You will likely recall that last February a group self-published a report on “prolific offenders” who cause problems for local communities and businesses, and who cycle through the criminal justice system. As I wrote at the time, that report had plenty of methodological issues and other flaws that limited its usefulness, since the authors didn’t have access to most of the relevant government, law-enforcement, and human-services records. However, in the aftermath of that report, Mayor Durkan commissioned her own task force to look into the issue of prolific offenders. That group published their report last week, concurrent with a budget proposal from the Mayor for four new programs to address the problem.
Last May, Mayor Durkan stirred the proverbial hornets’ nest when she announced that the city would be adding “emphasis patrols” of police officers to seven neighborhoods around Seattle, paired with increased efforts by other city departments to clean up graffiti, fix broken streetlights, clean up garbage, and generally beautify those areas.
What set many people off was the apparent link between that effort and “broken windows” theory, a controversial approach to reducing crime in urban areas. In fact, when pressed on the issued she doubled down, by specifically referencing it in an interview with the Seattle Times editorial board.
“Broken windows” theory, now 37 years old, gets tossed around a lot in political and policy circles, and continues to have both supporters and detractors. Let’s look at what it says, its uses and abuses, and what nearly four decades of studies tell us about the validity of the theory.
Last week, when it became known that Mayor Durkan had hired an outside consultant firm to develop a Court-ordered methodology for assessing the city’s police accountability regime, there was near-instant backlash from 24 community groups as well as the Community Police Commission. Today, three City Council members jumped on that bandwagon.
Last week the Seattle Police Department published its annual report on stops and detentions, with numbers for 2018. It begins by noting that Terry stops are up substantially over 2017 numbers — but then it provides another 25 pages of text, tables and charts that offer little help in understanding why. In fact, SPD itself admits in the report that they don’t know what the increase means:
SPD conducted 18.5% more Terry stops in 2018 than in 2017. However, statistical trend analysis shows that this increase appears to be an anomaly. Our analysis next year will indicate whether a pattern is developing or whether 2018’s data are a one-time increase.
But the data tells a clearer story than SPD is letting on. It took a few days of work to reverse-engineer and otherwise piece together the data that the department left out of its report and to follow the bread crumbs through it, but here’s the story that the data tells.
According to SDCI, the City of Seattle contains 1,145 buildings with unreinforced masonry that could collapse in a major seismic event. While records are incomplete, the city estimates that about 11% of those have already retrofitted the building to address the issue. Another 68 of them are owned by various government entities. That leaves 944 buildings in private hands with unreinforced masonry: in total about 20,200,000 square feet, containing 10,400 residential housing units with 22,050 residents. Thirty seven of those buildings contain 1,559 designated affordable housing units.
Every few years the city attempts to move forward legislation to mandate that buildings with URM be retrofitted, but it ends up balking at the total cost to do so. Earlier this month, the National Development Council delivered a report to the city on what it currently costs to retrofit a URM building and the financing options available that might help. Among other things, it found that the $5-$45 per square foot range used in prior studies to estimate costs in many cases significantly understates the real all-inclusive cost.
Last week, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced that during the month of May the city would conduct “emphasis patrols” in seven neighborhoods across the city “to improve public safety and address community maintenance needs.” This left many people — including most of the City Council members — confused about what this program was about. Council member Lorena Gonzalez sent Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best a letter, asking over a page of detailed questions. After some back and forth, it was agreed that representatives from SPD and other participating city departments would present at Gonzalez’s committee hearing this morning to shed further light on the program.
This morning, the Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee took up a bill that makes some adjustments to the city’s vacant building monitoring program.
This afternoon the Mayor’s Office sent out a press release announcing that tomorrow the city’s gun-safety legislation goes into effect. But even though it won its first round in court, the city’s legal battles over this ordinance have just begun.
This afternoon, Mayor Durkan and several of her department heads held a press briefing on preparations for two more winter storm systems: one that arrived late this afternoon, and the second to arrive midday tomorrow. Tomorrow’s is the one they are all worried about.
This morning at a press conference in City Hall, Mayor Durkan, Chief of Police Best, City Attorney Holmes and City Councilmember Gonzalez announced that they would be submitting a motion to Seattle Municipal Court to vacate 208 outstanding low-level misdemeanor arrest warrants.