Week In Review: April 1, 2022 - Erica Barnett

Week In Review: April 1, 2022 - Erica  Barnett

On today’s Hacks & Wonks week-in-review, Crystal is joined by Co-Founder and Editor of PubliCola, Erica Barnett. They start by discussing the impact of redlining on the City of Seattle today, housing affordability, and the initiative that would create social housing in Seattle. Then, they unpack why Seattle City Council’s tree conservation plan would ultimately slow down housing development. Crystal and Erica then dive into this week’s labor news and finish with a conversation about hiring and public safety – from the police chief to the downtown juvenile jail staff.

About the Guest

Erica Barnett

Erica Barnett is a Seattle political reporter and editor of PubliCola.

Find Erica Barnett on Twitter/X at @ericacbarnett and on PubliCola.com.


“New maps show strong correlation between redlined places in Seattle and worse air quality” by Nicholas Turner from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/new-maps-show-strong-correlation-between-redlined-places-in-seattle-and-worse-air-quality/

“$100K-plus households are now the majority in most Seattle neighborhoods” by Gene Balk from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/data/100k-plus-households-are-now-the-majority-in-most-seattle-neighborhoods/

“Initiative Would Pave the Way for Social Housing in Seattle” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola: https://publicola.com/2022/03/28/initiative-would-pave-the-way-for-social-housing-in-seattle/

“Seattle City Council Embarks on Tree Conservation Crusade, but Strauss Says Urbanists Need Not Worry” by Hannah Krieg from The Stranger: https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2022/03/30/69548451/seattle-city-council-embarks-on-tree-conservation-crusade-but-strauss-says-urbanists-need-not-worry

“Judge: Seattle concrete companies intentionally drove into striking workers at picket line” by FOX 13 News Staff from FOX 13: https://www.q13fox.com/news/judge-seattle-concrete-companies-intentionally-drove-into-striking-workers-at-picket-line

“Broadway is a union street — Capitol Hill Crossroads workers approve unionization” by CHS from Capitol Hill Seattle Blog: https://www.capitolhillseattle.com/2022/03/broadway-is-a-union-street-capitol-hill-crossroads-workers-approve-unionization/

“Amazon Warehouse Workers Win Historic Union Vote on Staten Island” by Josefa Velasquez and Claudia Irizarry Aponte from The City: https://www.thecity.nyc/2022/4/1/23006509/amazon-warehouse-workers-union-win-staten-island

“Amazon Spent $4.3 Million On Anti-Union Consultants Last Year” by Dave Jamieson from HuffPost: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/amazon-anti-union-consultants_n_62449258e4b0742dfa5a74fb?c9h

“Kirsten Harris-Talley: Why I Am Not Seeking Reelection” by Kirsten Harris-Talley from The South Seattle Emerald: https://southseattleemerald.com/2022/03/29/kirsten-harris-talley-why-i-am-not-seeking-reelection/

“Seattle mayor announces nationwide police chief search, urges interim Chief Diaz to apply” by Sarah Grace Taylor from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/seattle-mayor-announces-nationwide-police-chief-search-urges-interim-chief-diaz-to-apply/

“Report Says Hiring Incentives May Not Work; 11 City Appointees Kept Hanging for Lack of Council Quorum” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola: https://publicola.com/2022/03/29/report-says-hiring-incentives-may-not-work-11-city-appointees-kept-hanging-for-lack-of-council-quorum/

“Parents Won’t Have to to Pay Jail Costs for Incarcerated Children; Another Suicide at Downtown Jail Amid Ongoing Staff Shortage” by Paul Kiefer from PubliCola: https://publicola.com/2022/03/25/parents-wont-have-to-to-pay-jail-costs-for-incarcerated-children-another-suicide-at-downtown-jail-amid-ongoing-staff-shortage/


[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I am Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington State through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. I can tell I've had a lot of coffee. Full transcripts and resources referenced in this show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.

Today, we are continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show and today's co-host: Seattle political reporter, editor of PubliCola, co-host of the Seattle Nice podcast, and author of Quitter: A Memoir of Drinking, Relapse, and Recovery - Erica Barnett.

[00:00:58] Erica Barnett: Hey Crystal - great to be here.

[00:01:00] Crystal Fincher: Hey, great to be here with you. I've been reading you for over the past decade and enjoying all of our conversations that we have on here, so I'm excited to have you back. I want to start talking about a story here in Seattle this week that was published in The Times - talking about the correlation between redlined places in Seattle and worse air quality. What were these findings?

