Here’s what you missed over the holidays

Welcome back! A few things happened in mid-to-late December that you may have missed, so here’s a post to get you caught up.

The “Clean Campaigns” Legislation. On December 19, Council member Gonzalez held a committee meeting to discuss issues related to her “Clean Campaigns” bill and to preview potential amendments. Of note:

  • Gonzalez split the bill into three parts: limits on contributions to PACs; prohibitions on “foreign influenced” corporations making contributions to campaigns or PACs; and new disclosure and record-keeping rules for political ads. The reason for splitting the bill is twofold: first, to avoid any accusations of “legislative logrolling” that would violate the state Constitution’s prohibition on multiple topics in a single bill; and second, to shield the invididual pieces from being thrown out if other pieces are held by the courts to be unconstitutional. The third bill (political ads) is the least controversial; the other two will inevitably draw legal challenges that are likely to spend months, if not years, in federal court.
  • Gonzalez proposes to further refine her definition of a “limited contribution committee.” To qualify as an LCC, a PAC would need to receive contributions from at least 100 persons, and all contributions must be no more than $100 per year, per person. Originally Gonzalez proposed that an LCC would not have any contribution limits (i.e. what it could contribute to another PAC), but she proposes to amend that to include a $10,000 cap — twice the cap for other PACs.
  • Another amendment significantly expands the “findings of fact” in the bill, which are written to tie the limits and prohibitions to the appearance of corruption. Actual corruption, or the appearance of corruption, is the only justification for limits on political speech (including contributions and expenditures) that the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes under existing case law. The expanded findings list the recent history in Seattle (and other jurisdictions) of large contributions and expenditures to and from PACs. However, it still manages to avoid mentioning the participation of unions and labor organizations, while specifically calling out business interests as bad actors:
    “In recent years, learge contributions to independent expenditure committees by real estate interests, technology companies, real estate development companies, and other industries have increased the appearance of corruption in city elections.”In the committee hearing, Council member Pedersen proposed revising that section to say “including but not limited to,” and Gonzalez didn’t oppose the idea. The latest version of the bill now says, “In recent years, large contributions to independent expenditure committees by large, well-funded organizations, such as real estate interests, technology companies, and other industries, have increased the appearance of corruption in city elections.”
  • Gonzalez is working hard to get the bills adopted before she begins her maternity leave in mid-January. To that end, the Council has created a new Select Committee on Campaign Reform as a vehicle for deliberations on the three bills before the new Council’s standing committees are established and beging to hold meetings. The Select Committee will meet this coming Tuesday morning, and is expected to consider amendments and advance the bills to the full Council for final adoption on Monday, January 12.

MHA survives a legal challenge. On December 30, the state Growth Management Act Hearings Board ruled on a challenge by several Seattle neighborhood organizations to the MHA ordinance passed last year that upzoned urban villages across the city. The Hearing Board ruled in favor of the city on all counts, finding that the city’s Environmental Impact Statement was sufficient and that it studied and presented reasonable alternatives.

Don’t be surprised if the plaintiffs appeal the decision in state courts.

Bike share and scooter share.  December was a busy month for bike-share and scooter-share programs in Seattle. First, the City of Seattle issued a quarterly report on the bike-share program that presented mixed results.

While the popularity of bike-share continued to grow in the warm-weather months and overall compliance with parking rules improved, there are still issues with bike-share users parking bikes in places that create obstructions.

One of the reasons for the decrease in improperly-parked bikes is that the city has been building out new parking facilities for bikes — including bike-share bikes — across the city. This is work they expect to continue through 2020.

More worrisome, the two bike-share companies in Seattle, Jump and Lime, were struggling to keep their fleet in rentable condition. Lime, in particular, had nearly 2/3 of its fleet in non-rentable condition in September when the city conducted audits.

The companies also provided incomplete documentation to the city. As a result of these issues, the city imposed penalties on the two companies, including reducing the size of their permitted fleets.

In the meantime, the city has been pushing forward with plans to roll out a pilot scooter-share program this year. To that end, in December it quietly issued a SEPA “Determination of Non-significance” (DNS) for a proposed scooter share program.  The DNS finding is an assertion that the impacts of the program will be small and thus the city does not need to complete a more substantial environmental analysis.  Among the details of the proposed program that are revealed in the SEPA documents:

  • Scoooters will be allowed on roadways, shoulders, alleys, bike lanes, and public paths. They will not be allowed on sidewalks. (allowing them in bike lanes will require a change in city law)
  • Scooter-share vehicles will not be allowed to go faster than 15 MPH.
  • The city intends to apply lessons from its existing bike-share program.
  • Currently the city has a 20,000 vehicle maximum cap on bike-share bicycles (though current permits isused allow less than 10,000). The city will expand the existing 20,000 vehicle cap to include scooters as well — so the number of bicycles and scooters combined operated by the companies may not exceed 20,000.

