Weekly Update: 03/28/2021

Posted on Categories Public Safety, Transparency, Transportation, Weekly UpdatesLeave a comment on Weekly Update: 03/28/2021

Late again. As often happens, I usually finish these things on Sunday, but I’ll wait to post because I’ll be waiting for either answers to questions from the dais or materials from the administration which I want to talk about. It’s one reason I keep hoping we can improve the City web site–so that meeting information can made available to the public more quickly.

Public Service Announcements

  1. I know you want to help save the Masonic Home. So sign up for the new site hosted by Washington Historic Trust!
  2. And Washington Historic Trust is also asking for your support on a tax credit for Main Street small business programs. Please give public comment to help ensure that it passes!
  3. SBA Webinars on new PPP Programs start March 3rd!
  4. Virtual Open House on SR 509 I-5 to 24th Ave
  5. Give public comment on Sound Transit’s Operations And Maintenance Facility March 24 and March 30!
  6. The fourth round of Washington State COVID-19 Small Business Grants starts March 29th. Go get ’em!
  7. If you are a local business, make the Southside Promise from the South Side Seattle Chamber Of Commerce! There are grants of up to $1,000 to help you now.
  8. There are new State Unemployment Benefits. But you gotta read and follow the instructions!
  9. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  10. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  11. Rental Assistance for Low Income King County Bar Association – The Housing Justice Project is requesting community based providers assistance to identify households who owe 10K or more in back-rent. “We can zero out $10K or more of rent for folks who are at 50% AMI or below these income limits. If you know anyone, can you have them email fwblackcollective@gmail.com for navigation with case managers or give them this link which has all the paperwork to complete and email to edmundw@kcba.org to get their rent payed out.   Forms to Eliminate Back Rent: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=1fUdYAwMFH_V_B1vTD_urmir_ltI8Wfnw.   Completed forms can be emailed to edmundw@kcba.org.”
  12. If you wish to sign up for future City Clean Ups Michelle Johansson Fawcett: cleanuri.com/pj4RQ5
  13. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Monday: Meeting with 30th District State Representative Jamila Taylor. There are currently about ten bills going through the legislature on police reform and Rep. Taylor is in the thick of it. Since none of these are on our City’s official legislative agenda there is little chance the topic will get discussed by our Council. But I know many of you are concerned about it so I’m trying to stay informed.

Tuesday: Meeting with Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell. As you may know, Federal Way is a part of both the StART and Highline Forum. Due to the gradual way planes land, they have neighborhoods that are almost as impacted by Sea-Tac Airport as Des Moines. The discussion is: how do we expand sound insulation that far South? Obviously, if that was possible, homes in the South end of Des Moines would also qualify.

The other excuse for being late this week is that I’m spending some time doing the annual City Manager Review. And these are his 2020 Accomplishments and Actions as he sees them. My responses get compiled with my colleagues’ into a single document and then we have an Executive Session to discuss.

And speaking of which. Here is a statement from our Comms Director:

Pursuant to the City Manager’s contract, he is eligible for a salary step-increase following this evaluation. However, given the existing conditions in our community as well as nationwide due to the COVID 19 pandemic, Michael has asked that the Council not consider a step-increase or any other benefits. Additionally, Michael has voluntarily waived the 1% Cost of Living Adjustment that was approved by the Council for non-union City employees for 2021.

OK, that’s IT! So please fill up my calendar by giving me a call at (206) 878-0578. 🙂

Last Week

Monday: Chat with King County Council Vice Chair Joe McDermott on working with King County to include aviation-related emissions and green house gases in the Counties environmental planning. The good news is that the Beacon Hill groups have done a great job of organizing to get the issue in front of the County Council. The bad news is that the County Council really has no authority. But they have a large bully pulpit. The challenge is getting the Beacon Hill group working in concert with the Cities around the airport. That has always been the big problem in getting any relief: working together.

Tuesday: Puget Sound Resource Council (PSRC) Broadband Community Planning in Puget Sound. This was an excellent discussion and I encourage people who are interested in the topic to watch and read.

Tuesday: Highline Forum. Quick review: There are two bodies that meet bi-monthly with the Port to discuss airporty stuff. The StART is supposed to be for the ‘community’ and the Highline Forum is supposed to be for electeds. Why do we have two such groups? ‘Cause we’re special? 😀 Keeeeeding. I’m over-simplifying, but the StART has sub-committees that work on policy suggestions (reducing noise, voluntary curfews) while the Highline Forum is more like a way for the Port to inform all the Cities’ electeds en masse as to what it’s doing. There is a lot duplicative effort here.

Tuesday: City Of Burien Town Hall on DESC. First of all, they actually had a Town Hall. (It’s something we should be doing here!) Anyhoo, DESC, in a nutshell, is supportive, affordable housing for people who might otherwise be homeless. It follows the ‘housing-first’ model to address homelessness. Whether you’re enthused about this or not, The City Of Des Moines will be looking at the same issues in the near future. Let me be clear: I am not sold. But I am studying. However if you believe that the City has no business getting anywhere near such a program? Then I gotta ask you, sincerely: What is your suggestion? The problem of homelessness is only getting worse and the DMPD would be the first to tell you that we can’t police our way out of this–which is basically what we’ve been doing for forty years. So it’s a good idea to see how other Cities are tackling the problems of affordable housing and homelessness.

Wednesday: Testimony at King County Environment and Mobility Committee on air quality improvements  and health around the airport. As I’ve reported, King County recently released a report on the health impacts of aviation and it’s why I’ve been working with Rep. Orwall and UW on annual air quality monitoring around Sea-Tac Airport.

Wednesday: Public comment on Sound Transit’s Operations And Maintenance Facility siting. As I wrote last week, the Midway Landfill is in play, but there are significant downsides to any of the three remaining contestants.

Thursday: 30th District Legislative Call: I had a chance to get updates on what’s happening in Olympia that affects Des Moines from State Senator Claire Wilson and Representatives Jesse Johnson and Jamila Taylor. The big takeaway is how many bills that seem to be moving forward on various aspects of police reform and broadband.

Thursday: Economic Development Committee Meeting: This is one of the reasons why we need to record Committee Meetings. The City Manager gave a presentation on why he did not favor going ahead with CM Martinelli’s idea of Hazard Pay for Essential Workers. I guess where I come down is this: The Feds are sending us a big ol’ bag o’ money that we must spend on short-term stuff (not long-term capital projects as I would prefer.) That being the case, If we’re going to do anything, I’d be willing to consider a straight income-based voucher. That’s clear and easy to figure out. And my strong guess is that such a program would easily hit over 9x% of the essential workers that CM Martinelli wants to target, but without having to go through all that ‘who is most worthy’ jazz. Because let’s face it: most of the people who really need the dough and are at risk are overwhelmingly low-wage service employees.

