attention.
[00:13:53] Erica Barnett: I think too - just to jump back to housing and homelessness for one second, I think that the King County Regional Homelessness Authority is really going to be looking to the state for funding because the city and county didn't really up their funding this year. And so there's an open question of how much of that $4 billion might trickle down to - not only housing in King County, but housing specifically for people at risk of or experiencing homelessness in King County. And that remains an open question because we haven't seen all the details of this proposal yet. But I think that is something that King County is really going to be looking towards. And sometimes that money comes with strings attached - as we saw in the last legislative session, when the county got something like $49 million, $45 million for homelessness, or the King County Regional Authority did. But it has to go toward removing encampments, or rather resolving encampments and moving people indoors from highway overpasses owned by the state. So it'll be interesting to see how the local agency negotiates with the state over this money. And of course, it's not a given that it's going to pass because it does have to have voter approval.
[00:15:06] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And then there's another item in the news that may also be related to action in the Legislature. And that was news that Washington traffic deaths this year are set to hit a 25-year high. How did you react to this?
[00:15:25] Erica Barnett: Sadly, I wasn't terribly surprised. I think that we have a Vision Zero goal in the City of Seattle and there are Vision Zero goals in cities and counties and states all over the country - and that Vision Zero means zero traffic deaths or serious injuries by, I believe, 2030. We're obviously not at all on track and we've been headed in the wrong direction for a really long time. And so sadly, I wasn't surprised. I think that the pandemic - obviously, people started driving a little more recklessly because it was easier to do so with fewer people on the streets. But, I think this goes back to what I was saying about Inslee and his climate priorities. A lot of times the reasons for these fatalities when we do, we look at individual driver behavior and that is important - people are driving drunk more, there's just a lot of people speeding, and speeding in school zones. But that behavior always, or often, relates to the design of the road. And in this state, we have unfortunately - and in the City of Seattle and other cities, too - we don't really look at road design enough and we don't slow down the roads. It's meaningless to say the speed limit in Seattle is 25 mph on all arterials when you have these wide streets that make it very, very easy to go twice that or three times that. We're continuing to widen highways, we're continuing to widen roads that - we're building a giant highway on the waterfront here in Seattle. And so I think unless there's meaningful change to actually force people through design to slow down, we're going to continue seeing this trajectory, unfortunately.
And just real briefly, I will mention - on the blood, on the alcohol-related deaths, which I believe Axios reported that those are also up dramatically. There is legislation being proposed this year that would lower the maximum blood alcohol level to 0.05, which is what they did in Utah - and that does have a direct correlation to lower traffic deaths. It happened when everybody - when all the states, for the most part, lowered it to 0.08, which is what we have now. So that can also make a difference.
[00:17:54] Crystal Fincher: I hope - yeah, I hope it does. It looks like some other states are also inclined to move in that direction. You had mentioned earlier, before we started recording, that when many states lowered the blood alcohol level to 0.08, that traffic fatalities dropped at that time. So it goes to - it hopefully should follow that further lowering that blood alcohol level should also continue to decrease traffic fatalities due to alcohol - and just the reality overall that drinking and driving just don't mix at all. I think that there is the impression that buzzed driving is fine - there certainly have been media campaigns about buzzed driving is drunk driving. But it doesn't seem like that has really penetrated into the wide public. And, we have bars that let people drive home immediately after consuming however many drinks that they have. I've always thought - okay, well bars have parking lots - that just goes to follow that people are going to be driving after drinking and that seems suboptimal. And often thinking of that in context of the hysteria in enacting a lot of marijuana legislation - that we don't seem to treat that as consistently as we should. But it will be interesting to see how this follows.
I also was not surprised to see the level of deaths in car accidents - in accidents with cars - being this high. And Ryan Packer with The Urbanist has reported for quite some time - and they also have a Patreon - but just the steady drumbeat of dismemberment and injury in their reporting on Twitter that I see come down my timeline - it feels like daily they are covering another pedestrian that has been hit by a car, someone on a bus that's been hit by a car. The frequency of it is just jarring. And sometimes, you see numbers on a paper and - but just the daily reminder of - oh, there's an emergency response and the details, getting the details of that response - this was a pedestrian being hit by a car in this place in Seattle. And it does seem to take place in some areas in Seattle more frequently than others. And it does seem like we need to intervene in road design. There was a video that was circulating online earlier this week of a car driving in a protected bike lane, meaning that they were on the other side of a barrier that - it seems like it should have been clear that you should not be driving on the other side of a barrier. The road markings would not have made sense in that situation that they were driving over - but the car was just driving down that - behind a bike. And it's things like that - to your point of road design has a lot to do with it. Lots of people are asking why were there not bollards that would actually prevent a vehicle from being able to access this area in that situation.
