The Particularities of Policing - with David Kroman

The Particularities of Policing - with David Kroman

Today’s  show dives into the details of policing, with guest David Kroman from  Crosscut joining Crystal to go over alternatives to armed police  response, what other cities have tried, and what metrics we use to  measure policing. Additionally, they cover what the new Seattle mayor  and the city council can actually do in the face of Seattle Police  Officer’s Guild power.

As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at

Find the host, Crystal Fincher on Twitter at @finchfrii. More information is available at


Listen to the This Changes Everything podcast, hosted by Sara Bernard, featuring David Kroman here: Specifically check out this episode about the political reality of defunding the police:

Learn about the challenges to fundamentally changing Seattle policing here:

Learn about Eugene, Oregon’s alternatives to policing here:

Read about barriers to police accountability here:


Crystal Fincher: [00:00:00]  Welcome to Hacks and Wonks. I'm your host, Crystal Fincher. On this  show, we talk to political hacks and policy wonks to gather insight into  local politics and policy through the lens of those doing the work and  provide behind-the-scenes perspectives on politics in our state. Full  transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at and in our episode notes.

Well  today, we are pleased to be welcoming David Kroman who is a Crosscut  Reporter covering Seattle politics and policy. Thank you so much for  joining us.

David Kroman: [00:00:59] Hi Crystal, thanks for having me.

Crystal Fincher: [00:01:01]  Well we are really excited to talk to you, because we've been paying  attention to what's been happening with the Seattle Police Department -  different developments. And you have been covering all facets of policy  and events with the Seattle Police Department - and have been doing a  wonderful job. So we thought we wanted to have you in to just give us an  overview, to start, on where things stand with the SPD right now -  after the council voted last year to reduce funding for the SPD, invest  in some community alternatives. How is that proceeding right now and  what's going on?

David Kroman: [00:01:43]  I would say that it's sort of in a holding pattern right now would be  the best way I can describe it. I mean, there was obviously the flurry  of activity in the summer and then to a certain extent in the fall. We  saw a lot of officers leave the force and not be replaced, so there was  this reduction. And so it was this frantic moment - but now it feels  more like we're in this phase where the City Council is still charting  its path forward for the year. Which includes working with community  groups, figuring out how they're going to be working with those  community groups, which community groups.

And  then questions going forward about how they want to address the size of  the police force, whether they want to continue letting officers leave  and not be replaced, or whether they want to wait until they have more  programs in place before they allow that to happen. I think it's this,  maybe eye of the storm you could say - had a lot of activity towards the  end of last year and I'm sure we will have a lot of activity in the  coming year. But I think for right now it feels a little quiet as people  prepare themselves for that.

Crystal Fincher: [00:03:02]  It does feel a little quiet and so on the issue of staffing - are  staffing levels at where they're going to be for at least the next year?  Is there any plan to reduce any more or where does that stand?

David Kroman: [00:03:16]  I think a lot of that actually, it probably depends on the cops  themselves. I mean the thing is, I mean - the City Council expressed  their desire to reduce the size of the police force but the way it  reduced - they never actually had to do that. I mean, the cops left on  their own and then because of the hiring freezes that were in place  because of COVID-19, they just didn't get replaced. So that achieved the  City Council's goal for them but it also means that maybe they didn't  have quite as much control over that situation. And so I think it  remains to be seen what the staffing level looks like, because we'll see  how many cops decide to leave. We'll see what the city does around  hiring freezes and its budget with COVID-19. And so the staffing - I  think could do anything from actually - grow this year, if they decide  that they want to replace people who are leaving, to reduce fairly  dramatically, if they don't. And I don't know that we have a great read  on how that's going to play out just yet.

Crystal Fincher: [00:04:25]  There was conversation I know from Councilmember Morales questioning  how police are - how, I guess, the funding formula is provided and them  using the amount of calls coming in to 911 as the basis for how many  police they need to have on patrol. And questioning, well, should we be  looking at that as all police calls or should we be limiting that to  calls that require an armed emergency response? And has that  conversation gotten anywhere, is that policy or the ability to change  that on the docket at all?