[00:01:26] Erica Barnett: Well, I think you basically said it. The places that were historically redlined in Seattle, places like Georgetown - and redlining of course is, I'm sure your listeners know this, but the racist practice of restricting home ownership and where people of color, Black people in particular, could live - it still persists to this day in the sense that we are a very segregated city. And no surprise, a lot of the places that people were sort of redlined into - South Park, Georgetown, the industrial areas of Seattle - are more dangerous places to live. Life expectancy is lower where pollution is greater and so the study basically confirmed that with some real numbers.

[00:02:17] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and part of the conversation related to zoning that we've had - what we are seeing today - the development patterns and where people today live has definitely been influenced by areas that have traditionally been redlined and those that haven't. Development has followed a very predictable pattern - looking at where it's occurred in areas that were outside of redlined areas, and where development has not occurred in areas that were redlined. This is just part of the continuing conversation of looking at how we build and shape our communities. And if we don't move with intention to undo the blatantly racist practices from a couple few decades ago, then we're continuing and enabling dangerous conditions to persist in these communities.

[00:03:16] Erica Barnett: Yeah - one of the most predictive factors for pollution and for health impacts is living next to a big road - a freeway, or just a big arterial - where you have lots of trucks and buses and cars driving all the time. And of course in Seattle, since the 1990s, we have had official policy of concentrating density around larger arterials and into areas that we call urban villages, which have lots of shops and businesses and restaurants and all that great stuff, but they're also on the busiest roads. This is official policy that basically was designed to "protect single family areas" which make up the overwhelming majority of Seattle - and there are real pollution implications and there are real class implications to doing that - to concentrating people who can't afford to buy a $1 million, $2 million house into these tiny little sections of the City where we allow them, or we allow us, because I certainly can't afford a house to live.

[00:04:26] Crystal Fincher: Well, I am in that same club. And this is related to another story that came out this week talking about $100,000-and-over households are now the majority in most Seattle neighborhoods. The average home in Seattle now has an income of over $100,000. What does this mean for Seattle?

[00:04:49] Erica Barnett: I don't find these numbers surprising, so I think it means exactly what we've been seeing - for those of us who've lived here for a decade or two - have been seeing for a long time. The haves and the have-nots in Seattle are just living in very different cities. Something like, I think, it was 52%, 51%, maybe a little more - make over $100,000. That is just a different world than the 18% or so who make under $35,000 - because when you have that kind of income, when you have that kind of wealth, even in the rental market, you've got people who are making a tremendous amount of money driving up costs for everybody else. And so if you make $50,000 a year, that means that the apartment that would maybe cost a $1,000 10 years ago now costs $2,000. So your money just doesn't go as far when you have this kind of tremendous income inequality and you have this tremendous top heavy city, with so many people just making sums that are absurd to those of us in the middle income and lower brackets.

[00:06:07] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and this is so just revealing - and I should note that these numbers are an average of 2016 to 2020 - and we have seen incomes and housing prices continue to rise in that time. So these figures might technically be a little out of date and odds are that the average has actually increased, but with 53% of the homes in Seattle making over $100,000, it certainly skews so many things there. And just such small percentages of people who make incomes lower than that - and also interesting where they're concentrated - so looking at areas in interior of West Seattle, some areas in the Rainier Valley. Other areas where lower income, or households that earn less than $50,000, include part of Bitter Lake and part of Northgate, the CID and Yesler Terrace, and parts of Beacon Hill around New Holly.

[00:07:16] Erica Barnett: It's Georgetown and South Park - the areas we were just talking about as being redlined - are also in those lower income brackets.

[00:07:23] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely, and we have to do something about this. We can't continue to concentrate poverty and to kind of exempt people from healthier areas, more vibrant areas, more economically mobile areas. There's so many reports and studies that have been done - when you actually have areas with mixed incomes, the families generally do better, the neighborhoods are usually safer. It actually is harmful to the City to have it be this segregated and certainly harmful to the residents living in the areas that we just talked about - are experiencing all of the downsides from concentrating wealth in so few areas and kind of locking people out of wealth in other areas. And then also impacting their health and the way their community is just shaped and developed, and the way their families are forced to deal with the challenges that higher income people are able to buy themselves out of. I certainly am of the opinion that we should do more to protect the entire community - it's to all of our advantage to do that, but we will see how that continues to unfold.

