Dec 2, 2022
On this week’s Hacks & Wonks, Crystal is joined by Executive Director of The Urbanist, Doug Trumm. Crystal and Doug quickly run through news items about progress on Washington state’s capital gains tax, a discussion on the worsening traffic safety crisis, and labor stories about Amazon’s questionable fulfillment of a court order and the federal government’s blocking a railway workers strike ahead of the holidays. Public safety news out of Pierce County includes the start of embattled Sheriff Ed Troyer’s criminal trial and troubling news about an officer charged in Manuel Ellis’ death having been flagged for violent behavior during their academy training. Doug and Crystal then discuss the gulf between reality and rhetoric that has appeared in media reporting on crime and law enforcement and how it reaches into electeds’ handling of issues like decriminalization of simple drug possession at the State Legislature, outcry over a miniscule portion of the Seattle Police Department budget not being funded in the City of Seattle budget process, and the campaign messaging of the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s race. On a hopeful note, Leesa Manion’s solid win in the King County Prosecutor’s race and her strong performance - across the county, across cities, and across legislative districts - serves as a referendum for voters rejecting punitive measures and signifies an appetite for root cause-addressing, data-driven solutions that work.
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, Doug Trumm, on Twitter at @dmtrumm. More info is available at officialhacksandwonks.com.
“WA Supreme Court clears way for state to collect capital-gains tax” by Claire Withycombe from The Seattle Times
"The Urbanist’s Ryan Packer Discusses Worsening Traffic Safety Crisis on KUOW" by Doug Trumm from The Urbanist
“Labor board blasts Amazon's "flagrant" attempt to flout court order“ by Emily Peck from Axios
“Biden signs rail agreement into law, thwarting strike“ by Shawna Chen from Axios
“Criminal trial begins in Sheriff Ed Troyer’s false-reporting case” by Jim Brunner from The Seattle Times
“Academy warned Tacoma of violent training episode by officer later charged in Manuel Ellis’ death” Patrick Malone from The Seattle Times
“Washington should be a leader in ending the War on Drugs” by Mark Cooke from ACLU-WA
“Nelson, Pedersen, and Sawant Dissent Ahead of Final Vote on Seattle Budget” by Doug Trumm from The Urbanist
“Public Safety Politics and the Even Election Reckoning” by Doug Trumm from The Urbanist
[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher - 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: Executive Director of The Urbanist, Doug Trumm. Welcome!
[00:00:52] Doug Trumm: Hey, thanks for having me. It's such a busy news week - it's really going to be a slog to get through it all.
[00:00:57] Crystal Fincher: Yeah we will make an attempt. I guess, starting off with some statewide news that isn't ultimately the news that everyone is waiting for, but kind of a pit stop along the way - the Washington Supreme Court clears the way for the state to start collecting capital gains tax. So what happened here?
[00:01:16] Doug Trumm: It's still just an early - not a ruling, but just a decision on the Court's part - not to issue an injunction. But hey, that's a really good sign because if the Court was leaning towards invalidating the capital gains tax, they probably would have issued an injunction. But at the same time, you don't want to read too much into these tea leaves, but certainly the fact they can start collecting the tax makes this start to feel pretty real.
[00:01:41] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I would agree - don't know what's going to happen yet. I think lots of people are hoping that we do get a favorable ruling for the capital gains tax, but there still is the big issue of whether this counts as, officially, an income tax, which would make it unconstitutional under our Constitution. Many interpretations show that it is not, but we are waiting for the ruling to definitively decide that from the Supreme Court, which I think we're anticipating getting early next year. Is that the case?
[00:02:14] Doug Trumm: Yeah, that sounds about right. And there's a lot of ways they could rule. But yeah, certainly one of - the hope, I think, is that they would create a new category of - income actually being income, which in our state - oddly, it's not. So that's what creates this huge hurdle to doing progressive taxation - is that it counts as property, and property you have to tax flat. And progressives - we're not trying to argue for a flat income tax. We want a graduated progressive income tax. So if they get a really favorable ruling, that will open the door to that and suddenly there'll be a lot more options on the table and hopefully Democrats actually take them.
[00:02:53] Crystal Fincher: I definitely hope so. Also in the news, one of The Urbanists' own, Ryan Packer, was on KUOW discussing what is really - our own crisis here locally, and a nationwide crisis in traffic safety. What is happening here?
[00:03:13] Doug Trumm: Yeah, Washington state really echoes the national trend. And the national trend does not mirror the international trend, which - most industrial nations are getting much safer. They've used the pandemic, sort of as a catalyst in a way, to encourage people to take transit, or walk, or bike or - hey, the roads aren't as busy, let's do this project now and make the streets safer. That's really not the approach we've seen in the United States and in Washington state. We've kind of spun our wheels and we've let projects kind of get behind schedule because of the pandemic. And that's happening globally too in some cases, but usually the vision's only getting sharper. So this is reflected in the data and the New York Times had a piece about this this week - Emily Badger - and the US is up 5% during the pandemic in traffic fatalities. But almost every other major nation, it's going down significantly - so it's a bad case of American exceptionalism. We were so excited for our transportation reporter, Ryan Packer, to be on KUOW to talk about this - their reporting is really raising this issue locally a lot. And they really, at all these meetings where some of these decisions quietly get made, whether that's a transportation safety advisory commission or some obscure regional body. But mostly, there's little efforts here and there to improve safety, but we're not seeing the wholesale re-envisioning of streets or strategy that has really been effective in other countries and bringing down collisions and deadly crashes.