Thursday: Municipal Facilities Committee Meeting: Van Gasken Park Update (20 minutes.) Redondo Restroom Replacement CIP (20 minutes.) Marina Master Plan Update (50 minutes.) This thing stretched to the full ninety minutes and it was the most consequential meeting I have attended in years. It was again attended by people from Redondo and those who live near the Van Gasken house. Both groups have issues with policing. I’m about 99% certain they were not entirely happy with what they heard and I will keep pushing for more public engagement because each of those two sites present real security problems that are not being properly addressed.

And so it begins: Marina 2.0

Edit (03/30/21): Here is the Municipal Facilities Committee presentation on Marina Redevelopment 03/25/21

That said, the main event was the unveiling of ‘the plan’ for the Marina. Again, this shoulda been recorded and the presentation materials shoulda been made available right away because this is big. I don’t wanna leave ya hanging, but I’ll write something more specific when I have the presentation. The highlights are that we’re basically going to build a very, very large multi-purpose, three-tier building right where the storage shed now are, move a lot of the small boats into dry-stacks, perhaps putting something like a full-time farmer’s market in there and re-configuring moorage for much larger boats. The over-arching idea seems to be that the Marina should, as much as possible, continue to be self-financing, ie. that all this should cover the costs of replacing the worn out docks of the Marina over time. To say that I have questions is to say that I enjoy waking up in the morning.

But I’ll just point out for now that the Marina has always been a revenue source for the City, not a ‘cost’. You don’t pay for the Marina. In fact, for many years, the Marina helped foot the City’s bills. There’s no use crying over spilt milk, but that matters. If the City hadn’t dug into the Marina fund all those years, we’d actually have the money to rebuild the docks now. For better or worse, by taking money from the Marina in the past, we created an enormous pressure on the present and future to re-develop in a way that generates a lot of cash; basically re-defining what the Marina is and does. I would much rather see that Joe Biden money (the strings on that money drive me nuts) be spendable for this kind of project because it would give us a lot more options to think about what is best for the Community long-term, rather than ‘how do we pay the bills?’

City Currents

This week, the City published its quarterly City Currents Magazine. This gives the Mayor and administration a chance to highlight the City’s accomplishments–which is great. A lot of cool things going on. I especially like the fact that the digital version is now available simultaneously with the print copies you probably have received in the mail.

In this issue, Deputy Mayor Matt Mahoney published an essay on the great possibilities for a private passenger-only ferry that I found really troubling.

First of all, the only presentation made to the Council on this issue was back in December of 2019. This was where the consultants were hired to do a study. That presentation was not the study. The actual study results have never been presented to Council.

Further, the article implies that there has already been public input on this idea. I have no idea where or how. Again, there is no record of any survey being taken. There have been no town halls or surveys or other positive public outreach. As of late Monday, all I have from our Comms Director is that the City Manager will present to the full Council, but that isn’t even on the future’s report.

The real study by the PSRC

However, last August the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) did a very thorough regional ferry study–go to the last page. It ranks Des Moines near the bottom in terms of demand potential. So we’re not going to be a part of the State system.

Now to be fair, their analysis only discusses a Des Moines/Southworth route, which may make you think that there may be other routes which have more demand. But I contacted the analysts who conducted the study. And what they told me (and they did not put this in the study because it was not their mandate) was that they thought that there would need to be some form of external driver of demand to make it profitable, ie. some other entity would be required to provide a steady flow of passengers. The primary source they identified was the Port Of Seattle.

A private, passenger-only ferry could be great, but it also may have any number of impacts that should be considered by the full community and the full Council before plowing ahead. I believe there should be lots extensive public input (eg. town hall, Council presentations) and lots more details provided before we start promoting the idea.

There are lots of unintended consequences/costs to any sort of thing like this. I can think of many but here’s just one… we just paid over $400k to dredge the Marina. We have to do that every 8-10 years based on current usage. You increase usage with larger vessels and then you have to dredge much sooner… and then you get bigger permit fees and problems with the feds.

Bottom line

I thought hard about the tone of this article. I’ve been accused of  ‘snark’ and believe it or not, I try to stick to policy. But in this case, if the charge is snark? I reply: Guilty as charged, ossifer. If this were a proposal that the Council had received full objective data on, run through Committee and then voted on as a body, you wouldn’t hear a peep out of me. I have no problem losing votes. I expect to lose a lot of votes. That’s what it means to be in the minority.

But that article is basically a sales pitch and a re-election campaign piece for an idea that has gone through none of the proper government process. It’s exactly the kind of rubber-stamping I ran against and I want you to understand that, regardless of the merits of a private ferry, the manner in which it is being rolled out is unethical.

The City Currents is distributed to every resident and business in Des Moines. It’s literally the only interaction with the City that the majority of the public will have in any given quarter. So when it is used so poorly I do get snarky.

Weekly Update: 03/23/2021

Posted on Categories Public Safety, Transparency, Transportation, Weekly Updates1 Comment on Weekly Update: 03/23/2021

Public Service Announcements

  1. Spring Recycling Event at the Des Moines Marina Saturday March 27. NEW: You can now bring TVs and electronics!
  2. Kent Des Moines Road Closure March 21 and 23rd!
  3. SBA Webinars on new PPP Programs start March 3rd!
  4. Virtual Open House on SR 509 I-5 to 24th Ave
  5. Give public comment on Sound Transit’s Operations And Maintenance Facility March 24 and March 30!
  6. The Rotary Club’s Poverty Bay Virtual Wine Festival is March 27th! Order a couple of glasses of great wine and support a great local charity!
  7. The fourth round of Washington State COVID-19 Small Business Grants starts March 29th. Go get ’em!
  8. If you are a local business, make the Southside Promise from the South Side Seattle Chamber Of Commerce! There are grants of up to $1,000 to help you now.
  9. There are new State Unemployment Benefits. But you gotta read and follow the instructions!
  10. The recent article in the Seattle Times regarding the Masonic Home has gotten a lot of people talking. As you know, working to save the place has been on my agenda for years. Please contact me or Barbara McMichael of SoCoCulture.org at info@sococulture.org to get involved! She is compiling a mailing list and is coordinating efforts to save the place. 🙂
  11. City Of Des Moines Minor Home Repair Program This is one of those great programs the City has had in place since forever, but we only advertise every quarter in the City Currents Magazine. Basically, low to moderate income households can get grants to do all sorts of necessary repairs. Just email Minor Home Repair Coordinator Tina Hickey (206) 870-6535.
  12. Every home should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector–especially during the colder months! Full stop. If you need one but money is tight, South King County Fire And Rescue will get you one. Just call their Community Affairs Office at 253-946-7347.
  13. Rental Assistance for Low Income King County Bar Association – The Housing Justice Project is requesting community based providers assistance to identify households who owe 10K or more in back-rent. “We can zero out $10K or more of rent for folks who are at 50% AMI or below these income limits. If you know anyone, can you have them email fwblackcollective@gmail.com for navigation with case managers or give them this link which has all the paperwork to complete and email to edmundw@kcba.org to get their rent payed out.   Forms to Eliminate Back Rent: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=1fUdYAwMFH_V_B1vTD_urmir_ltI8Wfnw.   Completed forms can be emailed to edmundw@kcba.org.”
  14. If you wish to sign up for future City Clean Ups Michelle Johansson Fawcett: cleanuri.com/pj4RQ5
  15. And last, but not least: If you have a Port Package that is having issues, please email SeatacNoise.Info with your address!