And then related to this, in response to so much of this that we've seen, there's a new initiative that was announced this week. What is it?

[00:08:52] Erica Barnett: This is a new initiative put out by House Our Neighbors, which is a project of Real Change, that would essentially set up a public development authority to develop publicly owned, permanently affordable housing. The initiative would just set up an organization to do this work - it does not actually provide a funding source yet. The folks who are behind it said to me that they want to do this in steps because there's a single subject rule on initiatives and to sort of get people accustomed to the idea and educated on the idea of what they're calling social housing. And they distinguish this from affordable housing because it would not be owned and operated by a private non-profit or any of the other existing models. And because it would be permanently affordable, including if you move into a social housing apartment and your income changes, you would not be kicked out. So those are kind of the basics, and I think we'll find out more about their intent once they start the campaign - they have filed the initiative and they need, I want to say, a little over 26,000 signatures to get it on the ballot in November.

[00:10:14] Crystal Fincher: All right. And then we're also seeing, in the City of Seattle, an effort to save trees that has some people suspicious. What's going on there?

[00:10:26] Erica Barnett: Well, there has been a push for a very long time among single family homeowner advocates to "save trees". Seattle is a very green city compared to a lot of other cities and I think that is a wonderful thing about it. You go to San Francisco, you go to other places - and it's not as green and that is definitely a huge asset to the City. But there is an effort to sort of restrict what people can do in their backyards in terms of removing trees of sort of normal size, not giant exceptional trees. They're trying to make the - I'm trying to think of how to explain this - to make the size of tree that you can remove without taking extraordinary measures and getting permission from the City smaller.

What this is actually aimed at is preventing development - it is an effort to say if you want to build a duplex, if you want to build a backyard cottage, and you have to remove a tree, we're going to make that incredibly hard for you to do. The legislation that they adopted this week was pretty anodyne - it was just about getting arborists to register and have licenses with the City before they can remove trees. But it was the first in a whole series of legislation - the largest piece of which is a giant update to the tree ordinance that would do all these things. It would make it harder to remove smaller trees - because now you already have to get a permit to remove exceptional, giant, enormous trees - so this would just kind of make it harder and harder to remove trees, and thus harder and harder to actually build new housing. And I think that is the ultimate goal.

[00:12:19] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and what has a number of people who've been supportive of increasing zoning and density and building new housing - suspicious that this is a tactic just to prevent building new housing and is not driven by people with a principle motivation of maintaining trees. Trees are an important conversation. We've talked before on this program about how important the tree canopy is and having a wide variety of trees - particularly, just in terms of air quality in the area, but also in terms of regulating temperature - and as we continue to increase the types of harms that we are seeing from climate change and having more heat extremes, the amount of trees in an area completely dictates how hot an area gets, how long it takes to cool down, and there have been absolute heat zones correlated with areas that lack trees definitely here in King County. And The Seattle Times has covered this before with maps that demonstrate this, so trees are an important conversation. I do not want to discount the importance of talking about trees in terms of public policy and safety. This does not seem to be that. This seems to be just, "Hey, we want to make it harder to have anything to do with that." It's not talking about planting any new trees, it's not talking about addressing areas that are in heat deserts without trees. It's - just seems like it's, "Hey, we're going to make it harder to modify our existing landscape, particularly in single family zoned areas."

[00:14:02] Erica Barnett: Right - I think the thing is, and the part of the conversation that we never seem to get to, is the fact that when we are in areas that do not have a lot of trees - development can be an opportunity to plant trees. And actually, we don't even need development to plant trees, but that is a great opportunity. And we're not talking about adding to the tree canopy in the same way that we are "protecting the tree canopy" by specifically not allowing people to cut down trees on private land. So I think that kind of reveals what this conversation is really about - because if it was about tree canopy, we would be talking about tree canopy everywhere and not just in these single family areas and these very wealthy single family areas that tend to have these huge urban forests, as opposed to these redlined areas - the poorer areas of town - where trees were cut down and where we don't have mature trees anymore. I think that part of the conversation just gets left out by these so-called tree advocates.