[00:05:04] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I think so. And we continue to see this tension here, in the United States and locally, between designs that are car-centric being more dangerous for everyone else on the road. And investments in transportation, in pedestrian mobility, bike and transit access and mobility - and it seems like the more we design roads and transportation through ways principally for, primarily for cars and prioritizing their needs above everyone else's, that we come out with these outcomes that are just less safe and too often fatal for all of the other kinds of users.
[00:05:50] Doug Trumm: Yeah, exactly. And the American system doesn't even treat pedestrian safety as a category of car safety when they give out their gold, whatever-rated car safety awards. If - you can have a three-ton car that maims pedestrians, but if the person inside is fine - oh, that's safety rated - great. So there's certainly federal stuff, but Ryan and The Urbanist, in general, we've really focused on - what are these projects at the City level? Unfortunately, the clear epicenter of this crisis in Seattle is Southeast Seattle District 2, Tammy Morales' district - and she's been a champion. She's recently told me - hey, I didn't think I was going to become the traffic safety person when I first ran for office, but given my district, this is - I really am. And she didn't say this, but implicit in this is our Transportation Chair hasn't really been focused on that - Alex Pedersen - and we'll probably get into that some more when we talk about the budget, because that's - the investments we're making aren't completely safety-focused, as you alluded to. And we have projects queued up to make it safer to bike and walk in D2, but there was just a wave of delays - projects pushed back one year, two years from the original timeline. There's supposed to be a safe bike route through Beacon Hill, there's supposed to be a safe protected bike lane on MLK Way - but those projects are behind schedule. As far as we know, they're still happening, but if you were - if this area is responsible for over half of the - D2 is responsible for over half of the traffic fatalities in the whole city - the last thing we'd want to be doing is delaying those projects in that district.
[00:07:39] Crystal Fincher: Seems so - it doesn't seem to make much sense - same with just connecting sidewalks and neighborhoods that people have been waiting for decades to happen and still hasn't. So long way to go there.
Also this week, we had a number of events, news happen in the labor realm - couple of items that affect us locally. One - so Amazon just had a ruling from the National Labor Relations Board directing them to correct some of their action, which they still seem to be just not doing. What's going on at Amazon?
[00:08:19] Doug Trumm: Yeah, they think they're kind of above the law when it comes to this. They were supposed to read out this ruling saying - hey, you can't be fired for union organizing, or even having discussions with union organizers, or being union-curious. But instead of just following the order to the letter of the law and reading that out to all their employees, they chose specifically the shift change and then just played a video. So the Labor Board was pretty upset about that because this was a court order, they were supposed to follow it - but they weaseled their way out of it in a very corporate lawyer-y kind of fashion where theoretically just maybe - if you squint your eyes, does this qualify for following the order? I don't know. Alexa, read order. I don't know how you could get - this ruling actually to get to the people, but they're figuring out a way not to do it.
[00:09:16] Crystal Fincher: One of the interesting things here - employers are responsible for letting their employees know what their rights are. Amazon has bent over backwards not to do that. This is another example of it. We also see Starbucks bending over backwards to be hostile to the union and we continue to see those actions, and then being called out by the National Labor Relations Board also.
And this week, of course, we saw - yesterday - Congress take action to avert the railroad strike by passing legislation that still denies railroad workers any kind of paid sick leave, which just should be the most basic thing that every employee everywhere is entitled to. And just beyond disappointing to me personally - to a ton of people - that we had particularly a Democratic president and right now a Democratic Congress who acted against workers and against unions and their ability to take sick pay. It's just bad all the way around, and it feels like they were thrown under the bus because of the threat of bad things happening if they strike - instead of that being the key that says, wow, these really are essential employees. And hey, there have been billions in stock buybacks recently and hundreds of millions of compensation over the past few years for executives. Maybe they can also spare a sick day and to pressure the companies to provide that very, very, very basic thing for employees. Just very disappointing for me personally. How did you feel about that?
[00:11:01] Doug Trumm: Yeah, that was disappointing and Amtrak Joe really let us down. I think it's odd that employees are held hostage to how valuable their work are, right? Their work is, right? Because everyone's - we can't have rails shutting down right in the middle of the holiday crisis when all these companies are trying to make a ton of money for themselves and have a strong Q4 and really try to get some blood flowing in this economy. But instead of going - oh yeah, so I guess we should pay those workers well to make sure that happens, and give them the sick time they're asking for and the benefits - it's just force it through because we create a vision of a crisis if they are actually allowed to use their union rights. So it just goes back to 1880s again of the rail barons and the laws that they got passed - that they're able to compel the workers in this way and have Congress step in. But it certainly is not - hopefully not the end of the story. Hopefully they can actually get real sick pay, especially in a time of a lot of viral spread - both in the COVID realm and really bad flu season. This is upending their lives when they get sick and it doesn't have to be this way. So it's disappointing, and I saw Mayor Harrell decided to pile on with that and say it was great that they'd broke the strike, and work in that he still supports workers' rights and everything - I think you can't have it both ways in this case. You can't One Seattle your way out of this one - you're either with the workers or you're not.