This Week

Monday: Chat with King County Council Vice Chair Joe McDermott on working with King County to include aviation-related emissions and green house gases in the Counties environmental planning.

Tuesday: Puget Sound Resource Council (PSRC) Broadband Community Planning in Puget Sound.

Tuesday: Highline Forum

Tuesday: City Of Burien Town Hall on DESC. First of all, they’re actually having a Town Hall. Second of all, even though it’s Burien, this matters for Des Moines. We will be looking at the same issues in the near future so it’s a good idea to see how other Cities are tackling the problems of affordable housing.

Wednesday: Testimony at King County Environment and Mobility Committee on air quality improvements around the airport.

Wednesday: Public comment on Sound Transit’s Operations And Maintenance Facility siting

Thursday: 30th District Legislative Call: A chance to get updates on what’s happening in Olympia that affects Des Moines from State Senator Claire Wilson and Representatives Jesse Johnson and Jamila Taylor.

Thursday: Economic Development Committee Meeting: Hazard Pay for Essential Workers

Thursday: Municipal Facilities Committee Meeting: Van Gasken Park Update (20 minutes) Redondo Restroom Replacement CIP (20 minutes)Staff will provide a project update highlighting public outreach and preferred options for the Redondo restroom replacement building. Marina Master Plan Update (50 minutes)

Sign up here to participate or provide public comment!

Last Week

Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines meeting. This was actually pretty huge. We got to see stats on youth crime in Des Moines and it’s taken a fairly predictable upward turn–most likely due to COVID.

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) Baby, this was super-action packed. A bit more below.

Council Meeting Recap

(Agenda Packet), (Clerk’s Recap), ( Video)

(Check out the Northwest Maritime Center plans for a Maritime High School! It’s in that packet.)

As has been noted, the City has recently announced the retirement of more than one senior official in the building department. I asked the City Manager what the City’s hiring process was for encouraging diversity. He offered no immediate answer but promised an off-line reply. So far, no answer. This is concerning to me. As many of you have noticed, the City staff is overwhelmingly white. I know from my own hiring experience that there is an association representing virtually every combination of professions and minorities (eg. there is a Society Of Black Professional Engineers) and they love to hear from organisations like the City Of Des Moines. I hope that the City is making every effort to recruit people of color–especially at the level of department head.

We had a briefing from Sound Transit re. where to put the Operations And Maintenance Facility and their Draft EIS.–and more specifically, what might be the ramifications of choosing the Midway Landfill (You should provide your public comment.) There is a lot of support for the Midway site–turning lemons into lemonade, right? Well, even though it’s a much more expensive solution than the two FedWay sites, if I were betting (and I’m not) my guess is that it will end up there–at least, if enough Federal Way residents complain. Having seen what this sort of displacement does to an area after the Third Runway, I don’t blame them for not wanting it anywhere near their neighborhoods. That said, here are a couple of interesting notes if the Midway site is chosen.

  1. The whole area is squishy. It’s not solid ground, right? So you either gotta drill real deep or excavate the entire area in order to truck out all the crap in order to build on something stable.
  2. It might take up to twice as long to build. Seven years. (And that’s if it’s on schedule.)

Which means that there might be seven years of hundreds of giant trucks moving fill out of our area every damned day. Think about that.

Resignation from Diversity Task Force

After the whole George Floyd thing last Spring, the Police Department responded by creating a Diversity Task Force, consisting of both police and residents.

On Monday, the Council received this letter of resignation from one member of that Task Force, *Meg Tapucol-Provo. I encourage everyone to read it because it has some really great ideas for improving diversity in hiring–not just in Des Moines, but everywhere. And that is no accident. Apparently, Ms. Tapucol-Provo was something of a ringer. She has worked as a professional diversity trainer. I have spoken to several people who have worked with her and she is highly regarded as a trainer and educator.

I had no idea who Ms. Tapucol-Provo was until after she wrote this letter. I had absolutely no contact with the group and in fact I had no idea who was participating.  As readers of this column know, I have been denied access to any police advisory committee meetings and that the Chief does not return even routine inquiries from me.

I consider myself to be a major supporter of the Des Moines Police Department. In fact, if I had the authority, I would want to hire at least four officers because I know that’s what the overwhelming majority of residents want–more officers on the street–especially in critical areas. But the issues of police reform are real and they apply to Des Moines just like every other town in America.

Ms. Tapucol-Provo gave me her permission to publish this letter.

Letter of resignation from Des Moines Diversity Task Force: Meg Tapucol-Provo

Posted on Categories Neighborhoods, Policy, Public Safety, Transparency, UncategorizedTags 2 Comments on Letter of resignation from Des Moines Diversity Task Force: Meg Tapucol-Provo

Subject: Stepping down from the DMPD Diversity Task Force

To: Chief Ken Thomas,  Des Moines Police Guild, City Council, etc.

To the Members of the Des Moines Police Department Diversity Task Force,

I am regretfully writing to inform you that I am stepping down from the Diversity Task Force.

In joining this Task Force, my hope was built upon the expectation that the lived experiences of marginalized community members would be respected and prioritized.  I was told that the goal of the task force was to implement training on unconscious bias, and that opinions that provided different perspectives were welcome, particularly since I was not only a woman of color, but I had been working in the field of diversity and inclusion for over two decades.  I have facilitated Diversity and Inclusion Workshops throughout the country, from Atlanta to Hawaii, and all points in between and I have worked with all levels of employees, from line workers to CEO’s, from police officers, to scientists, to politicians.  I’ve taught college-level classes on Diversity and Multiculturalism for 13 years and I worked with educators as a facilitator for the Anti-Defamation League’s A World of Difference Institute leading prejudice reduction workshops.  So I came into this Task Force with a wealth and breadth of experience.  Social justice is something in which I believe passionately, and I was honored to be asked to be on the Task Force.

The first meeting was in August and I am still not clear on what the goal of the task force is.  There was one sparsely attended meeting in the fall in which diversity topics weren’t discussed at all.  I’m really not sure why.  At the end of that particular meeting, body cams were discussed, but for the most part I can’t recall what was discussed; I only remember thinking to myself, what does this have to do with diversity?