[00:15:12] Crystal Fincher: Completely agree. Now, I also want to talk about an update to a story that we've been covering on lots of these weeks in reviews, and it's about the concrete worker strike. And this week - kind of a big deal - a judge ruled that Seattle concrete companies have been intentionally driving into striking workers who are on the picket line. Literally driving into workers causing injury - evidently it's been a tactic that has been used. The King County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of striking workers who filed a lawsuit against the concrete companies - these companies have had drivers that have assaulted and blocked union members' constitutional right to protest. The judge agreed with that and found that there have been multiple instances at concrete company sites where non-union drivers or trucks, leasing from or serving the companies, have charged into picketers causing bodily injury and creating significant danger to the picketers. And also violating some signage requirements. They also found that one truck driver intentionally drove a truck against, or basically drove into a picketer who was clearly standing in front of the truck, and that another driver for Cadman drove a truck into the picket line causing physical contact with picketers and causing injury.

This is really, really out of bounds and scary. A representative from the union said it's reassuring to have the Court affirm our legal right to peacefully picket, but the violence that they've seen against their members is unfounded, egregious, and frankly disgusting. They're trying to negotiate, and exercising their rights to stand up for their members and negotiate better terms. The Court also found that the construction companies - particularly Cadman, Merlino and Stoneway - had failed to fully comply with an earlier order to post signage to drivers and customers alerting them of the pickets, and in order to prevent trucks from charging through picketers as they perform their picketing and patrolling.

This, as Teamsters reached a good faith agreement to try and come back to work for some of the concrete companies - as we continue to hear how projects around the region, whether it's Sound Transit or other affordable housing projects, a wide variety or bridge projects have been delayed by this and the County is searching for options, including potentially, a publicly owned concrete company. What's your read of this?

[00:17:56] Erica Barnett: I don't think the concrete companies have a lot of sympathy, and I'm not on the inside of this obviously, but if they're betting that all these agencies that rely on them and companies that rely on concrete flowing are going to get fed up with the unions and with the picketing - this certainly seems like a major miscalculation - committing violence. We were talking earlier off mic about how this sort of tactic of driving through protests has become more and more common in a lot of different contexts. And when you're talking about these giant trucks - obviously, it's incredibly dangerous, incredibly violent - and I think I on a political level, I don't think that it serves their cause at all to be committing violence against workers who are trying to bargain in good faith and as you said - are voluntarily working out agreements for some of them to go back to work, even in the absence of a deal with the companies - who I think the terms that they initially proposed were pretty unreasonable. So it seems like the stalemate just is going to continue, and there have been major consequences and I think will continue to be - Sound Transit relies heavily on concrete flowing - they're in a big production cycle, they're building a lot right now and I think that they could see delays. I don't think that this is going to make government agencies more sympathetic to the concrete company's side.

[00:19:45] Crystal Fincher: Completely agree - we will continue to pay attention and stay involved. With that, we certainly hope those companies cease their violent tactics and just negotiate in good faith, please. This can cost lives. There is just no justification for those kind of violent tactics. In better, more exciting union news - just yesterday, a new union was formed. The Capitol Hill Crossroads workers voted unanimously to approve unionization, and this comes on the heels of hearing that Amazon's 5,000-member Staten Island facility also voted to unionize - which was a humongous uphill battle.

And I don't know if you recall, especially in the Amazon example, there was a worker - a Black worker - who was fired unjustly for trying to organize a union. And it was leaked that Amazon suggested that this man was unintelligent, unarticulate, and that they wanted to make him the face of the unionization effort as if that was going to be some kind of liability, or that he was inherently problematic for some mysterious reason. And he said, "You know what? Bring it on." And actually led the unionization effort, and in a big David versus Goliath battle - came out on top and successfully organized that union. And so just a lot of news. I mean, we've talked about how just income inequality is flourishing as much as it ever has - and people are struggling in so many ways and experiencing so many consequences related to them just trying to earn a living and live a life - and certainly unionization helps. So congratulations to the Crossroads Workers Union in Capitol Hill. I definitely want to give a shout out to Emma Mudd who did an amazing job as a lead organizer there, and just hope that we are just seeing the beginning - between Starbucks and Crossroads, there is definitely a movement afoot.

One other thing I wanted to touch on and talk about was an article this week that was written by outgoing, or who will be outgoing, legislator Kirsten Harris-Talley from Seattle's 37th legislative district - who announced that she is not running for reelection and called out a number of challenges that are currently happening in the Legislature - and really calling out the toxic environment that has festered there for quite some time and has played a role in a large number of departures that we've seen. What was your reaction to the story?

