Week in Review: February 16, 2024 - with Robert Cruickshank

Week in Review: February 16, 2024 - with Robert Cruickshank

On this week-in-review, Crystal is joined by Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, long time communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank!

Crystal and Robert chat about Raise the Wage Renton’s special election win, how a rent stabilization bill passed out of the State House but faces an uphill battle in the State Senate, and the authorization of a strike by Alaska Airlines flight attendants. They then shift to how gender discrimination problems in the Seattle Police Department create a toxic work culture that impedes recruitment, the inexplicable pressing forward by Seattle on ShotSpotter while other cities reject it, and the failure of a philanthropic effort by business titans to solve the regional homelessness crisis.

About the Guest

Robert Cruickshank

Robert Cruickshank is Chair of Sierra Club Seattle and a long-time communications & political strategist.

Find Robert Cruickshank on Twitter/X at @cruickshank.


Renton $19 minimum wage hike ballot measure leading in early results” by Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks from The Seattle Times

Washington State House Passes Rent Stabilization Bill” by Rich Smith from The Stranger

Rent Stabilization Backers Aim to Beat Deadline to Keep Bill Alive” by Doug Trumm from The Urbanist

2024 Town Halls | Washington State House Democrats

Alaska Airlines flight attendants authorize strike for first time in 3 decades” by Alex DeMarban from Anchorage Daily News

The Seattle Police Department Has a Gender Discrimination Problem” by Andrew Engelson from PubliCola

Harrell Plans Hasty Rollout of Massive Surveillance Expansion” by Amy Sundberg from The Urbanist

Chicago will not renew controversial ShotSpotter contract, drawing support, criticism from aldermen” by Craig Wall and Eric Horng from ABC7 Chicago

Despite Public Opinion, Seattle Cops and Prosecutors Still Prioritize Cracking Down on Sex Work” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola

Council’s Public Safety Focus Will Be “Permissive Environment” Toward Crime” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola

The private sector’s biggest bet in homelessness fell apart. What now?” by Greg Kim from The Seattle Times

Amazon donation is ‘another step’ after homelessness group’s collapse” by Greg Kim from The Seattle Times

Find stories that Crystal is reading here

Listen on your favorite podcast app to all our episodes here


[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm 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. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Tuesday topical shows and our Friday week-in-review shows delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.

Today, we're continuing our Friday week-in-review shows where we review the news of the week with a co-host. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show and today's co-host: Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, longtime communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank.

[00:01:08] Robert Cruickshank: Thank you for having me back here again, Crystal.

[00:01:11] Crystal Fincher: Thank you so much. Well, we've got a number of items to cover this week, starting with news that I'm certainly excited about - I think you are, too - that this week, in our February special election, Renton had a ballot measure to increase the minimum wage which passed. What are your takeaways from this?

[00:01:31] Robert Cruickshank: It's a huge win, both in terms of the margin of victory so far - nearly 60% of Renton voters saying Yes to this in a February election with low turnout. It will raise the wage to around $20 an hour in Renton. And I think it's a clear sign that just as we saw voters in Tukwila last year, and just as in fact voters in SeaTac 11 years ago - kicking all this off - moving to $15 an hour with a city ballot initiative that year, voters in King County, Western Washington want higher minimum wages. And I don't even think we need to qualify it by saying King County in Western Washington. You can look around the country and see - in states like Arkansas, when people put initiatives on the ballot to raise the wage, they pass. So I think there's, yet again, widespread support for this. And I think it also shows that the politicians in Renton - there were several city councilmembers like Carmen Rivera who supported this. There are others, though - the majority of the Renton City Council didn't. They spouted a lot of the usual right-wing Chamber of Commerce arguments against raising the minimum wage, saying it would hurt small businesses and make it hard for workers - none of which actually happens in practice. And voters get that. Voters very clearly understand that you need to pay workers more - they deserve more, especially in a time of inflation. This has been understood for well over 10 years now - that the minimum wage wasn't rising quickly enough and it needs to keep going up. So I think it's a huge wake-up call to elected officials - not just in local city councils, but at the state legislature - they've got to keep doing work to make sure that workers are getting paid well and that the minimum wage keeps rising.