It is now March, seven months after the initial meeting and absolutely nothing has been accomplished.  There has been no discussion of training.  I feel that whenever issues around race are brought up, there is a feeling of defensiveness and attempts to justify actions by the police.  I tried to open up an honest conversation about the disparity between how black protesters are treated vs. the way white protesters are treated given what happened at the Capitol on January 6th.  There appeared to be a clear division between the people of color on the task force and the white officers on the task force, with the people of color feeling strongly that there is a disparity between how POC and white people are treated by law enforcement.  This is a quote from Robin DiAngelo: “If you haven’t spent years of sustained study, struggle and focus on issues of racism, then your opinion is necessarily limited.”  Whose opinion on racism holds more weight—those who have experienced racism, or those who haven’t?  What I felt was the invisible blue wall of silence go up.  What I believe is not understood by everyone in this Task Force is that racism does not necessarily have to be intentional.  Racism is a structure that maintains whiteness as the status quo. In this police department, whiteness is the status quo. If this Diversity Task Force cannot agree on what the realities are on racism in policing, what is the point of having the Task Force?

It was brought up during the first meeting that there were officers who weren’t happy that the Diversity Task Force was being put together.  As a former Diversity Consultant, I have worked with Police Officers in another jurisdiction and there was definitely a lot of reluctance going through Diversity Training on their part, so I don’t find this surprising. During the January meeting, I brought that issue up again, asking WHY those officers weren’t happy. The response to that question skirted the issue, stating that there were “different opinions” about the Diversity Task Force.  But the different opinions about the Task Force were never specified, leaving one to wonder, just exactly what ARE those differing opinions? And in fact, if there are officers who aren’t happy that the Diversity Task Force exists, why is that?  Does it conflict with their value system, their ideology?  Do they not value diversity and inclusion?  The only way we would know is if we knew what their opinions were.

Too often I have seen Diversity and Inclusion programs or Task Forces be implemented yet no change take place.  Organizations do this just to “check the box”, to say they did what they were supposed to do.  In the wake of the George Floyd murder, maybe it looks good to take that step.  But if this is just performative, then this is not the right task force for me.

Des Moines’ demographics have been steadily changing over the past two decades.  I’ve put together the attached Excel graphic (Des Moines Demographics 2000-2020) to show how the population has been changing since 2000.  There are currently about an equal number of people of color in Des Moines as there are white people, yet the police department does not reflect that reality.  If your department doesn’t reflect who they represent, how can you adequately protect and serve them?  These numbers will continue to change and people of color will become the majority.  How is the police department going to adequately understand the needs of the population it serves if the 99% of the officers continue to view things through their own cultural lenses?

One suggestion I have is that a third party outside of the police department with professional experience in diversity and inclusion act as a facilitator for the task force.  I believe that would be a better way to conduct task force meetings and to keep topics focused on diversity-related issues.  I also feel there should be more gender diversity among the people of color—where are the men of color who are not police officers?  Whether intentional or unintentional, there seems to be an out-of-balance power dynamic when the police officers are almost all White males and the citizens are all women of color.  Also, since this is a city government organization, I don’t see why City Council members should be banned from attending task force meetings.  I am aware that Councilmember J.C. Harris has asked to attend the task force meeting and was denied, and I am not sure I understand why.  It would seem to me that complete transparency would be a good thing.

I’ve attached some articles for your information.  I hope that in the near future you are able to determine what your diversity and inclusion goals are and accomplish them.

And I strongly urge EVERYONE on the task force to read “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo.

Also, I think you will find this an eye-opening video to watch:  A Conversation With the Police – Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man – Emmanuel Acho has a conversation with the Petaluma Police Department “Proximity breeds care; distance breeds fear.” –  Emmanuel Acho

Meg Tapucol-Provo

Notes on the attached articles:

  1. “10 Things We Know About Race and Policing in the U.S.”, an excellent article by the Pew Research Center.  One big takeaway from this article is that Black police officers view fatal encounters between law enforcement and Black people very differently than White police officers.  The majority of Black police officers view these incidents as signs of a larger problem between the police and Black people, whereas only 26% of White police officers believe this to be true.  In fact, the majority of Americans, both Black and White, believe Blacks are treated less fairly than Whites by law enforcement and by the criminal justice system.
  2. “The Numbers Don’t Speak for Themselves: Racial Disparities and the Persistence of Inequality in the Criminal Justice System”.  A great article exploring the way different people interpret statistical analyses about racism based on their own stereotypes about different groups of people and strategies on how to mitigate the unintended consequences of these stereotypes.
  3. “Racial Bias and Disparities in Policing”.  A thorough exploration of the racial bias and disparities in policing.
  4. “Federal judge holds Seattle Police Department in contempt for use of pepper spray, blast balls during Black Lives Matter protests”.  Seattle Times article shows that Seattle police did in fact use violence on peaceful BLM protesters, in contrast to what was claimed during January task force meeting.
  5. “The Inaction of Capitol Police Was by Design”.  “In December, a 111-page investigative report about the New York Police Department revealed that last year’s Black Lives Matter protests had been grossly mishandled by officers. The report, conducted by a city oversight agency, confirmed what millions of Americans had seen after the killing of George Floyd on May 25: Police responses during peaceful protests were characterized by “excessive enforcement” and the violation of First Amendment rights. Yet one month before Floyd’s death, on April 30, the country had watched as white protesters, some of them heavily armed, swarmed the Michigan state capitol to object to stay-at-home orders, resulting in little incident from Michigan State Police troopers and only two arrests.” – Excerpt from the article
  6. “Police Shrugged Off the Proud Boys, Until They Attacked the Capitol”, New York Times article does a deep dive into local police departments and how sometimes they have even appeared to side with the Proud Boys, especially when they have squared off against leftists openly critical of law enforcement.
  7. “Stop Turning Your Head: Black Cops Speak Out Against Blanket of Racism”,   “A department leadership that condones or ignores these levels of racism among its officers and fails to establish strict policies against it, or hold officers who break those policies accountable creates a culture of acceptance, denial and inaction that breeds bad behavior, Williams and others told The Crime Report.  ‘Old habits, old traditions, old structures are hard to break,’ said Williams. ‘It’s easy when you’re not affected by it to make an excuse for it, deny it, and just turn your head.’ However, willful ignorance by the leadership feeds a culture that can have dangerous consequences for communities around the country.” – Excerpt from the article.

Why I support police reform but voted against pre-paying for body cameras

Posted on Categories Public Safety1 Comment on Why I support police reform but voted against pre-paying for body cameras
Street Racers at the Des Moines Creek Business Park, December 2020
Street Racers at the Des Moines Creek Business Park, December 2020

As I’ve written and testified, I am a strong advocate of police reform. I was the lone vote against the motion so I figured I should explain a bit. And I want to stipulate that body cameras will likely be in all Cities (including Des Moines) at some point.

Point by point

Let’s begin by pointing out that going into the meeting there was no vote planned. So let me acknowledge the City Manager for asking for a motion rather than simply giving the presentation and then acting unilaterally. Here is a link to the presentation.