David Kroman: [00:05:05]  Yeah, I think that's on the docket and that's also this larger debate  around - you get at this point that there are certain metrics by which  police departments like to measure their stats - make their arguments  for greater staffing. One is comparing it to cities with similar  populations, another is 911 response times, that sort of thing. But  there's a lot of question as you get at around whether or not those are  the best ways to actually measure that. And maybe the better way of  thinking about this is priorities - what does or does not need to be  responded to. There's not a ton of disagreement that dangerous, violent  crime could use a police response, but there is a lot of disagreement  around exactly how often what the police department are responding to  actually falls under that category.

So  it goes into this damn lies and statistics saying, People can crunch  the numbers in different ways that look differently and serve different  arguments. So I think going forward though, the thing that we will  probably hear the most about is crisis calls and how cops are responding  to people in crisis. In part because there are concrete models that  exist already for substituting police response to those calls with  crisis calls. I think it'll be less about numbers and response times and  more about priorities and what should or should not the police  department would be responding to.

Crystal Fincher: [00:06:48]  Well, you mentioned those concrete models that were already in place  and a lot of people are wondering - what are these community  alternatives? What are the models that are alternatives to an armed  police officer response?

David Kroman: [00:07:06]  I mentioned crisis calls and a lot of my coverage have focused on  crisis calls, I think in part, because a) it seems to be the area where  there's the broadest agreement between politicians and even people in  law enforcement - that this is a thing that police officers maybe should  be doing fewer of and want to be doing fewer of. And b) it's also an  area where there are places like, in Eugene, Oregon - CAHOOTS, or Denver  - their STAR program. And I think even up in Snohomish County there  might be a program, or at least a pilot program, in which they have  really made a concerted effort to not send police to a lot of these  calls and it seems to be working. In Eugene, again, a much smaller city  than Seattle. So it's a little simplistic but something like 20% of  their total call volume now goes to these people who are not actually  police officers. And so - that I think is the most concrete area,  because there are these proven programs or they've been tested.

Some  of the trickier stuff, I think, is about community safety and how you  change that because that isn't necessarily always about people in crisis  or people dealing with substance use. I mean, that's the broader  question around when police show up, is it actually making communities  safer? A lot of people are arguing, no. That's the area where I think to  have these community level programs, or almost community watch groups -  that's really new territory that would be genuinely innovative and also  in some ways trickier because they don't really have these concrete  models that they can follow. There's some talk around it - Community  Passageways talking about having rapid response teams that can be ready  to respond to even incidents of domestic violence or things like that.  So I think those are in the earlier stages because they would be truly  new and innovative programs, whereas crisis calls and substance use -  they can pluck these programs from other places.

Crystal Fincher: [00:09:30] So have any of these been funded or where is implementation standing in Seattle?

David Kroman: [00:09:38]  Well, there's money - we know that. I mean, the mayor early on promised  a $100 million dollars, the Council has increased that amount a bit.  And so the money is out there - the question is how it gets allocated  and to whom? We've seen the effort to figure out where this money should  go splintered into a few different pots. There's the mayor's pot, which  is this taskforce. The Council itself has dedicated - I think it was  $18 million or something to start looking into alternatives to crisis  response, so there's real money there. And then on the community safety  level, there's this other $30 million that will theoretically be  budgeted out through a "participatory budgeting program" which is  basically a highly democratic approach to spending money. That is still  in its really early stages and just this last week, there was some  hiccups around the organizations that were involved with that and some  tension there. But at least in theory, that's what the plan is to get  this money out the door - but we're not there yet. The money is not  really flowing yet in any super meaningful way.

Crystal Fincher: [00:10:59]  Where a lot of the conversation is centering right now is on the  Seattle Police Officers Guild contract - their collective bargaining  agreement and how much control that actually has over the issue of  police reform, what's possible with officer discipline. Why is it so  important and so consequential when it comes to officer discipline?

David Kroman: [00:11:24]  Because police union contracts are really unique in how much say they  have over accountability measures and discipline. We had a pretty good  example of just how powerful - in 2017, the City Council passed a bunch  of new accountability processes for police officers that - no one at the  time was really even arguing these were revolutionary ideas. They were  just strengthening the pre-existing systems that they had, but they  never really even got the chance to go into place because even the  changes that were made in that 2017 legislation were - a lot of them  were weakened or rolled back in a 2018 contract with the Seattle Police  Officers Guild. Which I think just goes to show the power that these  contracts have, especially at the state level. They're just given a ton  of authority - basically meant that the City Council's efforts to close  off friendly appeals processes was rolled back, their efforts to insert  more civilian oversight into the systems were rolled back.