[00:22:50] Erica Barnett: Well, I have to say it's not terribly surprising to me that the Legislature - she described the Legislature as a toxic work environment - and talked pretty specifically about some amendments that she tried to get in legislation and was basically just told, "Nope" - kind of a version of "not your turn." And this is something that I've heard about for years, that I'm sure you have even more so heard about for years since you are closer to the legislature than I am. And I think what's unusual about this is that - is for her to say all this explicitly - it's a very long piece in the South Seattle Emerald about what was the final straw for her.

But I think that the Legislature seems to me to be the kind of place where there's leadership - leadership makes the decisions. If you are new, you are supposed to be quiet and not step out of line and take your turn. I would consider that a toxic work environment if it was in the private sector. And the fact is - people who serve in the Legislature do not get rich from it. It is not a full-time job. It is something people do because they want to make a difference, and it's largely a very, very thankless job. And I can certainly see why you would just get frustrated with being told, "Wait your turn. It's not your time. You're being unreasonable. You're being too loud." And there are a number of people of color who are leaving the Legislature this year - not all of them are being as explicit about why as Kirsten Harris-Talley was - but I have to imagine that some of their reasons are similar.

[00:24:57] Crystal Fincher: Yeah - again, to your point, this is something that has been a problem for a while. I have personally witnessed toxicity and have certainly dealt with a number of legislators who have dealt with it themselves. That's not to say everyone in the Legislature is toxic - Kirsten Harris-Talley points out there are a number of people there who are absolutely pushing for the right thing, who are principled - but as she states, "The environment of a caucus is a unique one that speaks of being a family and collaboration, but is also one of centralized control, consistency, and compliance." I hope that sparks some reflection because one of the things that I have, just over the past few years in particular, have had my eyes opened up to even more than it was before - those three words - control, consistency, and compliance. And when you think about how those things are enforced in areas, it is in toxic ways.

And to your point, people are not making a ton of money from the Legislature. And even with that, a number of people are depending on this income to pay their bills. There are - I think to the Legislature's benefit - have been an increasing amount of people who are not coming in who are independently wealthy, who don't need the money. There are a number of people who do, and if you actually are relying on the job to pay your bills and you're pushing for the change that your district is demanding of you, and then you get a message that you could be punished for it, and punishment in a legislature can look a number of different ways - whether it's committee assignments or reelection support or anything like that. If people feel that could be in danger, that can do a lot to reinforce control, consistency, and compliance.

So I hope this sparks a lot of reflection. This was a very brave thing for Kirsten Harris-Talley to write. It's a very difficult thing for lots of people to discuss - and just the inherent power dynamics - we just had the unionization conversation - a lot in terms of workplace health and safety and culture. And understanding when you have more power - and in the Legislature, chairs and leadership have a lot more power than the average member - all votes and opinions are not equal - those of chairs and of leadership are greater. That the way they use that needs to be examined. And I just hope it causes a lot of reflection and conversation and people really examine how they've been using their power, how people have been made to feel, whether they are creating an environment that includes and is truly welcoming of certain opinions or does not. And that is not just, "Hey, we have a caucus with a variety of viewpoints," but just some truly not being welcome or people feeling like not toeing the line as it has been dictated perhaps by people above, comes with consequences and just may not be good for their career or their position, which therefore reflects on and impacts their ability to serve their district.

So I just hope it's listened to. I do want to say this was brave. It is accurate. There are some people who kind of defaulted to, "Well, this is just a person who's mad about a piece of legislation not passing." And man, it's a lot more comprehensive than that issue. Or, "Well, this is just a person who wasn't sure how the legislative process worked." And also want to point out that this is a person who had thrived in other public service legislative capacities within the City of Seattle - and certainly understood that situation - but to discount the toxicity that we have heard obliquely referenced so many different times, and this is one of the most overt examples, that people take heed.

And with that, I also want to talk about Mayor Harrell kicking off a search for his new police chief in the City. Was there anything that stood out to you in his announcement and direction there, Erica?

[00:29:51] Erica Barnett: Yeah. I mean, the fact that he made it stood out to me. The mayor is required by charter - which is something that Paul Kiefer reported on that I had forgotten about - that he has to actually consider three different candidates at least. And so this week he announced he's doing a national search. The tone of it was interesting because I think that the kind of common knowledge, or what is believed, is that he is going to appoint interim police chief, Adrian Diaz, to the permanent position. He said several times in press conferences and other contexts that he really thinks that the chief is doing a good job. Diaz is fairly popular compared to his predecessor, Carmen Best, among the rank and file - he hasn't made anybody particularly mad.