[00:12:46] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, pretty cut and dry there. And what I just think is so shortsighted is that this policy is partially a response to being short-staffed. They are already facing staffing shortages. We are already at the breaking point where if - right now, under the current staffing levels, if an employee is sick, if someone does miss a day, that can create chaos in the system because there aren't enough people to cover. And this just perpetuating a system that is hostile to workers, where workers can face discipline for any unplanned absence - and people get sick and families get sick, as we all know - this is an inevitability. That if you're subject to discipline for that, they're seeing more people just leave, instead of have their career of however many years or decades end with them being disciplined for taking care of their sick kid. So we are already setting ourselves up for massive disruptions by making this worker shortage worse. We see things like this happening in education, in healthcare, in transportation - across the board - with public transit systems and others. So we just need to really take a look at what we're doing here and - are we setting ourselves up for the same problems that we swear we have to take action like this to avoid, when really we're just making it more of an inevitability that it does eventually happen. I hope we all learn from this and do better and hold our public officials accountable for doing better.
Also in the news this week, speaking of holding public officials accountable, the criminal trial for Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer just started. This is the trial about him making a call, that was allegedly a false report, accusing a newspaper delivery person - a Black man who was delivering newspapers - of being suspicious, acting nefariously. He said that his life was threatened by the newspaper carrier, which does not - at least through all the reporting initially, did not seem to be supported by other accounts in what happened. He ended up being charged and now the trial has began. They sat the jury. Opening statements happened. Testimony has begun. What has happened in this trial that's been notable so far?
[00:15:22] Doug Trumm: They use the same strategies they always use, it seems like - it's pretty clear that this police officer clearly didn't act as you'd want someone to act. Now he's trying to get out of it claiming - okay, I did feel threatened or I did. And it's how it plays out every time and a lot of people were willing to go along - suddenly this violence incident that this Sheriff deputy caused - suddenly it's not his fault because something else, and it just seemed like hopefully we're finally learning from that. But we've seen a lot of other cases where it's enough for some people to exonerate someone. I don't know - it's frustrating that this is how it always goes, but maybe eventually this line will go stale.
[00:16:13] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, we will see. This is one where it's interesting because - for the day job and for this podcast, following the news is useful. But for my own personal sanity, this is a situation where often I find my inclination is to disconnect from - definitely the daily news, the drumbeat of news about this - just because some of the early signals, decisions, indications from this trial feel really familiar to me. Meaning that - man, we've seen so many of these trials end and the police officer, sheriff ends up being found not guilty, gets off regardless of what looks to be very obvious evidence to many people in the public. And I just - this will be very disappointing once again, if that does happen, but we will see what happens with this trial and continue to follow it for you all.
Also, there was news that came out about an officer that wound up being charged in Manuel Ellis's death, having a very violent episode previously, and that not being heeded after that was communicated to the Tacoma Police Department. And so tragic. Can you detail what we found out here?
[00:17:44] Doug Trumm: Yeah, I really encourage everyone to read about this story because it really makes you question how these systems are working and how this can happen. Because this officer - Rankine, I think is his name - was in the police academy. They identified that he had an issue with violence and with - I forget what they called it, "code black" or something like that - basically just shutting down and going tunnel vision, not hearing the outside world once he's in that mode. And it's related to his combat service as a veteran - obviously, that's a complicated issue - we're very, very glad that people serve, but that doesn't necessarily mean we want to put them on the frontlines interacting with the public if they have these unaccounted-for issues that are identified by the police academy. The police academy trainer decided to write a note, his superiors after a couple of days forwarded it to the Tacoma Police Department who was sponsoring him to be in this police academy and said - hey, we're worried about this guy. He had this violent incident where he shot someone during a training simulation who was not someone - the training simulation was supposed to be how do you de-escalate the situation, how do you - and the person was not cooperating, to be clear - and it was a virtual simulation. But the trainer was - why did you do this? And he couldn't really explain it because he went blank or whatever, and thought he had done fine because, I guess in the military, that's what he was conditioned to do and had seen a lot of violent episodes - but hadn't really made the connection that now you're in a civilian setting and you're supposed to be de-escalating situations instead of fighting your way out of them.
And what ended up happening, despite the police academy issuing this warning saying - hey, maybe don't take this guy actually - the Tacoma Police Department still took him, didn't really make any accommodations, or - it's not clear that they warned his - the rest of the people he'd be working with, basically just treated him like one of the guys. They did put him on desk duty initially, but I think that's just what rookies kind of do. Then they put him on patrol with another rookie and it was not even a couple months - it was less than a year - and he had already, this happened. It was clearly a tragic incident waiting to happen and it did happen. It leaves us with a lot of questions like - is the police academy - is a little note in your file enough, or should he fail out of the academy? That's one odd thing about this case - they didn't fail him. The other odd thing is that even with this big warning, this huge red flag, Tacoma PD didn't do anything and now they're stonewalling the reporters from The Seattle Times and all the other newspapers that are knocking on the door, and they're just kind of clammed up about it, but it's clear they messed up in a big, big way.
[00:21:03] Crystal Fincher: It's just one of those things that makes you want to once again ask - what are we doing here? If there is behavior that is so violent that you feel that you need to warn someone else not to hire him, why are you passing him? To the question that you just asked, why does that person pass the academy in the first place? Why was that not heeded when they were hired? Okay, they were hired and brought onto the academy. Why was no corrective action taken, no additional guidance? And yes, this wound up very predictably. The warning was given because it could be foreseen that this would wind up in unjustified violence to a member of the public - which it did, resulting in that person's death. This is a person, right? And it's just - if we can't weed out someone who even before they get in the system are demonstrating unacceptable violence - violence that you have to tell someone to look out for - what is the point of anything?