Crime is increasing

As hinted at on page 5, crime has been on the increase in the two years before COVID-19 and is expected to continue increasing. We’ve heard in the media about a downward trend in crime over the past decades, but in many categories here in Des Moines that is simply no longer true.

Misdirection

Lest we forget, the whole discussion re. body cameras first came up as a response to calls to address systemic racism in policing, specifically the killing of George Floyd. ‘Racism’ and ‘accountability’ were the defining terms in the whole discussion. And yet at last night’s presentation neither the words racism or accountability were mentioned.  It feels to me like the whole discussion has shifted towards being a symbolic gesture–something we cannot afford right now.

During the presentation, we learned that there have been almost no complaints about Des Moines Police Officers in recent years. So I struggle to understand the urgency of this project.

Not the best use of funds

The police are beginning a beta-test with only two units. Yet back in July the City Manager set aside $140,000 (the cost of the entire system). In a time of serious budget shortfalls, we are essentially pre-paying for something we may not use at all until the end of 2021. That $140,000 could instead be used to fund another officer and a part time civilian position. Right now. That is no symbolic gesture. Hiring new officers would provide an immediate benefit to our community in terms of crime prevention and reduction.

Many bugs yet to work out

The presentation (and prior Public Safety Committee presentation) specifically mentioned that there are still significant challenges to implementing body cameras, both technical and legal (including privacy and little details like when officers get to turn them on and off!) I believe that we should let other communities work out these bugs before we invest heavily. Again, not while there is no local data supporting an immediate need.

The Police did not request this

And then there is something you would have to have attended prior Public Safety and Police Advisory Meetings to learn: the Police Guild (the officers) have not asked for body cameras. The police union representatives have taken great pains to word their reaction like this, “We do not oppose body cameras.” That’s it. They do not say, we need body cameras to do our job. The Chief has also made it clear that this is not about improving law enforcement or addressing documented concerns about accountability or racism.

Summary

I support a beta-test of two cameras. But I do not support funding the entire program in advance, using money that could and should be used now to fight and prevent increased crime. I believe that is what the overwhelming majority of  you, the voters really want. Especially when there is no true evidence of need and no actual desire coming from the PD itself.

When there is a generally accepted best-practice in place for Cities like Des Moines, I will support it, along with other, the far more impactful means of combatting racism and improving accountability that I have previously written about.

How I got so interested in Code Enforcement

Posted on Categories Neighborhoods, Public SafetyTags , 1 Comment on How I got so interested in Code Enforcement

In 2010 I moved away for a year and rented out my house here. Now back then, in order to rent out yer house, the City required aspiring landlords to do a couple of things: first you paid a $40(?) fee and second you became part of a database with your current address and phone number so that your neighbors could track you down if your renters were misbehaving and finally you had to take a class run by Community Service Officer Tonya (which was great by the way.) The class taught all kinds of neat-o stuff like how not to discriminate, your relationship with renters, etc. Sweet.

In 2011, I moved back and shortly thereafter I found that several of my neighbors had flipped their houses (as was so popular back then.) And the new owners were using their homes as rental properties. Unfortunately, the renters who had moved into these houses just suuuuucked. I mean suuuuucked. So I went to the City, because I knew from my ‘landlord class’ that we had a Code Enforcement Officer. And she told me that since my time as a landlord the City had rescinded the above landlord code. No fee, no database, no school. Which meant no accountability.

What I learned first hand is that when landlords cannot be easily held accountable for their renters, chaos tends to ensue. The City’s Code at the time made it almost impossible for people like me to locate the landlords of these bad renters (because, let’s be honest: a lot of these landlords did not particularly want to be found.)

And I did call the City. And SKFR. Many times. They were on a first-name basis with all the ne’er do-wells. They were sympathetic to me, but told me plainly that there was nothing they could do ‘until a crime is committed.’ The City Code was not designed to deal pro-actively with these kinds of situations.

So after many months of frustration I walked up the hill to City Hall on a Thursday night at 7pm and made my first public comment. And the Council just stared at me. (Just like they stare at you.) Which totally pissed me off. So I kept coming back. And kept getting stared at. But in the meantime, I found that the City had been threatened with a lawsuit from the Rental Housing Association–a group I had joined in order to be a ‘good landlord’. They objected to any form of ‘regulation’ on landlords and rather than litigate the City caved. I won’t go into more detail than that, but the whole thing seemed started to sour me on the Des Moines government. My issue seemed like exactly the sort of basic ‘blocking and tackling’ that City government should handle: keeping your street safe, clean and quiet.

Plus, since we were in the dark times of Des Moines financial problems, the Code Enforcement program was gutted–which I thought was just a terrible policy choice. It sent a very clear message about values.

The net effect of this on me personally and my street was this: Three of my long-time neighbors moved away–specifically because of these jerk renters. One of the rental homes was burned down to the studs by the renter. And another home was completely trashed by a meth-head who would store 10-20 thousand pounds of stolen wire (stealing copper was his day job) in the back yard. All it to0k was two crappy renters (or should I say, crappy landlords) to devastate my street. A street with half a dozen school-age kids.

To his credit, a few years later, at the end of his mayoralty, I got a nice letter from  Dave Kaplan, informing me that the City had taken my complaints to heart and was revamping its Code Enforcement program. As you can imagine, I was initially very skeptical.

I’ve got a nose for it…

Fast forward to 2020. I am pleased to report that the situation is much better.

Because of my bad experience, I had developed something of a ‘bad property radar’. I can spot troubled properties from far away. And during my campaign, I walked every single block of Des Moines. And I heard hundreds of complaints about ‘that one house’ that makes the entire block nervous. And. I. get. it.

The City now has a full-time Code Enforcement officer–who literally pays for himself and re-jiggered the Code to require landlords to have a business license–which provides a measure of that lost accountability. It’s still not where I’d like it to be, but it’s progress and I will keep pushing for even more emphasis on Code Enforcement.

Animal Control Officer and Code Enforcement Update

The thing that is not on the presentation Officer Batterman gave was a very good comment from Chief Thomas: Code Enforcement pays. If done properly, it should basically pay for itself. You can see that it’s at least $100k a year in City revenue when done well. That’s not a bad thing like some speed trap. It’s a good way to measure effectiveness simply because there’s a lot of work left to do in Des Moines.

Now, am I 100% happy? Of course not. 😀 But I gotta be fair. It’s much better than it was. And I want you to know that, on a street by street level this is my number one issue. I moved here because Des Moines had a great reputation for its neighborhoods. Gardens were well tended. People understood that the way their house and street looked mattered.

If you have a Code Enforcement issue, please go to the City Code Enforcement Complaint page or call Officer Kory Batterman directly at (206) 870-7617.

Weekly Update: 10/11/2020

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Public Safety, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesTags , , 2 Comments on Weekly Update: 10/11/2020

PSA#1: We’re getting down to the wire! You really gotta sign up for the Census. DM is currently only at about 71% participation (Washington State is actually second best in the nation) BUT STILL NOT ENOUGH! 😀 We need every living body counted. Each person counted represents about $30,000 in State and Local funding!