But he's doing a national search. And so the announcement was basically - we're going to have a search firm do this, so they're going to spend some money on this search process - but Adrian Diaz is encouraged to apply. So the way that the announcement was made was a little bit surprising to me - this kind of emphasis on a national search. And the other thing that sticks out is - we'll see, but I don't know what kind of response he's going to get for a couple of reasons. One, the fact that he has encouraged the police chief to apply, that the police chief is considered a favorite or the interim chief is considered a favorite to get the position could depress applications from elsewhere. And second, it's not like there are a lot of police chiefs in other departments around the country that are untainted by problems with accountability, allegations of abuse, allegations of biased policing. There's not a huge pool out there of people who are going to be able to come in and say, "I know how to change the system. I know how to get you out from under the consent decree. I know how to do all these things because I've done it in my own city." So I will be very, very curious to see how many qualified and good candidates actually end up applying. I was also kind of fascinated by the fact that there has to be at least three. So if there aren't three - if there was a scenario where there were not as many as three, I'm not sure what would happen.

[00:32:30] Crystal Fincher: That's interesting.

[00:32:32] Erica Barnett: Yeah, it is kind of interesting to dig into that announcement a little bit. Paul Kiefer, our dearly beloved and outgoing police accountability reporter, had a piece about that last night.

[00:32:46] Crystal Fincher: Well, another piece that was in PubliCola touched on something that we've talked about before on this program. And that was about the police department hiring incentives that were talked about and numbers were thrown out and, "Hey, let's increase these signing bonuses," and we noted at the time that it seemed odd - and there did not seem to be any kind of data that supported the fact that, "Hey, did people cite that they were not motivated to stay, and any data to indicate that this incentive and this amount would make that more likely?" And some data came out this week that shed more light on that - what did it show?

[00:33:36] Erica Barnett: I mean, essentially it showed that there was basically no impact. The City has been offering hiring incentives for a number of months, since October through actually January, because of some shenanigans by outgoing former mayor, Jenny Durkan. They were supposed to end at the end of the year, they went through January - so short period of time - that period did not show any bump in recruitment to the police department from the hiring incentives. And it showed a slight bump to the new 911 department, which has been sort of dissociated from the police department. And it showed similar outcomes from a previous period of hiring incentives - the incentives are not really working to recruit police but nonetheless, City Councilmember Sara Nelson has proposed bringing them back and believes that this will be the ticket to hiring more police. Of course, Seattle Police Department is at incredibly high attrition - a lot of people are retiring and leaving the department - and that's probably going to continue because there are new incentives in place from the state for officers to retire. And I think what we're seeing is what we've tried hasn't been working. If the goal is - just leaving aside whether this should be the goal - but if the goal is to hire more police and that is the mayor's goal and the City Council's goal for the most part, hiring incentives are maybe a waste of money.

[00:35:18] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And it's so interesting and notable to me that for - especially for the mayor and councilmembers like Sara Nelson, who have talked about using data-driven approaches to public safety and just following the data - that when data is released that they don't agree with, there are reasons why it may not be complete or they may not have the full picture. But the same kind of grace or latitude is not given to other areas or other programs. If the goal really is to maintain police officers, this doesn't seem to be working. And we do need to keep people safe in Seattle - this is actually really important and no one wants to be a victim of anything. There are people who are concerned and worried, and we have seen types of crime increase and the stakes are - to me - too high to continue to move in directions that seem like a resource suck without delivering any results. We have limited resources here. We have a need to keep people safe. People talk about that being a very high priority. And it just doesn't seem they're taking it seriously if they continue to spend money that could be used on things that have a much better record and a lot more data behind it to ultimately keep people safe than to focus on a metric that - again, leaving aside whether it should be the goal - that putting it in place, there just doesn't seem to be any tie to how is this keeping people safer. And if we're going to use this limited amount of money, is it best used in this way or another way that's actually going to keep people from being victimized in the first place.

I hope they start to take action that's effective in keeping people safe - also in the recruiting of officers, there is a long lag time between the time that they are actually signed and the time that they are deployed and active on the street - a really big delay. So what is the plan to keep people safer in the meantime? It feels like we're just talking about things that are not engaged with the reality of - how do we make people safer today and next month? There does not seem to be a plan for that and it is very concerning. I hope there is more of an examination of that from the mayor's office, from the Council, to actually do things to make people safer. There is not much time to waste and people are at stake.