The comment period on the SEPA DNS is now closed. It is still to be seen whether any companies will decide to offer scooters in Seattle, given the likelihood that they will be reuired to indemnify the city for any injuries.

And in related news, Lime has pulled its bike-share bicycles off the streets of Seattle, at least for the winter months. Its permit to operate bike-share expired at the end of December, and the company opted not to apply for a temporary permit for the winter months. Assuming Lime returns in the spring, the question is what mix of scooters and bikes it chooses to offer at that time.

The SPD Consent Decree. Finally, the city filed its last quarterly report for the 2-year sustainment period under the 2012 Consent Decree related to SPD’s biased policing. The sustainment period required a series of audits, reviews and reports, and this filing with the court provides updates on the most recent ones. That includes ongoing work in revising its Early Intervention System for officers who are too aggressive in the use of force; an audit of SPD’s supervisor practices and training; an update to the department’s Use of Force Policy, and a follow-up study on persistent racial disparities in policing.

Early on in the Consent Decree the department made changes in its Early Intervention System, but further audits indicated (and all parties agreed) that the new system was over-triggering. Since then the system has been adjusted further, and the latest audit shows that the level of triggering is more appropriate and effective now. The department also recently added “peer to peer analysis” as part of the system.

Earlier audits had shown that supervisors were a weak link in the chain for SPD in managing police bias, and several changes have been made to supervisor policies, assignments and training to improve the situation. The latest audit of supervision shows that the department is sustaining its compliance. SPD is also implementing quarterly supervisor training sessions instead of annual ones, to cut down the amount of time that sergeants are serving before they complete training.

The most interesting of the reports is the Disparity Review. This is a follow-up study to an earlier one that showed racial disparities:

In the Part I report, SPD found (i) a disparate rate of frisks for Asian, Black, and Hispanic individuals compared to Whites during a Terry stop; (ii) a lower rate of finding a weapon during those frisks for Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, or American Indian/Alaska Natives compared to Whites during a Terry stop; and (iii), a higher rate of pointing firearms at Asian, Black and Hispanic individuals compared to Whites.

Part II tried to further refine the extent of the disparities, find insights into why the disparities exist, and propose what can be done to lower the disparate rates. The effort is split between quantitative analysis and qualitative methods — including “community review” sessions where members of communities are asked to review incidents (including video) and provide feedback and interpretation on the officers’ actions. The major findings of the study include:

  • There are consistent issues about how the department trains and monitors the use of a witness description to identify and stop potential subjects; whether a person who is stopped “matches the description” of a potential subject is highly subjective, and both SPD personnel and community members disagreed with the officer’s judgment in several incidents reviewed.
  • Concerns were raised about officers pointing their firearm at a potential subject when no weapon was visible and the subject was generally compliant.  In 26% of incidents where SPD officers used the lowest level of force, an officer pointed their weapon at the suspect (though keep in mind that only a tiny fraction of officer interactions involve any use of force).
    However, there is significant racial disparity in the rates at which officers point their weapon at a suspect, with white suspects by far the lowest and hispanic/latino suspects by far the highest.
    Interestingly, however, there is far less variation when looking at the race of the officer. In paticular, White, Hispanic/Latino, and Black officers point their firearms at nearly the same rate.
  • There were incidents where the size of SPD’s response was called into question, with some reviewers wondering whether a significant police response could have driven escalation of the incident.
  • There were concerns about the style and manner in which officers engaged subjects and their role in decision-making by both officers and subjects.
  • There wasn’t a clear and obvious conclusion that Black people were being over-stopped and over-frisked. It’s certainly clear from the data that Black people are stopped at a higher rate compared to White people and those of other races. But if it were unwarranted, then one would also expect to see a lower frisk rate and “hit rate” — defined as a stop resulting in an offense report, arrest, citation, or referral for prosecution. The frisk rate for Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian people is about the same, as are the hit rates.

    The data seems to suggest instead that rather than Black people being singled out for harsher treatment, White people are treated more leniently — they have a lower stop rate and a higher hit rate. Also, it’s worth noting that a potential explanation is simply that the police are more aggressively filing charges against Black people. The study was unable to determine whether that is the case, though again the data seems to indicate that there is consistency across Asian, Black, and Hispanic/Latino suspects and instead White suspects seem to be treated more leniently.The report also split out the data by precinct, and found that while the South Precinct had a higher frisk rate, there was little difference in the hit rates across the five precincts.
    Clearly there is much more work to be done to understand what is leading to the racial disparities in stops and frisks.

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One comment

  1. It’s pretty significant that Lime basically opted out of bikeshares when a temporary extension was offered. It also gives the company some “blame the city for uncertain terms going forward” cover for thousands of ebikes to be scrapped and never returned to the streets. Still, all earlier indications from then-councilmembers like o’brien, johnson, and mosqueda were that they’d prefer to find a way to avoid mobility companies going scooter-only and might structure the permits towards that goal.

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