So  it was this fairly stark example of just how powerful these contracts  can be. So going forward, when talking about accountability measures,  getting language into a contract that guarantees that when there's  discipline it will stick. And that the discipline that does exist is  done independently and not with influence through friends of the  officers, becomes really, really paramount. Not - setting aside the  question of money, which is obviously a big part of contracts too, just  these police officer contracts have a ton of power when it comes to how  officers are or are not held accountable.

Crystal Fincher: [00:13:16]  Does it look likely that in this contract negotiation they will be able  to negotiate that out? And what is the path forward if the police union  says, "Absolutely not." And the City says, "Well, we're not moving  forward without it." What happens then?

David Kroman: [00:13:31]  We've seen just how politically far apart the City is from the  leadership of the Police Officers Guild. I mean, the president of the  Police Officers Guild was blaming left-wing provocateurs for inciting  the insurrection in Washington DC. So these two sides really could not  be more different, and so coming together on accountability measures  that the City is happy with is going to be a struggle. I would say as a  sign of just how hard people in City Hall think it's going to be, Mayor  Durkan has been in Olympia lobbying the State to basically pass a law  rolling back how broad these contracts can reach and how easily officers  can go to appeals and arbitrators to get out of discipline. Because she  understands that without state level changes, that the City is going to  have to negotiate these things and it's going to be a really tough  battle.

The things she's  advocating for are almost certainly not going to pass Olympia, which  means the City is going to be left to figure out how to deal with the  police union. I think it's going to take years, at least. And then at  risk of getting too wonky, the extra layer of wrinkle here is a federal  judge who is involved because of the City's longstanding obligations to  reform its police department under a consent decree. That federal judge  is also really unhappy with the Seattle police contracts. So there's a  question around what he might do and how he might step in and demand  changes to bargaining processes, which would open up a whole new can of  worms. I can say that it is going to be one of the most thorny legal and  political things to happen.

Not  to mention - the mayor has not started these negotiations yet with the  police union, even though the contract is now technically expired. She  has a year to start them. I don't know if that's going to happen, but  then at the end of that year, she's not going to be in office anymore.  You're going to have a new mayor who might come in and decide that he or  she has an entirely new strategy and wants to go a different direction  on contract negotiation. So I think it's a minefield of complexities  when it comes to renegotiating this contract and yet the stakes are  really, really high.

Crystal Fincher: [00:16:02]  How is it going to be possible for them to meaningfully lay forward or  lay down a plan that they feel is achievable when this contract isn't  settled? Do you think that they're going to be able to speak credibly  and come up with a plan that they can deliver without knowing what's  going to wind up in the contract?

David Kroman: [00:16:24]  Yeah, I do. I mean, I think what they can do - what the contract  doesn't prevent the Council from doing is building out the alternatives  that we talked about. There are certain working conditions and pay  questions and accountability questions that are real, legitimate things  that are going to be really hard to get around in the contract. But what  it doesn't prevent is budget cuts. I mean, the City Council can cut the  police department's budget. And how layoffs happen is a contract issue,  so that's sort of thorny. But if a mayor comes in and wants to cut the  police department's budget, the contract can't stop that because that's a  city level thing. And again, similarly, if the mayor wants to fund  replacements for the police department, the contract also doesn't stop  that.

What the contract  does really make difficult is if there are certain sorts of officers  that you want to get rid of and other officers that you want to keep,  that's kind of tricky. We've seen some debate around - can you target  layoffs at officers that you see as problem officers? I don't know that  the contract makes that really hard. Can you prevent officers who have  been fired or disciplined from having that discipline overturned? That  is something that the contract makes really difficult. As far as  wholesale trying to build a brand new public safety system, the City  Council and the mayor can do that. That's a policy question. But as far  as reforming the police department from inside out, that is the thing  that the contract makes really difficult and will almost certainly make  the job of the next mayor more difficult.

Crystal Fincher: [00:18:22]  Well, that's a really good point and in one way encouraging - that  preventing contacts that then lead to a variety of things is within  their wheelhouse. Working within the existing system, working through  officer discipline, seems that's still very reliant on what the contract  dictates - but they can move forward with some alternative models, as  you talked about. Some of them have some real concrete examples of  success in other areas that actually seems like they can accomplish and  set forth quite a bit in terms of a plan of how to move forward.