There is this characterization by people, who I believe are acting in bad faith largely - that any kind of talk of accountability is antithetical to safety, it makes us less safe, it's hostile to police officers, and is not worth pursuing. And if we do, we're making life harder for them. If they're saying this is what belongs in their ranks, if they're saying that this is acceptable for passing and getting in, and then hiring without anything - then this is unacceptable. They're saying - they've said that their own policies were violated - this is seemingly saying that the warning came from them not meeting their own standards. If they can't hold themselves to their own standards and weed people out who don't fit that, then someone else has to. And evidently those aren't really their standards if they can't adhere to them. So someone has to, otherwise we're just letting - in this situation - basically killing machines out onto the street. And we have to do better. And it just makes no sense that we are entertaining people who say that this is bad for police officers. Acting against policy should not be bad for them. If so, we should have discussions about the policy, but this doesn't make any sense. And if their job truly is to protect and serve, and someone is acting completely against that, then acting more in concert with that and making sure that happens should be a welcome development.
And over and over again, the public continues to vote for real accountability and reject those kinds of disingenuous arguments that - hey, you got to "back the blue" or nothing else. People can be happy to have a police officer there, that they're happy to have a police officer when they call 911 and show up, and still believe that there should be guidelines for their conduct and behavior that guide them and that they should be held accountable to - just like everyone else with every other job in this society. It just is so infuriating that - hey, this is predictable, it's foreseeable. And just with a shrug.
[00:24:50] Doug Trumm: Yeah, and it wasn't his first time -
[00:24:52] Crystal Fincher: Right.
[00:24:53] Doug Trumm: - using basically a chokehold-type thing. And he had another I-can't-breathe incident and they just were like - oh well, it happens. And if he says - oh this person was threatening or violent - they kind of just, even though after the whole George Floyd thing - there's one thing that I thought was kind of the lowest hanging fruit - okay, we probably shouldn't use chokeholds anymore or knee on people's back, but this is exactly what this guy was doing. And he suffered no consequence for it until he killed someone.
[00:25:27] Crystal Fincher: Acting against policy. And as we have seen with so many of these incidences, that there have been several occasions where officers who wind up killing someone - use violence unjustifiably, use violence against policy in situations before the killing occurs - which there is no discipline for. It is time for them to be held accountable to the job that the public believes they were hired to do. Just like all of us. That's not hostile. That's just common sense. So we'll see how that continues. It is just another infuriating, devastating, tragic element of Manny Ellis's death that is just - it's tragic.
[00:26:21] Doug Trumm: Hopefully we learn from it. And I think it relates to how we get so breathless and just completely operate on fear and desperation - we have to hire, we have to reach some sort of set number of cops and then we'll feel safe. But when you get that desperate and you just want to add ranks so you can put out your press release to claim victory on that - you're hiring the bottom of the barrel. If we were serious about safety, we wouldn't worry so much about that number as flunking people out of the academy who are killing machines. You have to put accountability ahead of "let's just hit a number," "here's the right response time," "here's the right number of officers" - those are important things, but you can't get so blinded to them that you're taking terrible cops.
[00:27:13] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and that makes the community less safe. The academy warned that - Hey, putting this officer on the street may make the community less safe, this is acting against public safety, we don't want people to be victimized unjustly by violence - and that was the warning that came with this officer - and look. We'll continue to see how this happens.
Also kind of teeing up this week were some articles just talking about the War on Drugs - how much of a failure it has been - which is very timely because in this upcoming legislative session, which we're starting to see a flurry of activity with. And our new legislators now down in Olympia - and getting set and oriented and all of that to start the session next month - is that the Blake decision, which a couple years ago the Supreme Court basically decriminalized or invalidated the law that criminalized simple possession of any substances. Our Legislature subsequently acted to bring a uniform policy across the state and kind of instituted a new method of criminalization - some of it was lighter criminal penalties, but still criminal penalties for substance use and possession - in the face of a ton of evidence and data that shows that - Hey, criminalization is actually not an effective intervention. We've seen the entire War on Drugs. We've seen what has happened there. If we actually treat this as a public health problem and not as a criminal justice problem, we are much better off.
There was a survey of Washington state voters - a poll taken - and in that poll, 85% of likely voters - the poll was in June 2022 of this year - 85% of voters believe that drug use should be treated as a public health issue and not a criminal justice issue. And this really sets the tone and provides a mandate for our Legislature, which has to take up the Blake decision and the Blake legislation again this year - because there was a sunset provision in it that is now up this year - to actually make good on this policy. How did you read this?
[00:29:45] Doug Trumm: It seems like the public's at a different place than some of the very serious, centrist, establishment Democratic leaders on this who are - the likes of Chris Gregoire, who are saying - Oh, we really need to get - go back to our old policy where - it was drug possession was fully criminalized and it was just one strike and they could, people could be locked up for simple possession. And I think they portray that it's really important to dealing with downtown disorder, or crime, or whatever. But that's not really where the people are at, and this three-strike provision probably does make it, if you're only listening to cops, annoying - 'cause they feel like these warnings are letting people off the hook. But with jails being pretty full right now, you start running into this problem of where are are we putting people? We've done this drug war thing a long time, it hasn't really worked, the people are ready for a public health approach instead of a punitive lock-them-up approach. We just saw that with the election of Leesa Manion for King County Prosecutor that - the people went with the person who was willing to do diversionary programs that try to get people help and not load them up with jail time and fees, but instead give them an opportunity to get back on their feet and better themselves and think about rehabilitation instead of just ruining someone's life.
