Making Seattle Safer by Transforming Public Safety
My north star is that no one in our community should feel unsafe going about their daily lives, and I believe our strategies and budgets must reflect our values.
Our system of public safety is broken because our leaders have failed us. In response to last summer’s protests, they teetered incompetently between two extreme options: allowing unacceptable escalation of police violence, and abandoning a police station and the people it served. We have allowed Black and brown residents to disproportionately bear the brunt of policing and police violence. We ask armed officers to respond to mental health crises and traffic stops. We suffer a financial and moral loss by taking the high-cost, unjust approach of criminalizing addiction rather than the lower-cost, values-aligned approach of investing in treatment. We have watched gun violence grow.
Everyone in Seattle deserves to feel safe. To ensure this ideal becomes Seattleites’ lived experience, we must build a public safety budget grounded in what research shows keeps people safe. We know that true public safety means more than just a traditional policing response. We can achieve safe, thriving communities by making strategic investments to address the root causes of the issues that spread fear, anger, and hopelessness in our city. We need to reimagine how we police communities and how we invest in community resources that will have the largest impact on public safety in our neighborhoods. We need to develop both short-term and long-term strategies and set clear, achievable goals to measure the return on our investments.
As mayor, these are the beliefs I’ll stand for.
- We’re asking police—especially armed officers—to do far too much. Armed officers are not the answer to jaywalking, directing traffic, fare enforcement, drug possession, or mental health crises. Police should be able to focus on preventing and responding to violent crime, property crime, drug distribution, and similar issues. They should provide this focus across all of Seattle, without over-policing BIPOC neighborhoods.
- Solutions should fit the problem. We need to invest in mental health professionals as our first responders to mental health crises. We need to invest in community-based organizations as our first responders to crimes of poverty, addiction, or trauma.
- Keeping Seattle safe requires addressing our basic needs. Everyone deserves a safe place to sleep. We need safe places for children to play outside. We need to offer mental health services to those in crisis and treatment to those suffering from addiction. We need a strong, inclusive economy that addresses the rapidly growing racial wealth gap. We need food justice.
While overhauling our system of public safety will require substantial investments of both time and resources to scale up alternatives to traditional policing, City Hall can take immediate action on several issues to make a real difference in people’s lives. In the first year of my administration, here are my priorities:
- Safe and Effective Crisis Response: As we saw in Charleena Lyles’ case, getting someone the support they need the first time they call for help is absolutely critical. Charleena called for emergency assistance 17 times before SPD officers killed her when responding to a reported burglary at her home, demonstrating just how broken our current crisis response system is. We must reallocate responsibilities for responding to people in crisis away from armed police officers and expand our investments in alternatives like Seattle Fire’s Health One program to get trained health care professionals to people in crisis across the entire city. We also must invest in training programs so that our first responders are equipped to provide the appropriate support to people in need. Finally, we must scale up investments in social services so that caseworkers with the appropriate expertise can work with individuals both during and after the immediate crisis is resolved to address the underlying cause of the emergency.
- Building Safety into Transportation Systems: More than 1 in 10 fatal shootings by police occur during traffic stops. There are many alternatives to armed police officers to promote transportation safety. As Mayor, I will prioritize building safety measures into our transportation systems instead of solely relying on interactions with armed police officers. Going further, we can minimize the role of police in traffic enforcement altogether. We can redesign our streets to include natural barriers to regulate traffic. We can improve infrastructure for cycling and walking. We can solve for the unacceptably discriminatory way fare enforcement is conducted on our city’s public transportation by simply removing fares entirely. We can, and will, find alternative means of funding public transit that do not expose people to potentially violent interactions with the police.
- Detective Work Around Property Crime: Property crime happens in hot spots, and SPD should be focusing its efforts on interrupting that cycle. But too often these types of criminal activity are not addressed with urgency, due to lack of resources and lack of personnel available. Without addressing these hotspots of crime, we let the cycle continue and often escalate further. As Mayor, I will prioritize funding programs that investigate these kinds of crimes before they escalate to more major criminal acts.
- Modernizing Seattle’s Criminal Code: The easiest and fastest way to reduce opportunities for violent interactions with law enforcement is to stop treating minor offenses as crimes that require enforcement by an armed police officer. In my administration, SPD will no longer be responsible for enforcing laws where we have clear evidence that the department’s enforcement has been discriminatory against people of color and that pose little to no risk to our city’s public safety. Jaywalking and failure to follow bike helmet requirements should not be considered criminal offenses. I’ll also shift the focus of SPD’s drug law enforcement to prioritize individuals and organizations distributing and selling illicit substances. For people struggling with substance abuse, we will decriminalize simple possession and follow a caseworker model to get people the medical treatment they need instead of ensnaring them in the criminal legal system.