David Kroman: [00:19:02]  I would say the caveat to that is how the police department is  structured - is really just up to the Police Chief. We saw some of the  limitations of the Council pretty quickly in the summer and the fall  when they started making cuts to the budget and they passed these  resolutions saying, "We would like to see these cuts targeted in this  way. We want to cut Harbor Patrol and we want to cut Mounted Police." So  we could see what their priorities were but the reality was they can't  dictate that at all - it's up to the Police Chief to decide. The Police  Chief has to absorb these cuts and make do with them, but it's the  Police Chief's job to decide where those cuts should be targeted.

And  so what we saw pretty quickly is that Interim Chief Adrian Diaz was  absorbing some of those cuts and saying, "I'm going to pull people off  of specialty units and put them towards 911 response, because that's my  priority." Which meant we were seeing reductions in things like domestic  violence response or internet crimes response, which were things that  actually the City Council didn't want to see cut as much. They were  interested in reducing the number of people who were responding to 911  calls. So the contract, maybe doesn't explicitly prevent the City  Council from making targeted cuts, but what really prevents it is just  that all of that authority really rests with currently, Adrian Diaz. And  they can express to him what they would prefer to see, but it is his  decision at the end of the day.

Crystal Fincher: [00:20:30]  And one thing that we're also going to see with the new mayor is an  appointment of a permanent chief - looks like after they take office.  What's on your radar most as you're looking at what's next with policing  in Seattle? What are you watching? And what do you think is going to be  most consequential?

David Kroman: [00:20:47]  Not going to be super interesting but I'm watching how this money is  spent. There's money on the table in a way that there wasn't necessarily  before. Where's it going to go, and who's going to get it? I think the  City Council and the mayor understand that their changes have to be felt  on the ground in a meaningful way. I think that was a lot of the  frustration that we felt in the protest, which was promises from people  like City Hall - we're working on things, things are getting better -  but it just was not being felt or perceived in a real, tangible way on  the ground. You've made these promises that you're going to create this  new public safety system, and it's not going to come at the expense of  individuals' feeling of being safe in the city.

So  are they going to succeed in that? I think a year from now, if they  can't point to very specific things and people don't feel like things  have improved, it only gets harder from there on out - the clock is  ticking. I'm also going to be watching as you alluded to - whoever the  next mayor is - is going to immediately launch a search for a new Police  Chief. Mayor Durkan didn't formally acknowledge that she would leave it  to the next mayor but has made it fairly clear that she's not going to  launch a search for a permanent chief right now. So who that police  chief is, I think will be a big symbolic and practical statement by the  new mayor about which direction they want to head. Not to mention we  still have this consent decree, that's been hanging in the background.  The judge recently made it clear - he was going to get more involved in  the daily budgeting and politics of City Hall, so that could be another  wrinkle.

Crystal Fincher: [00:22:33]  Well, and it seems to be a present wrinkle - it looks like the judge  and what he might rule has impacted a decision, even yesterday, on how  to proceed with whether to ban tear gas or not. So is the consent decree  helpful? Is it putting handcuffs on what the City Council is able to  do? How does that impact the whole scenario?

David Kroman: [00:22:59]  The consent decree has become really interesting recently - you'll  remember that over the summer the City actually filed to basically  dismiss most of the consent decree, not all of it. I think the timing on  that was really bad, because it came right as these protests were  hitting their peak. And so it came across as the City trying to get out  from underneath the accountability eye of a federal judge. So the  symbolism of it was not great, got a pretty bad reaction, and the city  backed off of it. At the same time, I was hearing from surprising  people, people that you wouldn't necessarily expect to say this, "Look,  the consent decree has run its course. What we are talking about in  these protests - which is creating this fundamentally new form of public  safety - that is not going to be achieved by the consent decree. And in  fact, the consent decree could end up being a barrier to it because the  federal judge wants to know every single change that is happening to  the police department and he wants to be involved."