I think the people are ready to take a different approach - I don't know how far folks, both in terms of the State Legislature and the public, if they're - maybe not ready for a Portugal-style solution, but I really think they're ready to have that conversation rather than just go back to the old way of doing things. I think the - maybe one of the things will come up is fentanyl - it really is a scary drug in terms of what it can do to a person and how likely it is to overdose - I'm sure they'll try to use that and maybe fentanyl is treated a little bit differently than other drugs, but it seems like a lot of substances doesn't - I don't know why you immediately lock someone up for having possession of a set quantity. It's sort of like - we got to get this person help, but jail isn't help.
[00:32:11] Crystal Fincher: And jail doesn't help, and it actually does more harm than good in this situation. It makes our streets less safe. People are less stable, more prone to commit crime, when they get out - and more prone to continue to use. We've seen all of this and again, this is just about possession. This doesn't impact any laws on selling, or distributing, or anything like that - those still remain and that's not part of this discussion. But it would be good for them to act in alignment with where the evidence and data show - we are made more safe, and people are made more healthy and less likely to use and abuse drugs and other harmful substances. So we will continue to follow this throughout the legislative session and see what happens.
Also big news this week - the Seattle City Council passed their budget. What did we get? What are the highlights and lowlights of this budget?
[00:33:19] Doug Trumm: Yeah, it was a marathon day to wrap up the amendments and do all the speeches on Monday and Tuesday - I guess the really marathon day was the Budget Committee last week. It always is a slog at the end and it's tough to know everything that's happening, but ultimately the budget is - there's a lot of different takes on it, there's a lot of perspectives. But ultimately what happened is largely - Mayor Harrell's budget is reflected in the Council's balancing package. They did make some significant changes, but nothing enormous. And the issue that they're dealing with is that there is a large budget shortfall. It started out at $141 million at the beginning. And then they got the news that the projections had gotten a lot worse late in the game - so that any hope of Council just adding a bunch of new investments in evaporated, once they got that forecast that Real Estate Excise Tax was going to be way down - that was the main thing that took a bite out of the budget. And we use that REET money to fund a lot of our infrastructure investments in this city. So from a transportation focus, I was pretty disappointed to not see more investments in street safety. They did make some. Councilmember Tammy Morales really fought for her district - as we mentioned earlier - epicenter of the safety crisis. So she got a proviso to make sure that they improve the bike lanes in Southeast Seattle to have harder infrastructure, so you can't just run over those flex posts and injure someone on the bike lane or the sidewalk. That's one positive add, but it was just a proviso, so hopefully SDOT does the right thing and implements it rather than kind of wiggling out of it. But by and large, transportation didn't get a ton of adds and Mayor Harrell's budget didn't make a ton of new initiatives or pushes there, so that's one thing that fell victim to that shortfall.
But a lot of the action was around public safety and that's where we saw a lot of the grandiose takes on - especially on the centrist side of - Oh, this was a disaster. End of the day, the Council funded 99% of the mayor's SPD budget. They're making a really big deal about this 1% - and within that 1% that the Council did do cuts was the ShotSpotter gunfire detection surveillance system, which has a really - it has a track record - it's been implemented in a lot of cities and that track record is not very good. It doesn't really, there's no correlation to it decreasing crime, leads to a lot of false calls - those false calls can then cause over-policing of communities of colors where they're implemented. And it has in, in instances, led to violent altercations between cops who are like - Oh, the gunfire thing said there was a gunshot here. And sometimes it's slamming a car door, or firework, or something - could set something off - or backfiring car, I guess. So what are we doing here? This is not evidence-based practice - Council made the budget safer, but if you listen to Councilmember Sara Nelson or Councilmember Alex Pedersen, who voted against the budget, and then some of the press releases that were fired off shortly after - the Chamber actually sent the press release before the final vote, but right after the Council briefing. They said - this is, these are public safety cuts.
And the other big thing that happened was - there's 80 positions that were unfilled of actually 240 total unfilled positions at SPD, because they're having a hard time recruiting faster than they're losing officers, which relates to a national trend of a lot of attrition and police officers and not as much new people entering the profession. But they eliminated 80 positions off the books - because when they leave those 240 empty positions, that means that those, that money goes into SPD's budget every cycle. And it throws out the balance of the whole thing because you're - basically all the extra money goes to SPD instead of just being in the General Fund for them to debate and figure out where to go. It can go back into public safety investments and that's what happened this time, even with the eliminating the budgets. But basically a lot of people tried to turn that into - they were cutting officers - but they fully funded the mayor's hiring plan, which - they're going to hire 125 officers, which they hope - that's then 30 new, net new officers. But that wasn't good enough for those two councilmembers and for the Seattle Chamber of Commerce. So they both kind of opposed this budget.
And that seemed to be pretty upsetting to Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda, because she had worked with both of those Councilmembers Nelson and Pedersen and had put their amendments into the budget - some of them. And she thought that spirit of compromise would lead them to vote for it, but they did not. And so it almost - this budget almost failed because it needed six votes. It only got six votes because of those two defections, plus Councilmember Sawant makes it her tradition and has always voted against the budget. And she's coming at it from the opposite direction of - Hey, let's invest more in social services, and let's tax the rich, and increase the JumpStart payroll tax - is her argument, the last few years. And she specifically said - I'm not chucked in with Pedersen and Nelson. So yeah, it ended up being kind of a mess messaging-wise, but largely this budget was reflecting Harrell's priorities, plus a few of the Council's. And it made the most of a really downward trend in revenue - and that was by virtue of JumpStart payroll tax kind of papering over some of the holes, and also then letting them make a record investment in housing. So housing definitely did well. There were some Green New Deal priorities. And it's a really big budget, so I'm kind of - broad strokes here - but if I'm missing anything, Crystal, let me know.