[00:03:04] Crystal Fincher: I completely agree. I also think, just for the campaign's purposes, this was really exciting to see. Again, not coming from some of the traditional places where we see ballot measures, campaigns being funded - great that they're funding progressive campaigns in other areas, but that these efforts are largely community-led, community-driven. The Raise the Wage Renton campaign, the Seattle DSA - the Democratic Socialists of America, Seattle chapter - were very involved, did a lot of the heavy lifting here. So really kudos to that entire effort - really important - and really showing that when people get together within communities to respond to problems that they're seeing and challenges that they face, they can create change. It doesn't take that many people acting together and in unison, speaking to their neighbors, to have this happen in city after city. And like you said, it started in SeaTac, and we see how far it's carried.

I also think, as you alluded to, this puts other councils on notice. I know the City of Burien is talking about this right now, other cities are looking at this locally. And we have been hearing similar things from Burien city councilmembers that we heard from some of those Renton city councilmembers who declined to pass this on their own. They were parroting Chamber of Commerce talking points. They were parroting some old, disproven data. People recognize and so much data has shown that when you empower people, when you pay people, that is what fuels and builds economy. The economy is the people. So if the people aren't in good shape, the economy is not going to be in good shape. People recognize that. And we really do have to ask and reflect on - I think these elected officials need to reflect on - who are they serving? And where are they getting their information from? Because in city after city, we see overwhelmingly residents respond and say - This is absolutely something we want and we need. And there's this disconnect between them and their elected officials who are parroting these talking points - Well, we're worried about business. Well, we're worried about these. And I think they need to really pause and reflect and say - Okay, who are we really representing here? Where are we getting our information from and why are we seeing time after time that these talking points that have been used for decades, from the same old people and the same old sources, are completely falling flat with the public? I think they should be concerned about their own rhetoric falling flat with the public. They're certainly considering where these elected officials are as their reelections come due, as they're evaluating the job that they're doing. So I think they really need to think hard, evaluate where they are, and get aligned with the people who need the most help, who are trying to build lives in their communities. And stop making this go to the ballot. Stop making the people work harder for what they need - just pass this in your cities and make it so.

[00:06:17] Robert Cruickshank: Absolutely. It would be certainly better for working people - for the elected officials to do this themselves. I am noticing a growing trend, though, of progressive and left-wing activists - socialists in this case, DSA - going directly to the ballot when needed. We saw it in Tacoma with the renters' rights legislation last year. We've seen it last year with social housing. And now again this week, House Our Neighbors came out with the initiative to fund social housing, which they had to split in two - due to legal reasons, you had to create the developer first, and then now you have to fund it. And again, the city council had an opportunity to do both here in Seattle. They had the opportunity to create the authority. They passed on that. Then they had the opportunity to fund it. They passed on that. And I am bullish on House Our Neighbors' chances to get their funding initiative, which would be through a payroll tax on large employers, passed by voters this fall. Because again, social housing was super popular at the ballot last year in a February election. Now they're going to go for November 2024 election when there's going to be massive turnout. It's unfortunate that people are having to put a lot of time, money, effort into mounting independent efforts to get things on the ballot - that's hard. It takes a ton of work, not just the gathering signatures and raising money, but just keeping a coalition going and all the meetings and stuff. But hats off to the people who are able to do that. It's not a sustainable way to get progressive policy done, but in a moment where there are more members of city councils who are aligned with the big corporations and wealthy donors, it's what you're going to have to do and it's building power. Ultimately - hopefully - it starts leading into successful victories in city council elections around the region, just as it's led to successes at the ballot box for initiatives.

[00:07:59] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. We saw in this effort, as we've seen in others, significant opposition from some elements in the business community. There were some businesses, especially small businesses, who were supportive of this, who were either already paying their employees higher wages because that's how you attract people in business - is not doing the absolute bare minimum. But we saw significant resources spent. This campaign was outspent. And still, the people made it clear what they wanted with another really, really impressive and strong margin. So we'll continue to follow where that goes. We will certainly continue to follow other ballot measures on the ballot as they develop this year, especially with House Our Neighbors and the Social Housing Initiative in Seattle - just going to be really interesting to see.

Moving to the legislature, significant news this week that rent stabilization has passed the State House and now it moves on to the Senate. What will rent stabilization accomplish?