PSA#2: You may have heard that there is an election coming. There will be a Candidate’s Forum October 14th. Write me if you need a Voter’s Pamphlet: I have extras! And if you don’t get your ballot?  please email elections@kingcounty.gov or give them a call at 206-296-VOTE (8683).

This Week

Tuesday: Port Of Seattle Aviation Budget Meeting. I hope to hear that, after all the COVID-19 delays, the Commission will finally start funding Port Packages again as they promised last February.

Wednesday: have lunch with me at the Senior Center. Get an EATS voucher!

Wednesday: Des Moines Marina Association meeting.

Last Week

Tuesday: I was not allowed to watch the Police Department Advisory Board, hosted by Chief Of Police Ken Thomas. Which was disappointing.

Wednesday: Lunch with me at the Senior Center. We draw Seniors from all of South King County so I always learn something.

Thursday: Puget Sound Regional Council Transportation Board. I keep bringing up the PSRC because they are the most important agency you’ve never heard of. They decide little details like, oh… if say, a Third Runway gets built. 😀 They create a variety of broad regional planning goals like transportation, housing and economic development. They do this partly by being the funnel through which Federal funding passes. In other words, when the Federal government sends dollars to build roads or housing or businesses, they tend to get distributed through the PSRC. Unfortunately, the PSRC is organized in a fashion that allows larger cities and the Port to steamroll the interests of smaller cities. So the City Of Des Moines needs to be a lot more engaged here.

Thursday: Transportation Committee Meeting. If you haven’t been following, the City funds most of its street repairs from that $40 ‘car tab’ (ie. the Transportation Benefit District or ‘TBD’) which you voted to rescind last year (I-976). That issue is being argued in the courts now (because, hey, no law just goes into effect anymore, right? Everything gets appealed in the courts.) But until that’s resolved here’s two things you can count on: First, you’re gonna continue to pay into the fee–even though the City is not allowed to use that money. Second, the City’s entire road repair program is pretty much on hold. And if I-976 is upheld, we’ll need to take about $1 million from something else if we want our pot holes filled.

Transportation Benefit District TBD Page

Pavement Management program

Des Moines 2016 Pavement Analysis Report

Thursday: City Council General Meeting (Agenda, Video). See below.

City Council Meeting Recap

Official City Recap

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. If that isn’t the best opening line in a book ehvehhhhhr? On the one hand, last Thursday’s meeting was one of the least controversial I’ve attended; and at 43 minutes, it was definitely the shortest. Heck, I even had time to grab a snack and watch Judy Woodruff. 😀 There’s a downside to all that which made it perfect time to publish the third in my series Better City Council Meetings.

Consent Agenda

Street Sweepers: I asked to pull the item for renewing the Street Sweeper contract because I’ve heard from many neighbours over the years that it’s a bit crazy-making never knowing when they’ll show up. DPW Director Brandon Carver promised to ask the vendor if they could do that.

Comcast Renewal: This is one of those things that I voted for simply because I’m new and no one would care. But we just signed a ten year contract with an organization that is unbelievably disliked. I don’t know what we could do better, but I feel like we should try.

City Manager report on Airport stuff

The City Manager made two comments of note regarding the airport.

Letter to the PSRC

First, that he and the Mayor had written a letter to the Puget Sound Regional Council objecting to various aspects of their Regional Aviation Baseline Study.

OK, this is tricky, so please stick with me. The letter is fine, so far as it goes. However, it’s one of those ‘appearance of engagement’ deals. you will hear me go on about aaaaaaaaaaaall the time.

The appearance of engagement is when you do something that, to the uninformed public, looks like you’re showing concern, when in fact, it has almost no tangible effect whatsoever. The Port Of Seattle are the masters of this.

And letters like this can also be seen in that light because it creates the impression that the City is fighting the best possible fight. But that is far from the case. This is not to sound cynical–it’s important to raise the alarm that the PSRC’s (cough) ‘study’. That document is also a massive ‘appearance of engagement’. It tries so hard to sound concerned about the negative impacts of aviation, but in fact the PSRC study is totally biased against community interest.

So I appreciate the Mayor and City Manager doing this. However, we are literally years behind where we should be in dealing with the Sustained Airport Master Plan (SAMP). It’s important to recognize that the Port announced its plans to expand in 2012 and we’ve done very little of consequence to this point. So unless we change course strategically starting about yesterday, the expansion of Sea-Tac Airport is pretty much assured. In short, we shoulda been doing a lot more than writing letters  and that’s the main reason I ran for office.

Tina Orwall’s HEPA filter STUDY

On an unambiguously positive note, the City Of Des Moines (along with our sister-cities) have kicked in money recently for State Representative Tina Orwall‘s project to test schools to see about the efficacy of HEPA filters. As I’ve written before, proper air quality is not some new-agey deal. It has very real and immediate effects for school children and I am so glad we are backing this.

The next obvious step, which I hope the City will get behind in its 2021 Legislative Agenda, is for the State to install a comprehensive air quality monitoring system for the communities around Sea-Tac Airport. I feel like I need to mention this over and over but there is literally no air quality monitoring system anywhere near the airport. Various agencies will do a study of one particular toxin (like ultrafine particulates) every decade or so but that’s about it. This is ridiculous.

The 2021 Budget Presentation

2021 Preliminary Annual Budget

This was a new one. We had first Budget Presentation of 2021. There was just one detail missing. The Budget. Literally. The actual document showed up in my Inbox ten minutes after the meeting ended. So there was nothing to discuss–except how much we were encouraged to ask questions. OK, my first question is this: Why couldn’t you send us the PDF before the meeting? 😀

I guess this is a good time to say that the third in my series Better City Council Meetings is now on-line? 😀 I hope you’ll read it.

Five new police cars

We’re getting five new police cars. One immediately and four next year. And they need to be paid for now ahead of the Budget, in order to get them in a timely fashion. The only reason I’m mentioning it is because if you read my Better City Council Meetings #3, this is very similar to my problem with having a Budget Presentation without an actual Budget. Given the urgency and given the fact that this is being approved outside the normal budget process, look at the agenda and tell me what question is not on there:

Why do we need five new police cars?

There was nothing in the Agenda Packet that told me why I should vote to spend $350,000 on new vehicles–outside of the budget process.

Let me be clear: I have no problem paying for new vehicles if that’s what is needed. But in the hundreds of public meetings I’ve attended over the years, I have never been to any outside of Des Moines where a packet does not provide at least some justification for making an expenditure. If you run or work at a business, can you imagine a scenario where you made a written request for $350,000 without providing a reason?