But yeah, it felt bizarre to me that the the debate about it was so far from the reality. And I guess these few million dollars in the police budget are enough to cause these votes against, and the Chamber to be really upset, and saying this is public safety cuts. But it largely seemed like much more collaboration and kumbaya between the mayor and most of the council, with Budget Chair Mosqueda and Mayor Harrell complimenting each other about how well they work together.
[00:40:35] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. I think what we're seeing is reflective of some of the reality versus rhetoric that we see on a national level, that we see with conservative Republicans, even the MAGA Republicans, where the rhetoric just doesn't match reality. But the rhetoric is a tactic to eventually shift people's perception of what reality is. It doesn't matter what happened if you just keep saying something else happened - Oh my gosh, this is, you know, horrible. We didn't get anything we're asking for. We need to move in this completely different direction - people start to absorb that and pick that up. As we saw this week with the New York Times - basically admitting without participating, pointing the finger at themselves - saying, Yeah, rhetoric about public safety was really disjointed from the actual facts. There are tons of stories, but when you look at the actual crime rates, they weren't actually high. Media did this. And they very conveniently left out that they were at the top of the list of media doing that. But it felt like that's similar to this conversation. This rhetoric is completely detached from what happened in the budget and from what's happening on the ground - yeah, majority of what Harrell asked for was in there. One notable exception was the ShotSpotter technology as you covered, which actually didn't have a big, a huge price tag compared to some other things. But it's still money that, especially in a shortfall, can be better spent to make people safe.
And I think that's where a lot of people are at right now. It's just - lots of people are worried about safety, but where they continue to vote, and how people on the ground continue to vote in elections is - yes, we do want our communities to be safer, but we recognize that the public safety equation is bigger than just policing. We have to talk about interventions that are appropriate for the crises that we're facing. Just sweeping and moving around and criminalizing people who are unhoused is not making that problem any better, it's making it worse. So instead of investing money continually in sweeps and in criminalization and carceral solutions - Hey, what if we actually use that money to put people in houses - that actually is a solution to that problem. Other cities are doing that with success. We could be doing that. Hey, if people are having behavioral health crises, what if there was actually treatment available for them and a way for them to get the issues that they have addressed? Jail is not that. Arresting them is not that. And we still have, and prior to some of the heel digging-in that police unions have done over the past few years, there were tons of officers and unions who admitted that freely - hey, we go into a situation where someone's called us and someone is having mental health issue - jail isn't going to do anything for that. If anything, it may destabilize that situation more and put them further away from help and make that situation worse. We actually need interventions that are appropriate for the challenges that we're facing. We have to deal with extreme poverty. We have to deal with people who are in crisis. We really do not need to deal with it like New York is signaling they're going to deal with it - in mandatorily incarcerating people. We see that we have problems here in our state and a lawsuit that's currently being filed with people with behavioral health problems struggling in our current jail system and not getting their needs met, and their whole process is being delayed sometimes with no foreseeable end because we don't have enough resources in that direction. So people want that, but they don't want this continual one note - Hey, it's either police or it's nothing. And we'll see where it's going - as we hear a siren in the background here, appropriate - but yeah, it's just the rhetoric doesn't match the reality.
The saddest thing is that the public sees it and our leaders are behind where the public is at - and they keep asking and they keep voting for something different. And we have leaders that are just stuck on the same thing, and I think that frustration and tension is growing. And it feels like they're ratcheting this up for the 2023 City elections coming, and they're going to try and make this a flashpoint for those conversations. But I think that's not a very wise strategy, because the public has not been going for it. We just had an election where it's pretty clear they did not go for that argument in many different ways at many different levels. This is not just a Seattle thing. This is a King County-wide thing, a State of Washington thing. And it's time that they take heed instead of pushing on, just kind of - despite all reason and evidence to do this.
[00:46:15] Doug Trumm: Yeah. It's pretty clear they're telegraphing this is their signal when you have your press release fired up before the budget's even officially passed. And in the case of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, that these are public safety cuts. Nelson - and Pedersen is the one who's up for re-election - they really complimented the way he voted on that as far as voting down this budget over this tiny, tiny bit of disagreement over the police budget that they blew out of proportion. Apparently deleting these 80 out of 240 unfilled positions - you know, sending the wrong signal and is - people, the public trust has been damaged now. And it's just - get me to the fainting couch - they can add back these positions anytime. No other department in the whole city would ever have this many, anywhere near this - 240 empty positions - you just keep the money. And they get to - SPD gets to put it wherever they want in their department, basically, because of the way they don't eliminate those positions, and just Council and the mayor - tell them which parts they wanted - who would run an organization this way? If you don't have, if you're not paying for something - why are you still paying for it? It just, it - I dunno - it drives me nuts.