[00:09:03] Robert Cruickshank: So the bill, HB 2114, which passed out of the State House - it was the last bill they took up before the deadline to pass bills out of their original house - limits the amount of increase in rent each year to 7%. So a landlord can only raise your rent 7% a year. This is modeled on similar legislation that was adopted in Oregon and California right before the pandemic - in Oregon and California, it's a 5% annual increase. This being Washington state, we can't do things exactly the way that are done elsewhere - we've got to water it down a little bit, so it's 7%. But it's not rent control in which a property or a apartment is permanently capped at a certain level, no matter who's renting it. Like the Oregon and California laws, this one in Washington would exempt new construction. And the reason you want to exempt new construction is to encourage people to keep building housing. And there's plenty of research that shows now that one of the most effective ways to bring rent down, not just cap its growth, is to build more housing. So building more housing and then capping the annual rent increase on housing that's been around for a while generally works. And you're seeing this in California and in Oregon - especially in cities that have been building more housing, rents have come down while those living in older apartments, older homes, are seeing their rents capped, so they're having an easier time affording rent.

This is all good, and it made it out of the State House on mostly a party line vote - Democrats almost all in favor with a few exceptions, Republicans almost all against. Now it goes to the State Senate where there's a number of conservative Democrats, like Annette Cleveland from Vancouver who blocked the Senate's version of the bill, who's against it. Surely Mark Mullet, a conservative Democrat from Issaquah running for governor - surely against it. And Rich Smith in The Stranger had a piece yesterday in which he related his conversation with Jamie Pedersen from Capitol Hill, one of the most rent-burdened districts in the city, one of the districts in the state of Washington - legislative districts - with the most renters in it. And Pedersen was hemming and hawing on it. And so it's clear that for this bill to pass - it surely is popular with the public. Democrats, you would think, would want to do the right thing on housing costs going into an election. But it's gonna take some pressure on Democrats in the State Senate to pass the bill, especially without watering it down further. The bill that Annette Cleveland, the senator from Vancouver, had blocked in the Senate would cap rent increases at 15% a year. It's like. - Why would you even bother passing a bill at that point? 7% is itself, like I said, watering down what California and Oregon have done, but 7% is still a pretty valuable cap. Hopefully the Senate passes it as is. Hopefully the State Senate doesn't demand even more watering down. There's no need for that. Just pass the bill. Protect people who are renting.

[00:11:44] Crystal Fincher: Agree. We absolutely need to pass the bill. I do appreciate the House making this such a priority - building on the work that they did to enable the building of more housing, which is absolutely necessary, last session. And this session moving forward with protecting people in their homes - trying to prevent our homelessness crisis from getting even worse with people being unable to afford rent, being displaced, being unable to stay where they're living, to maintain their current job. So that's really important. But it does face an uncertain future in the Senate. I do appreciate the reporting that Rich Smith did. He also covered some other State senators on the fence, including Jesse Salomon from Shoreline, John Lovick from Mill Creek, Marko Liias from Everett, Steve Conway from Tacoma, Drew Hansen from Bainbridge Island, Sam Hunt from Olympia, Lisa Wellman from Mercer Island, and Majority Leader Andy Billig being on the fence. And so it's going to be really important for people who do care about this to let their opinions be known to these senators. This is really going to be another example of where - they've obviously had concerns for a while, they're hearing talking points that we're used to hearing - that we know have been refuted, that maybe that information hasn't gotten to them yet. And maybe they don't realize how much of a concern this is for residents. They may be - they're in Olympia a lot of time, they're hearing from a lot of lobbyists - and they aren't as close sometimes to the opinions of the people in their districts.

But one thing that many people need to understand is that many of these districts are having legislative town halls coming up as soon as this weekend, but certainly in short order. We'll put a link to where you can find that information in the show notes. Make it a point to attend one of those. If you can't, call, email, make your voice heard - it's really going to take you letting them know that this is a priority for you in order for this to happen. It's possible. So we really need to do all we can to ensure that they know how we feel.