But I do think that we need to pay a lot more attention to that at all levels of government. And I would love to see that being prioritized more. I know we're due to get a report in the City of Seattle from Mayor Harrell - I think it was in one of his executive orders, or something that I was reading the other day - that either in Q1 or Q2 of 2023, there's going to be a report on how the City of Seattle has adhered and progressed with the Vision Zero plan that they have enacted. So it'll be really interesting to see their evaluation of that and what the recommendations are moving forward to help improve pedestrian safety - in the City of Seattle, and also applying that to the rest of the state.
[00:21:53] Erica Barnett: Yeah, I just flashback to Jenny Durkan, the previous mayor, unveiling with great fanfare - 25 mph signs on Rainier Avenue South, which remains one of the two deadliest streets in Seattle, despite this sort of nominal decrease that's supposed to make everybody start going slower. I do think penalties also are important - there are lots of problems with charging fines and penalties to people who don't, of lower income. But that said, something like a DUI, for example, is really, really not just stigmatizing, but actually it screws up your life. People don't want to get a DUI. And so it actually does provide a disincentive for people to drive drunk - the fact that a DUI is going to ruin your life for a while. And I think speeding - same thing. Speeding has become something that is very easy to get away with, particularly with less emphasis on traffic enforcement - things like that. So we've got to find a way - some combination of better road design and disincentivizing some of these poor behaviors and dangerous behaviors that actually put lives at risk to - beyond just saying, oh now the speed limit is 15 mph. Who cares if everybody's driving 50?
[00:23:22] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. So we also got news this week - in Seattle - specific news about councilmembers, some councilmembers not running for re-election. As we head into these 2023 municipal elections where the councilmembers are going to be up, some of them said - a couple of them said - I've had enough. Who did we see say that they're going to be bowing out?
[00:23:47] Erica Barnett: Debora Juarez, who represents North Seattle in District 5, has said - I would say all along since she was elected again - that she was not going to run again. So she mentioned very casually in a council meeting that - this is my last term. And that turned into a bunch of stories, but that was a pretty expected one. The one that was a little more surprising was down in District 1, West Seattle - sorry, wait, is that right? Yes, District 1. Wow. You would think that after all this time, I would know all the districts. In West Seattle, Lisa Herbold is not running for re-election after two terms. And she said that she was frustrated to see Pete Holmes being defeated after he was opposed by the far left and the far right, in Seattle terms. And so we ended up actually electing Republican Ann Davison as City Attorney. And she said - I don't want that to happen to me - essentially citing some reporting that she was going to be "primaried" from the left and just feeling concerned that she didn't want to go through that, and kind of felt like she had done what she came to do. And so now that seat's going to be up - and could be more. There's, of course, rumors that Kshama Sawant is not going to run again in the 3rd District, and haven't been able to pin down anybody else on their plans. But all seven seats are going to be up - all seven districted seats. So I think it's going to be a really lively election year.
[00:25:30] Crystal Fincher: I also think it's going to be a really lively election year. We've already seen some people announce in some districts - or at least one announcement, I think, and talk of others who may be announcing. It'll be curious to see. I thought that the explanation from Lisa Herbold was a little odd and confusing. I think maybe - just from the political perspective - Pete Holmes didn't lose actually because he was a moderate. Pete Holmes lost because he ran a horrible, horrible campaign.
[00:26:01] Erica Barnett: Well, he didn't campaign - that was the problem.
[00:26:04] Crystal Fincher: He didn't campaign until the last minute. He took - looks like he took - it for granted. What the actual - I don't know what was in his mind or anything, but did not campaign, seemed to think that it was an automatic thing until the very end. And then gave some really odd and counter-productive interviews for his purposes. And he lost his race. I wouldn't necessarily say that he was beaten or if he would have campaigned like most incumbents do, that he would have lost there. So I don't know that the fear of that was actually founded. It wasn't like some mystical force came in and swept him out. He lost that race on his own. But I would say that I understand feeling like - I've done what I could do, the time is done. And feeling like maybe it's not that rewarding of a job in some circumstances - it's not easy to stand in front of the public and to hear some of the vitriol, to receive the threats that they receive. And they do receive threats and scary things happen. So I get not being excited to run again for re-election, but it'll be interesting to see how this all unfolds.