It goes back to that sort of frenzy and the sort of fear mongering around crime - where if we don't just heap gobs of money at the police department - we're not talking about Defund, we're not talking about reducing the amount of - the headcount at SPD. We're just saying - how are you spending this money? Can we spend this money wiser? If we have less officers, we need to be spending the money wiser. We can't just have it be a slush fund, like we saw in - I think it was 2018 or 2019, right after they passed the budget - the average police compensation went up to like $157,000 per officer. This one officer made over $400,000 because they were just letting the overtime fly like hotcakes. And an officer working 80-hour weeks - is that making us safer? It doesn't really seem like the way to do it. You kind of put yourself in between a rock and a hard place because they also fight the alternatives - they say they're for a mental health professional showing up for those crisis calls, but then they block the program to actually set up an alternative emergency response. And that's what SPD has been up to the past few years. As Councilmember Lewis and Mosqueda and others have fought to set up - like Denver has - a alternative response, and they make up excuse after excuse. They say maybe the police actually have to be there. They dispute their own study that showed that most of these calls could be done without an armed officer there.
But yeah, it just - there's nothing evidence-based or strategic about this kind of election-based fearmongering, just kind of opportunistic way of dealing with this problem. People wonder why this problem is festering - there has been a troubling trend over the last nine years - of corporate mayors that the Chamber and all these other centrist forces and Seattle Times have endorsed. They're not making the problem better, but they keep running on it like they are. So it really is - it's created a weird thing. And I wrote about how this sort of relates to us holding our mayoral and council elections in odd years when the electorate is smaller and they can kind of dominate the debate among this crowded, smaller electorate - tends to be more homeowners, tends to be wealthier and whiter than the population at-large. So it works in the odd year. But as we saw with voters passing even-year election reform - they're not asking for these elections to be in odd years, they'd rather them be in even years. And the County is going to make that move for Executive and Council races, and a few others like County Assessor - county-level races. But we actually need state permission to do that for the municipal level. So hopefully we get that because if we're going to solve this problem, it makes sense to have the broader segment of the electorate actually weigh in on that rather than purposely choosing a low turnout election to make all these decisions. So that's one thing I hope happens out of this, but don't hold your breath because I think they like it that way.
[00:50:54] Crystal Fincher: They absolutely do seem to like it that way. And you did write a real good article breaking this phenomenon down. It's just frustrating to see voters - they are frustrated about public safety. They do know that we could be doing better, while seeing people continue to make decisions in the opposite direction. And when they are given a voice, it's definitive in one direction. And we just - the King County Prosecutor race that we just had was really a referendum on this entire argument. And mirrors what we saw in 2020, with the King County Charter Amendments. This is not just a Seattle thing. This is a countywide thing.
One of the things I think people try and dismissively do i - oh, this is just, it's only a thing in super liberal Seattle, progressive Seattle, and no one else wants this. And we continue to have voters say - no, no, actually this is what we want - all over the county. And places where their electeds really are under the impression that - hey, the public, maybe they do just want more police officers, or I'm afraid to say anything different because they may not accept it. Public's already there, as we continue to see. And my goodness, in these Council elections coming up, there could not be a more clear mandate of movement in one direction in literally every district in the City. To enormous degrees - Leesa Manion's victory was large throughout the county. Yes, in Seattle - it was decisive and humongous. And in each of the council districts, it was - it was just really - it's just really something. I'm sitting here working in elections and you try and understand where voters are, understand where policy is - what's effective, where things need to move - and they're actually in alignment. And the barrier is - there seem to be some in media who are very stuck on not wanting this to happen, and a number of elected officials who believe them. And it's just continuing to be frustrating.
But we see, in so many cities and so many districts - whether it's City Council districts, County Council districts, cities, precincts - across the board, they prefer a balanced, comprehensive approach to public safety and outright reject what we heard from Jim Ferrell - the more punitive - Hey, we need to crack down on things, make crime illegal again - understanding that punishment doesn't equal safety. And we would all rather be safe. We've tried punishment for decades and it has not resulted in a safer community for all of us. It has actually hurt it. And people want to be safe. They want to do the things that make us safe, and they understand - more than where a lot of leaders do - what the evidence says about that. So it's just really interesting. Was there anything noteworthy or unique that you saw in election results about that?
[00:54:20] Doug Trumm: Yeah. I think it bears underscoring that the - very, very much the same coalition that was behind Republican now-City Attorney Ann Davison was the people behind Jim Ferrell, who was also a former Republican. Now, they both claim that they're Democrats now, but very much still act like Republicans. And there was a lot of Democrats - Sara Nelson endorsed Jim Ferrell and it didn't seem to help him very much in Seattle because, or her in Seattle - it helped her opponent, I guess, his opponent in Seattle. Leesa Manion cleaned up in Seattle - and that was part of her victory, but she won by 18 points. So it wasn't just Seattle, although Seattle was her strongest base of support. So it really seems like what an odd-year electorate does - electing a Republican in Ann Davison to be their City Attorney. And it's odd that we elect city attorneys - it doesn't really need to be that way. But they worked people up about crime and they did support Ann Davison, but in a much larger electorate just one year later they overwhelmingly supported Leesa Manion who's very much - let's stay the course, let's keep these diversionary programs. So whatever mandate Ann Davison thinks she had is absolutely gone. And all these people who are calculating - oh, maybe we can, maybe this whole region is just going to go tough on crime. It's just not happening.