[00:13:58] Robert Cruickshank: Exactly. And those State senators you named, they are all from safe blue seats. Not a single one of them, except for maybe John Lovick in Mill Creek, is from a purplish district where they have to worry about any electoral impact. Although, to be honest, this stuff is popular. There are plenty of renters in purple districts who are rent-burdened and who would love to see the Democratic majority in Olympia help them out, help keep their rent more affordable. So it's a huge political win for them. Some of this may be ideological opposition. Some of them may be getting a lot of money from apartment owners and landlords. Who knows? You got to look at the case by case. But gosh, you would hope that the State Senate has political sense - understands that this is not only the right thing to do, but a winner with the electorate, and passes the bill. But it is Olympia. And unfortunately, the State Senate in particular is often where good ideas go to die in Olympia. So we'll see what happens.

[00:14:48] Crystal Fincher: We will see. We'll continue to follow that. Also want to talk about Alaska Airlines flight attendants this week authorizing a strike. Why did they authorize this, and what does this mean?

[00:15:01] Robert Cruickshank: Well, I think it goes back to what we were talking about with workers in Renton. Flight attendants work long hours - they're not always paid for it. They're often only paid for when the flight is in the air. And their costs are going up, too. The expense of working in this country continues to rise and flight attendants continue to need to get paid well for that. Flight attendants' union is very well organized. There's the good Sara Nelson - Sara Nelson, head of the flight attendants' union, not Sara Nelson, head of Seattle City Council - is an amazing labor leader and has done a really good job advocating for the flight attendants across the industry. And you see that in the strike authorization vote - it was almost unanimous with almost complete 100% turnout from members of the Alaska Flight Attendants Union. Alaska Airlines has been facing its own issues lately, especially with some of their Boeing jets having problems. They've also, for the last 20 years, at least tried to cut costs everywhere they could. They outsourced what used to be unionized baggage handlers at SeaTac many years ago - that caused a big uproar. It was, in fact, concerns about Alaska Airlines and how they're paying ground crews that was a major factor in driving the SeaTac minimum wage ballot initiative way back in 2013. So here we are now - the Alaska Airlines flight attendants looking to get better treatment, better wages and working conditions. And huge support from the union.

And as we've seen in this decade in particular, huge support from the public. And I think it's really worth noting - you and I can both remember the 90s, 2000s, when workers went out on strike weren't always getting widespread public support. And corporations had an ability to work the media to try to turn public against striking workers - now, teachers always had public support, firefighters had public support, but other workers didn't always. But that's really shifted. Here, there's a widespread public agreement that workers need to be treated well and paid well. You see that in Raise the Wage Renton succeeding. You see that in the huge public support for Starbucks workers out on strike who want a union contract. And if Alaska Airlines forces its flight attendants out on strike, you will see widespread public support for them as well, especially here in western Washington, where Alaska maintains a strong customer base. People in the Seattle area are loyal to Alaska, and they're going to support Alaska's flight attendants if they have to go out on strike.

[00:17:20] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and there's still a number of steps that would need to happen in order for it to lead to an actual strike. The flight attendants' union and Alaska Airlines are currently in negotiations, which according to an Alaska statement, is still ongoing. They signal positivity there. Hopefully that is the case and that continues. But first-year flight attendants right now are averaging less than $24,000 in salary annually. And especially here, but basically anywhere, that's not a wage you can live on. Those are literally poverty wages. And this is happening while Alaska Airlines has touted significant profits, very high profits. They're in the process of attempting to acquire another airline for $1.9 billion right now. And so part of this, which is the first strike authorization in 30 years for this union - it's not like this happens all the time. This is really long-standing grievances and really long dealing with these poverty wages - and they just can't anymore. This is unsustainable. And so hopefully they are earnestly making a go at a real fair wage.

And I do think they have the public support. It is something that we've recognized across the country, unionization efforts in many different sectors for many different people. This week, we even saw - The Stranger writers announced that they're seeking a union, and wish them best of luck with that. But looking at this being necessary across the board - and even in tech sectors, which before felt immune to unionization pushes and they used to tout all of their benefits and how they received everything they could ever want - we've seen how quickly that tide can change. We've seen how quickly mass layoffs can take over an industry, even while companies are reporting record profits. And so this is really just another link in this chain here, saying - You know what, you're going to have to give a fair deal. It's not only about shareholders. It's about the people actually working, actually delivering the products and services that these companies are known for. The folks doing the work deserve a share of those profits, certainly more than they're getting right now.