- Rebuilding Community Trust Through Transparency and Accountability: We will never be able to heal as a city and build trust in our civic institutions if there isn’t full transparency and accountability for those in the current administration who participated in the wanton violation of people’s civil rights during the protests following George Floyd’s murder. If the King County Prosecuting Attorney or the Attorney General have not investigated the failure of Mayor Durkan’s administration to produce records demonstrating who was responsible for authorizing the use of tear gas in Capitol Hill last summer, I will. That means turning over any and all records or correspondence from that period available to my administration, and working with an independent investigation to recover any records the current administration has failed to produce on this issue.
- Refusing to Negotiate Away Accountability: We must take accountability off the negotiation table. We simply cannot compromise on the demand that SPD be held responsible for ensuring its officers do their jobs while respecting the humanity and constitutional rights of everyone in our city. Mayor Durkan and the City Council approved a SPOG contract in 2018 that unacceptably undermined the mechanisms for officer accountability that community advocates fought to pass in I-940 and have codified in city law. I will not accept a contract that attempts to bargain away accountability, period.
Specifically, we must return to the preponderance of evidence standard for evaluating officer misconduct that was undermined in the last contract, negotiate reasonable constraints to officer overtime hours, and prevent officers from avoiding discipline and decertification through early retirement. Furthermore, we must ensure that the new SPOG contract no longer hamstrings the Office of Police Accountability by unacceptably limiting staffing levels for investigators, improperly preventing community stakeholders from collecting or providing evidence during investigations, removing transparency for families, the public or tribal representatives, and imposing unreasonable time limits on investigations. SPD’s response to the protest movement last summer was wholly unacceptable, and the inability of OPA to adequately investigate and hold officers accountable is a direct result of city leadership ceding ground on accountability during the last SPOG contract negotiation.
- Community-based Programs: Violence prevention organizations like Community Passageways are working every day to heal the wounds created by centuries of systemic oppression. Communities on the front lines have simultaneously borne the brunt of the gun violence epidemic and been left on their own to solve it. Whether through youth diversion, re-entry assistance, or other interventions to prevent violence, these organizations have been working for decades to keep our community safe. Our city must recognize them as some of the most effective tools to interrupt cycles of violence and fund them accordingly. These groups need the resources necessary to meet the scale of the demand for their services, and as Mayor I’ll make sure they get the support they need. Our leaders must listen, and engage deeply in participatory budgeting to divert funds from traditional public safety systems that are not working to keep us safe, and invest in the diverse network of alternatives that will create true safety in our community.
- Gun Violence Prevention: Eliminating gun violence requires investments in healthcare, education, economic justice and trauma-informed intervention. It requires prioritizing policing resources for programs like the Regional Domestic Violence Firearms Enforcement unit and extreme risk protection order implementation that have measurable impacts on reducing and preventing violence in our communities. We’ve already seen City Hall’s promise to allocate $30 million through participatory budgeting get bogged down by infighting between the Mayor’s Office and City Council, sowing distrust in the city’s ability to deliver on its promises. I’ll cut through the existing Seattle Process by establishing a city-wide Office of Violence Prevention whose goal is to reduce gun violence in Seattle, be accountable to the community, and operate with full transparency. This new city office would invest in year-round public education, act as a grant-making authority to effective community violence prevention programs, and oversee implementation of gun safety initiatives across city, state, and regional boundaries. I’ll prioritize staffing this new office with community leaders who have spent years working on these issues, and work with trusted community-based organizations to set measurable, achievable goals to hold my administration accountable for making progress. All of these policy measures would help our city save lives and reduce gun violence. For more detail on how we can achieve a Seattle without gun violence, read our full plan here.
- Treating Addiction: To start, we need to partner with the State’s Department of Health to scale up treatment solutions called for in DOH’s Opioid Response Plan. We must rapidly scale up low-barrier mechanisms for delivery of medications for opioid use disorder and work with experts to develop solutions that will prevent the use of opioids in our communities, neighborhoods, alleys, yards, and parks. This includes “upstream” approaches like working with the medical community and state partners to promote alternate pain management strategies, prescription monitoring programs, safe storage and disposal of prescriptions, and training for medical professionals to identify misuse early in a patient’s course of treatment. These efforts must be designed to scale to all forms of chemical dependency.