And the even-year election helps - we had reasonably good turnout. But the numbers are such that I wouldn't want to be Ann Davison going up for re-election, but hopefully we can get some of that turnout bump into the council elections because that's really what's at play here is - we've seen what an even-year electorate wants, and can we make that also what an odd-year electorate wants? But yeah, these crime narratives aren't connecting in the even year. Leesa Manion just did surprisingly well, considering - the way the race looked beforehand. One poll showed them tied right before the election, but clearly - A) their polls might've been a little bit overestimating support - and some of that goes into people didn't think that young people would turn out. And young people did turn out in relatively high numbers in this election. And hopefully that's a sign of things to come as well. It's just - that's what happens in odd years - why they're so much more conservative - is a lot of that younger vote kind of fades and a lot of communities of color and renters also fade. So you're left with the rest, which is the more conservative side of things. But it doesn't - people can - if we make clear what the stakes are, we hopefully can sustain some of that even-year turnout, but it also just - election year reform also would make this a lot simpler. So I can't underscore that enough. It drives - yeah, it's sort of odd that we are stuck in this predicament of - it's clear what people want, but because of odd years, we have to fight twice as hard. So yeah, I think these results really are - suggest potentially that 2021 - in Seattle's case - where we saw a lot of centrists come into power, might've been a bit of an outlier. It doesn't necessarily mean all these people are weak in their re-election hopes, but all the talks about Seattle's now drifting conservative - I don't see it.
[00:58:02] Crystal Fincher: And there was a backlash and - I feel like I've been on a small island, with just a few others, who have said the entire time that that race was an outlier. One, Seattle is different than a lot of other areas. If there really was a wholesale pushback on that, we would have also seen that in suburbs, we would have seen that in different areas. We actually saw the opposite happen in suburbs, where they elected - a number of suburbs elected more progressive officials than they ever had before - who were speaking strongly about making the community more safe with comprehensive public safety policies and really rejecting the punitive policies.
The race in Seattle was an odd race - you had an incumbent who lost in the primary, you had two really unknown people who both - didn't really consider themselves to be Democrats, so there were unalignments. You had massively different levels of spending and different levels of voter communication. And, from a political consulting point of view, you have to talk to all of the voters who are voting in the election. It's wonderful - and canvassing and doorbelling is great - but you just cannot canvass a city as big as the City of Seattle in one election cycle. And that's what we saw happen. There was a lot of canvassing, but a lot less direct voter communication. You may make it to 50,000 people with that canvassing, but you got to talk to the other 200,000 - and that happens with direct voter communications. And they were just massively, massively outspent. And the spending that did happen was really late for the progressive candidates, so if you aren't known, and if your opponent can define who you are - and spends half a million dollars doing so - that's going to carry the day and it did. But that is a unique kind of nuts-and-bolts-of-campaigns thing that was apparent to a lot of people before the election results. So that's not just hindsight is 20/20 things - those were, as that was shaping up - that was concerning to a lot of folks who were looking at and participating in those elections.
And so we had before that, the 20 - well, we did see a direct public safety vote in the King County Charter Amendment votes, which wound up largely like these wound up. And just looking at these 2022 King County Prosecutor results - again, people try and characterize this as a Seattle thing - but Renton, Newcastle, Mercer Island, Sammamish, Issaquah, Bellevue, Bothell, Kenmore. Those cities are not what I think a lot of people would group into the Seattle progressive bucket, and were firmly in the side of Leesa Manion and rejecting punitive public safety policies. As we look at the Blake decision and people, looking at - well, people are scared, it's really worrisome to look at that. We're talking about - the 45th, the 48th, the 41st, the 11th, the 33rd LDs, right - these are not Seattle-based LDs. These are North and Eastside, Vashon Island, like these - everywhere around the county, voters are very decisively saying - we want to move in a direction that evidence points will make us more safe. And I just really hope that our elected officials stop listening to some of the detached rhetoric and start looking at the evidence and what their constituents are saying - because those who aren't are going to pay a price. And it's really important to take a look at what results actually are, and tether ourselves to reality here, and call out the reporting and the characterizations that are not tethered to reality. That's going to be an important thing.
[01:02:33] Doug Trumm: Hey, there was this Seattle Times editorial this morning that was mad at Bruce Harrell for not being louder about the huge public safety cuts to his budget - the 1% that we mentioned earlier. Why isn't he getting in the arena? That's what Blethen and his buddies said, and it's - okay, that's crazy - first. But also, maybe this is saying that some of the politicians see the writing on the wall that - okay, this isn't like a home run issue for them like they maybe thought. They have to kind of actually try to moderate and have compromise and have a truly, comprehensive public safety plan instead of putting lip service to the alternatives and just being all police all the time. I don't know if that's what went into the thought of Harrell not getting into the arena, like the Seattle Times Editorial Board asked him to, but yeah - it certainly is unhinged. And it - Fox News always has a ton of crime coverage right before elections, and then it drops in half - there's been a study on this and after the midterm. So suddenly it's not prime all the time when you turn on Fox News - there's a reason for that. It's calculated, it's manipulation, it's election manipulation. And a lot of these other papers, including The Seattle Times, do that as well. I haven't seen the studies see that it's dropped in half, but that's part of the whole game and it's part of why the playing field isn't even. But I think, eventually, you have to have actual truth to what you're saying, or it starts just not connecting where we're at then.
[01:04:17] Crystal Fincher: Well said. And with that, we thank you all for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, December 2nd, 2022. Hacks & Wonks is co-produced by Shannon Cheng and Bryce Cannatelli. Our insightful co-host today was Executive Director of The Urbanist, Doug Trumm. You can find Doug on Twitter @dmtrumm - that's two Ms at the end. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can find me @finchfrii. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, 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 transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the podcast episode notes.
Thanks for tuning in - talk to you soon.