This  judge, Judge Robart, he's a really interesting judge. I think some  judges pretend as if they live in this sealed capsule in their courtroom  or whatever, and they will only consider things that come in via  official filings. This judge is not like that - he reads the news, he  comments on the news, he makes decisions based on what he reads in the  news, he follows city politics and will readily comment on it. And just  the other day, he made fairly clear that he was concerned about the way  in which the City Council is operating. And you're totally right - the  City Council not only was considering this bill on less lethal weapons,  it was also considering cuts of another about $5.5 million dollars to  the police department to make up for money that they said they needed  last year to cover overtime expenses. They tabled that so that they  could have more conversations with the Department of Justice and the  consent decree. So the fact that this pretty liberal City Council has to  run everything they do through - pass it over the desk of a  long-serving judge who was appointed by George W. Bush, makes for a  really interesting dynamic. And if you're the City Council, I'm not sure  it's one that is all that helpful to your goals.

Crystal Fincher: [00:25:24]  So do you anticipate action, based on especially what we've seen  recently, in preventing the Council from being able to pass more  progressive policies with the expectation that they can be implemented?  Are they going to move to get out from under the consent decree?

David Kroman: [00:25:44]  I don't know if they're going to move - and frankly, I think if they  did move to get out from under the consent decree, he would reject it. I  don't think he would grant that - I think he's not pleased with the  current moment. He really liked Kathy O'Toole, the former police chief,  and then he really liked Carmen Best, the successor. And he made it  fairly clear he did not like her exit. He blamed the City Council for  the fact that she left, which we could debate - we can have a whole  conversation around whether that's a fair interpretation of things, but  it is his interpretation of things. And as a federal judge, that's all  that really matters. So I'm not sure he would let the City Council or  the City get out from underneath the consent decree anymore.

Whether  or not he issues a ruling or not, I'm not sure. He likes to issue these  kinds of threats - he has done blustery things in the past that don't  always necessarily come with a commensurate hard-hitting demand or  order. But it's possible he could hold the City in contempt of court if  he feels like they are moving forward on things without properly  checking in with him first. So that itself is going to be a really  interesting dynamic to watch and I frankly don't think he's going to go  anywhere. I think he's going to be here for at least the next year -  we'll see.

Crystal Fincher: [00:27:10]  Okay, well that's certainly interesting and there are so many factors  that we've covered here - that are outside of the City and not the mayor  or the City Council - that are highly influential or that can straight  up dictate what is going to happen with policing. And so is there any  remedy beyond the judge? Can his decisions be appealed or is he just in  control?

David Kroman: [00:27:40]  I don't know - that's a good question. I don't think I'm smart enough  legally to know what happens when there's this fundamental disagreement.  It'd be interesting to see how the Department of Justice, who is  technically the opposition in this case that the city has to deal with.  It'll be interesting to see their tone change - because for the last  four years, they have been pretty absent from this whole thing because  of who was in the White House. Now that there is a new president, it's  possible that they might take a little more interest in what the City is  or is not doing.

So I  don't actually know the answer to that question - if they could elevate  this to another level or not. I think at least with the current mayor  and the current City Attorney, Pete Holmes, I think that's fairly  unlikely. They've always been pretty deferential to this judge and  wanted to do what he's asked. If there's a new more lefty mayor who -  Lorena González said, over the summer, that she was over this reform  stuff and wanted to rebuild in a more radical way. It's possible she  would want the City to move to dismiss this in a more complete way - I  don't know. But like you said, I think the broader point is that there  are the things the City Council wants to do, and there's the things that  the mayor wants to do, but the fact that you have both this contract  with the Seattle Police Officers Guild to deal with and this federal  judge to deal with is a hint that it might not always be up to them,  exactly how this goes.

Crystal Fincher: [00:29:32]  We'll be staying tuned and certainly reading your coverage at Crosscut,  to stay up to date on what is happening. You have been so informative,  we've filled up the entire half an hour with talk about the police and  you cover so much more. So maybe we can have you on again sometime to  talk about the election and other events in the City. But sincerely  appreciate you taking time to help enlighten us on where things stand  and just what the situation is on what is possible and what's in our  control in the City of Seattle and what's not.

David Kroman: [00:30:02] Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it.

Crystal Fincher: [00:30:07]  Thank you for listening to Hacks and Wonks. Our chief audio engineer at  KVRU is Maurice Jones Jr. The producer of Hacks and Wonks is Lisl  Stadler. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii, spelled  F-I-N-C-H-F-R-I-I. And now you can follow Hacks and Wonks on iTunes,  Spotify or wherever else you get your podcasts just type in "Hacks and  Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe, to get our Friday  almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed.  You can also get a full text transcript of this episode and links to the  resources referenced during the show at and  in the podcast episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.