The final thing that we'll talk about is just another thing in King County - and a story that King County jail diversion programs are not collecting enough data, which is just really curious to me - because this has been a conversation certainly in the City of Seattle, as the City has signaled both wanting to move forward with alternatives to traditional police responses, some that are more appropriate for people who may be unhoused or experiencing behavioral health crises. And evaluating programs that engage in those practices very tightly, but not evaluating the things that we're currently doing - like how does it actually compare to the traditional police response? It seems like we want to collect data on what everyone else is doing, but we get real skittish about collecting data when it comes to traditional police responses from police departments, or results from people who have been jailed or incarcerated. How did you read this?
[00:28:24] Erica Barnett: Look, I am all in favor, actually, of more data. And I do think these are outside programs that the County funds, but the County does fund them. And so I actually - I think it's great to collect data on whether these programs are working. Now, I'm not sure that recidivism should be the only thing that we are measuring, and I hope that they will measure some other types of outcomes that are perhaps more meaningful, like outcomes that sort of measure a person's wellbeing. But I also completely agree that - if data is good, data should be good for everything. And so County Executive Dow Constantine has said that he also wants an assessment of the traditional legal system - I think that that is great. I think that needs to happen because we spend a lot more money on that system than we do on any of these diversion programs, individually or collectively. So I think that in terms of what gets covered and what gets attention, the idea that - oh my God, we're not following whether these diversion programs work is always going to get a lot of press. And perhaps other programs like jail-related programs, maybe things like Drug Court - I'm just pulling that out, so it's possible that has been assessed more than I am aware of - but just some of the traditional legal options should be submitted to the same scrutiny and should be getting the same kind of media coverage as these diversion programs because a lot of them are pretty small.
And I will note in that auditor's report, it did note that some programs have been assessed and have been shown to be pretty effective, like the LEAD program, which is constantly getting called out - this last budget cycle, both the County Council and the City Council said, oh, we need to assess LEAD to see what does it do and does it really work? And it's actually a program that's been probably assessed more than any other diversion program in the system. So we also need to say at some point - hey, look, we assessed this program, it works really well - let's put money into these things that work well and not just constantly be raising doubts about the very concept of diversion, which I think unfortunately some of the coverage of this audit has done, by not also focusing on these other aspects of the legal system that we don't really scrutinize.
[00:30:57] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. Completely agree with that. I think, to your point, more data is good - uniform data, consistent data is good - so you can actually compare apples to apples, and you understand the similarities or the differences in the populations that are being served and the outcomes in those specific bands of populations, and that you can compare them to each other. I think what everyone wants as the goal here is a safer community and more effective programs to help that happen. And so the more that we can find out about what that is, the better. We do ourselves such a disservice to leave out, to your point, what we do spend the most on, allocate the most resources to - in those programs that are usually already operating under a government umbrella, whether it's law enforcement, or courts, the jails - and getting good information there. So I hope that we do see consistent and uniform data collected as a general practice across the board at all levels of these programs in and without, because we are seeing data from throughout the country - from people who are experts like criminologists saying - that things like just strict incarceration don't actually get the job done. So the more that we can figure out what does create a safer outcome, what does reduce people's - what does reduce their likelihood of committing another crime, of victimizing someone else - we don't want that to happen. I think everyone wants fewer people to be victimized.
I was reviewing articles from throughout the year and saw one characterization in something that's - moderates want to be safer, but progressives want reform. And it was just - how horrible and inaccurate is that framing? I don't know anyone who is pro-crime. I think everyone wants to get safer. And certainly we hear a lot about punitive solutions - just lock them up and enforce things versus others. I think that we all do ourselves a favor and we all increase the likelihood of becoming safer if we do evaluate everything across the board with the ultimate goal of what does actually result in fewer people being victimized. So hopefully this conversation continues in a positive way, that we do see that those programs that have been scrutinized frequently like LEAD with good results continue to get support, and others that do not result in fewer people being victimized don't. And we can shift those resources to things that do make us safe.
And with that, I thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, December 16th, 2022. Hacks & Wonks is co-produced by Shannon Cheng and Bryce Cannatelli. Our insightful co-host today was Seattle political reporter, editor of Publicola, co-host of the Seattle Nice Podcast, and author of Quitter: A Memoir of Drinking, Relapse, and Recovery, Erica Barnett. You can find Erica on Twitter @ericacbarnett - that's if Twitter lasts for a while, we'll see what happens with that - and on PubliCola. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. You can also get a full text transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in these podcast episode notes.
Thanks for tuning in - we'll talk to you next time.