[00:38:08] Erica Barnett: And one other interesting thing that came out of this report - very briefly - was that there is also a problem with retaining people in other City departments that do a lot of important work - some of which also keeps people safe. And the problem that they cited was lack of advancement opportunities, an outdated classification system that makes it hard for people to get permanent positions and get full-time work. Those are things that the City could be focusing on, and it would take a lot of time and it's more complicated than it sounds to fix a classification system, but people are kind of feeling like they're in dead end jobs in other departments - and that is arguably as big or bigger problem than the problem of whether hiring incentives are working in the police department. So it's not just the police department that's hemorrhaging workers, it's the whole city. And I think Lisa Herbold on the Council has pointed out that we need to take a look at that too.

[00:39:07] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and the last thing I want to touch on today is a story that you covered in PubliCola - just talking about another suicide, death by suicide, at the King County Correctional Facility in downtown - occurring amidst the staffing shortage that has been talked about for a while. What happened?

[00:39:30] Erica Barnett: Well, there have been four deaths this year so far in the King County Jail, and I think that some of them have been suicides, the others have been overdoses. I think it is in part a problem of the staffing shortage that we're seeing these deaths occur and not be stopped. But I also think when we are putting people in jail who are very high acuity - who have severe problems with addiction, severe behavioral health problems, all the people that frankly City Attorney Ann Davison wants to focus on throwing in jail so they can get some mysterious form of treatment that does not actually exist - this is the reality of what happens. I think people are ending up in jail who should not be in jail. I'm not speaking to the specifics of any of these cases because I don't know the specific circumstances of each of these people's lives, but my understanding is these are people who have problems that jail makes worse. And when the focus of the City is to take people with severe behavioral health conditions, severe addictions, and put them in jail to "get them off the street" - one of the results is that you're putting people in circumstances that are very, very dangerous for them. I think that is part of what's happening here, and my worry is that if the City's policy is going to be to take "prolific offenders" or "high utilizers" of the system and put them in jail to teach them a lesson and to get them off the street, we're going to see more of these incidents happening - particularly with the staffing shortage at the jail being as bad as it is.

[00:41:38] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. There are currently over a hundred vacant officer positions and the president of the King County Corrections Guild just stated exactly what you said. You said it seems like the people coming through our doors are sicker than they've ever been in terms of withdrawal, mental health, and everything else in the recent past - and it's hard to meet that need. They're experiencing shortages, not just with officers, but with the jail's medical staff - and it is putting everybody at risk. And again, the point of this - seemingly - and it's being sold as, "Hey, we put people in jail, it keeps the community safer." This is being touted as an approach to help clean up our streets and keep people from committing crime and it actually does not result in that. And again, this conversation about keeping people safe is too important to continue to do things that don't result in that.

We're exacerbating a shortage - they say that more corrections officers have left since the beginning of the year than the County has hired - the problem's getting worse - and we are not doing anything to address any of the problems that the people who are coming in have. And again, we don't just lock people up and throw away the key - it's unconstitutional, it is extremely expensive - we can't afford to do that. But what we are doing is undertaking the extreme expense of incarcerating people, doing nothing to treat them or to address anything that will help them get on a better path and keep the community safe, and then releasing them again. We are setting them up for failure. We are setting the community up to be victimized. And again, we need to do a better job of keeping people safe. And I hope we center more of our conversations around the need to actually keep people safe. And if our elected officials are not focused on things that are doing that and are not spending our limited resources on things that are accomplishing that, then we need to re-evaluate our elected officials. They need to re-evaluate their approach.

So I thank you for having this conversation with me today, and for all of you listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, April 1st, 2022. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler and assistant producer is Shannon Cheng with help from Emma Mudd. Our wonderful co-host today was Seattle political reporter and founder of PubliCola, Erica Barnett. You can find Erica on Twitter @ericacbarnett - that's Erica with a C and ending with two Ts - and on PubliCola.com, and you can buy her book Quitter: A Memoir of Drinking, Relapse, and Recovery anywhere basically. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii, and now you can follow Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else to get your podcasts. Just type "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. While you're there, leave a review, it really helps us out. You could also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in, talk to you next time.