Wait… remind me. Did I mention that the third in my series Better City Council Meetings is now on-line? 😀

Weekly Update: 10/04/2020

Posted on Categories Economic Development, Public Safety, Transparency, Weekly UpdatesTags , , 1 Comment on Weekly Update: 10/04/2020

PSA: We’re getting down to the wire! You really gotta sign up for the Census. We’re getting down to the wire and DM is currently only at about 71% participation (Washington State is actually second best in the nation) BUT STILL NOT ENOUGH! 😀 We need every living body counted. Each person counted represents about $30,000 in State and Local funding!

This Week

Tuesday: Police Department Advisory Board, hosted by Chief Of Police Ken Thomas.

Wednesday: come have lunch with me at the Senior Center. Get an EATS voucher!

Wednesday: Puget Sound Regional Council Economic Development Committee.

Thursday: Transportation Meeting 3:00pm (Agenda) Please go here  if you wish to attend.

Thursday: City Council General Meeting (Agenda) Please go here  if you wish to attend.

Last Week

Thursday: Public Safety Committee meeting. The big discussion this time was about body cameras. Our City Manager has already added $140k for this to the 2021 budget so I guess that’s a done deal?

What’s Your Position On?

I do get questions from residents.

Body cameras

The interesting thing about that last Public Safety Committee Meeting was that there was 100% agreement, but almost no data. The position of the Police Guild is that, while they are not opposed to the idea in principle, they think that the money could be spent better elsewhere. And I agree. The Chief has said repeatedly that we get very few officer complaints, however offered no supporting data. And I think that was a mistake. Basic data regarding complaints should be constantly available and certainly when making a presentation on this issue. But, taking him at his word, I say again: we’re in the biggest budget shortfall in years, so why spend money now if there’s no problem? One comment from Councilmember Bangs was that “if we don’t spend this money for body cameras it may not be available for other public safety programs. It may just go away.” I would remind her that we the Council control the budget. Well, in theory, anyhoo. 😉

Redondo

To quote our Chief Of Police, “the best solution to crime is an engineered solution.” In other words, you want to organize traffic or buildings or whatever to avoid having to call the cops or have an ordinance. The best law enforcement is where no law enforcement is needed. And I agree.

However, there are some situations, and I’m starting to think Redondo is one of them, where there is nothing like a cop on the beat. This is where I’d like to spend that $140k–where there is a demonstrable problem that can clearly be solved with the presence of an officer. However, the Chief seems to be resistant to this notion. At his last Police Advisory Meeting, he made an interesting comment, “every interaction is a chance for something to go wrong.” Which I hope to ask him about because I think that if you ask most residents they want to see more police in their neighborhoods. I’ve done a bit of research and other law enforcement professionals express this sentiment.  The thing is, in places like Redondo, where there is no obvious ‘engineered’ answer to chronic speeding, loud cars, etc., having an officer on patrol (and writing tickets) may be the best solution.

Midway Sewer District

I’ve reached out to the Sewer District, as usual, mainly to learn how everything works and they seem pretty confident that it’s a one-off. OK, maybe this incident won’t happen again. However we’ve now had at least four water infrastructure problems just this year. My interest is in seeing if there are ways that all the players (Water Districts, Sewer Districts, City) need to be thinking long term.

Taken as a whole, Des Moines has an amazingly complex water system from wells like Water District #54 to the Marina, Redondo, Saltwater State Park, creeks, commercial shell-fishing. There are at least six agencies I can think of off the top of my head that govern various aspects of ‘water’ from your house out to Puget Sound. When people think of ‘complex bureaucracy’ water management is exactly what you’re thinking of.

I know people want something like those air quality ‘dashboards’ with a little water quality indicator color: Green good, Yellow caution, Red bad. Simple. But that is not how it currently works. (Actually, what you really want is to never have to think about ‘water’.) But in addition to all the ‘agencies’ we have an aging system–especially in areas like Lower Woodmont and increasing pressure to reduce pollutants. So my prediction is that we’re going to be talking about ‘water’ a lot more in the coming years.

G.R.O. business grant program

So, due to the nonsense at the last City Council Meeting I never got to ask questions about the program. I just want to reiterate that I am thrilled to support local business grants. In fact, I started pushing for this concept back in April in meetings with people from Rotary, Destination Des Moines, SCCOC and staff from the City Of Des Moines.

However, I have had questions of the process. I talk to lots and lots of businesses and I had several concerns:

1. Lack of awareness. Many businesses were unaware that the City even had a program. In fact, everyone at those initial SCCOC meetings agreed that ‘getting the word out’ would be one of the most challenging parts of any such program. I saw very little public marketing from the City and I wish there had been more.

2. Aside from basic awareness, there was also many psychological hurdles that you can’t really understand unless you’ve had a small business. Many business owners had an absolutely terrible experience with both the Federal and State grant programs earlier in the year. They were either subjected to a very confusing process, or delays or were outright denied.  Any number of business owners I spoke with literally had to be talked into applying for these grants. Again, after the bad experience with the Federal/State programs, a lot of people felt like, “Forget it. I’ll just try and muddle through.”

3. Accessibility. We have any number of business owners who have trouble with language issues or basic computer skills. One can argue that this is on them, but they are hard working and they provide products and services that many of us all benefit from. Without a certain amount of ‘hand holding’ (which their banker provided in the case of Federal programs) they found the process a struggle.

4. The fact that there were 26 applications and 26 acceptances strikes me as, at minimum, unusual. (Eg. how many employers do you know that accept 100% of their applicants?) I found it unnerving that the City did not publish the names or the dollar amounts. All I know is that we gave out $432k without a Council vote. I found it irresponsible that not a single one of my colleagues had any questions or concerns–which just seem like basic due diligence to me.

To deal with these concerns, all our sister cities utilized an independent firm to manage their grant program–as recommended by MRSC. Here is an example from Burien (which is now in round two of their program.) The idea was to have

Now, none of the above takes away from the benefit I’m sure the winners feel or the hard work of our City Staff. Again, no one is more thrilled than me to help local businesses. But ultimately, I work for you. It’s your money and I’m supposed to ask these kinds of questions.

Student Internet Access

I posted on Facebook an article in the Seattle Times about the uncertainty over how many students don’t have access to the Internet. We have a similar issue here. According to Highline Schools, there are close to a 1,000 students in Des Moines who may have poor or no Internet service. Other cities devoted a portion of their CARES Act money to helping them through the pandemic. We did not. The Mayor offered a token gesture to help twenty students which is only a drop in the bucket.

We have to offer a competitive education to every student in order to improve Des Moines. Quality of schools is number one on many people’s lists when choosing a place to live.  So even if you don’t have children in public school it is in your self-interest to help these students.

I want to remind the reader that we received $1.4 million in CARES Act funding. 100% of that money was spent by our City Manager and 0% was voted on by our City Council.

Education is such an important issue that there should have at least been an opportunity for discussion on that CARES funding from the dais. But even if I can’t convince you that education is your priority, I hope we can agree that the Council (as your representative) should’ve had the opportunity to weigh in on how that money was spent. It’s your money.

COVID-19

At our last Transportation Committee meeting I expressed my support for Roundabouts in Des Moines–to which the City Manager quipped, “Amazing, I am in agreement with Councilmember Harris!” To which I replied, “Hey, even a broken clock is right twice a day.” 😀

Although I doubt we’d currently agree as to who is the clock in that metaphor, I wanted to return the favor by applauding his recent policy statement on face coverings.

That letter shows that the City is continuing to be serious about the pandemic and I want to encourage all of you to do the same.

Let’s be honest: with each passing week I see fewer and fewer people using masks, doing the ‘six feet’ thing. It almost seems like the same game we all play at the airport with taking off our shoes.

I know we’re all sick of it and emotionally checked out, but it’s not going away. Not even close. Rates have risen sharply in the past few weeks and I’m begging y’all to take a breath and re-commit to good habits–before the cold weather.

Port Of Seattle Special Meeting On Policing and Racism (Public Comment)

Posted on Categories Public SafetyLeave a comment on Port Of Seattle Special Meeting On Policing and Racism (Public Comment)
FROM: JC Harris
PO Box 13094
Des Moines, WA 98198
(206) 878-0578TO: Commissioners Of The Port Of Seattle: Peter Steinbreuck, Fred Felleman, Stephanie Bowman, Ryan Calkins, Sam Cho

June 29, 2020

Commissioners,

I am writing to you in this context as a private citizen. I applaud the Port’s efforts at self-reflection on matters of policing and specifically identifying and ending racism in policing. In light of recent events, I have heard many platitudes from various governments (including my own) and I am hoping to see these fine words translated into productive steps forward.

If my tone seems a bit cynical, perhaps this background information will be helpful. I am in a decidedly ‘mixed’ family. And the black people in my family have had experiences which are unfortunately common enough (and recent enough) that I believe they warrant investigation in today’s Port Of Seattle. As one specific example, my black son and his cousin were stopped by a member of the Port PD in 2002 for a supposedly illegal right turn on red within the City Of Des Moines. They were not only stopped, but handcuffed. And then their car was towed, forcing them to walk back home to Burien—about six miles. (When they asked to get back into their now locked car to retrieve their cell phone to make an emergency call, their request was denied.) When they demanded to know why they were being treated so roughly, the officer explained that their car tabs had expired and this was standard procedure in such cases. (Their car tabs were expired. By one. Single. Day.)

Almost all the conversations I have heard thus far focus on preventing the most extreme cases, such as the tragic deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. Of course, I welcome any solutions that might be put found to prevent such catastrophes. However, I believe that the vast majority of problems are actually ‘minor’ incidents where the police stop individuals and treat them differently based on their race. These are the incidents we do not hear about. But in some ways they matter more than the headline events, because these incidents scar people and create an ongoing climate of tension, intimidation and fear. I think all of us are getting a sense of what that might feel like now with COVID-19. The risk of infection is low, but it’s always in the back of your mind. And that constant sense of concern wears on people.

I’m also convinced that if we had better data on these more ‘minor’ types of incidents, we might prevent more serious problems by identifying the officers who show day to day biases.

What I am dancing around, and what everyone else tends to dance around so carefully is this: we cannot truthfully say that the problem of police racism is ‘somewhere else’ or ‘back in the day’. It must be acknowledged that, in every department it is, to some extent, here and now. Because we are small communities here in South King County, we are reluctant to think that anyone working here might behave in this way. And the moment that possibility is mentioned, a wall of defensiveness or resentment tends to come up. But to think that the Port’s PD (or any other) might be somehow ‘special’ or ‘immune’ is to ignore how baked in racism is into the culture of policing as well as in the broader culture. And we should be able to discuss it without pearl clutching.

I believe that processes need to be put into place in every police department to not only prevent the types of situations I just mentioned, but just as importantly, to reassure the public that we take the issues seriously on a day to day basis. To build real trust, it is not enough to say that we will not choke someone to death or shoot them in the back. That is far too low a bar. We must also take steps to show the public that when we stop someone for any reason, they will be treated fairly and with courtesy during any type of interaction.

To address this I would ask you to consider the following changes to police management:

  1. The Port’s web site should be updated with a prominently displayed Comment Form that encourages the public to provide feedback on their interactions with the police. Respondents should be followed up with by someone not connected with the police department. We need to tell the public that was want to hear from them and that we care about their comments. I’m sure there will be a certain amount of skepticism that this might help much. But policing seems to me to be, to a very large degree, a customer service job. Most interactions are not about force, they are transactional. And most people who feel mistreated in some way, think that the poor treatment they received must be condoned by management. Most people of colour are extremely reluctant to complain–unless the mistreatment rises to an outrageous level. We need to convey to the public (and particularly people of colour) that any mistreatment is not OK.
  2. Every person who interacts with the police should be given a business card with that web address and a phone number to call to give voice feedback. This should not just be additional fine print on the back of a citation, but rather an attractive business card used only for that purpose. Again, we should reinforce that we are in the customer service business. We want officers to do that well and we want everyone who they meet to know that there is someone in management who wants to know how they are conducting themselves.
  3. Any significant complaint should be immediately reported to the Commissioners or another independent body outside of the corporation. This is simply to allow the Commissioners to have a sense of the frequency and type of complaints coming in.
  4. Summary Reporting (not detailed) of complaints should be made available to the Commissioners on a regular basis. Commissioners should be able to have an idea of the frequency and type of complaints that are being recorded. They should also get totals for each member of the force. And these totals should also include any complaints the employee may have received while working for another police department. (Eg. if an officer worked for another PD before coming to the Port, the Commission should be apprised that their ‘complaint total’ of ‘3’ includes 2 complaints from their previous employment and 1 from working at the Port Of Seattle.
  5. Racial coding of police stops–only for the purposes of complaint tracking. I have read that the efficacy of this sort of tracking is controversial. However I am only interested in the complaints not the stops themselves. We should be able to get a list of complaints that is broken down by race as well as type of incident. Again: this is not to track the incidents; only the ones where a complaint was logged.
  6. Reports of stops should be transmitted to all State and Federal Agencies and to the Standford Open Policing Project, which contains the most thorough database of information on police stops. All police departments should be part of consistent national reporting so we can track improvement.

Part of this process is to insure fair treatment for the people that the police interact with. But part of it is also to demonstrate to the public that the PD takes these issues seriously enough to actually welcome more scrutiny from the outside. Currently, no one outside the government (not even the Commission) learns about complaints unless they rise to a very serious level. That must change.

I recognise that the job of policing is one of the most difficult imaginable. And most people, even in far less stressful jobs, are not inclined to having people ‘look over their shoulder’. But that’s where we’re at in 2020. We will never get to a place of public comfort and trust with our policing until we can prove that our police departments invite comments and criticism; and that complaints are subject to the same kinds of oversight we expect from every business that deals with the public in such an intimate way.

Thank you for your consideration,

JC Harris