[00:19:44] Robert Cruickshank: I think that's right. And again, the public sees that and they know that being a flight attendant isn't easy work. But whoever it is, whatever sector they're in, whatever work they're doing, the public has really shifted and is in a really good place. They recognize that corporations and governments need to do right by workers and pay them well. Hopefully the flight attendants can settle this without a strike. And hopefully Alaska Airlines understands that the last thing they need right now is a strike. They've had enough problems already. So hopefully the corporate leadership gets that.

[00:20:13] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. I also want to talk about a new study that certainly a lot of people haven't found surprising, especially after two very high-profile gender discrimination lawsuits against SPD. But a study was actually done that included focus groups with Seattle officers, both male and female. And what was uncovered was a pervasive apparent gender discrimination problem within SPD. What was uncovered here?

[00:20:45] Robert Cruickshank: All sorts of instances of gender discrimination - from blocked promotions, to negative comments, to inequities and inconsistencies in who gets leave - all sorts of things that made it an extremely hostile work environment for women. And some of the celebrated women of the department - Detective Cookie, who's well known for leading chess clubs in Rainier Beach, sued the department for gender and racial discrimination. And what the study shows that it's pervasive, but the only times it seemed to get any better were when women led the department - Kathleen O'Toole in the mid 2010s and then Carmen Best up until 2020 seemed to have a little bit of positive impact on addressing these problems. But under current leadership and other recent leadership, it's just not a priority. And it speaks, I think, to the real problems - the actual problems - facing police. You hear from people like Sara Nelson and others on the right that the reason it's hard to recruit officers is because - Oh, those mean old progressives tried to "Defund the Police' and they said mean things about the cops. That's not it at all. This report actually shows why there's a recruiting problem for police. Normal people don't want to go work for the police department. They see a department that is racist, sexist - nothing is being done to address it. Who would want to enter that hostile work environment?

I remember when Mike McGinn was mayor - we were working for McGinn in the early 2010s - trying to address some of these same problems, trying to help recruit a department that not only reflected Seattle's diversity, but lived in Seattle - was rooted in the community - and how hard that was. And you're seeing why. It's because there's a major cultural problem with police departments all across the country - Seattle's not uniquely bad at being sexist towards women officers, it's a problem everywhere. But it's the city that you would think would try to do something about it. But what we're hearing from the city council right now - and they had their first Public Safety Committee meeting recently of the newly elected council - is the same usual nonsense that just thinks, Oh, if we give them a bunch more money and say nice things about cops and ease up a little bit on, maybe more than a little bit, on reform efforts trying to hold the department accountable - that officers will want to join the ranks. And that's just not going to happen. It is a cultural problem with the department. It is a structural problem. The red flags are everywhere. And it's going to take new leadership at the police department - maybe at City Hall - that takes this seriously, is willing to do the hard work of rooting out these attitudes. And you've got to keep in mind, when you look at this rank-and-file department - they elected Mike Solan to lead their union, SPOG - in January of 2020. Solan was a known Trumper, hard right-wing guy - and this is well before George Floyd protests began. Yet another sign that the problem is the department itself, the officers themselves, who are often engaging in this behavior or refusing to hold each other accountable. Because again, this toxic culture of - Well, we got to protect each other at all costs. - it's going to take major changes, and I don't see this City leadership at City Hall being willing to undertake the work necessary to fix it.

[00:23:54] Crystal Fincher: I think you've hit the nail on the head there. And just demonstrating that once again, we get a clear illustration of why SPD has a problem recruiting. It is absolutely a cultural issue. It is what they have been getting away with despite dissatisfaction from women. And women in the department saying either we're targeted or discriminated against, but a lot of us - even though we're experiencing it - just try and keep our heads down and stay silent. And a lot of those people end up moving out eventually because who wants to work in an environment like this? We recognize this in every other industry. There's a reason why organizations and corporations tout their corporate culture, tout their benefits for women, their respect for women, their inclusion of women in leadership and executive-level positions. And we don't see that here. So if the leadership in charge of this - from Bruce Harrell, who is the ultimate head of the department, the buck stops with him to the police chief to the City Council - if they're actually serious about addressing this and not just using this as a campaign wedge issue with the rhetoric, they will have to address the culture of this department.

Now, the Chair of the Seattle City Council's Public Safety Committee, Bob Kettle, who was recently elected in November, said that the hiring numbers were disappointed. He said - "The number of women that were hired in 2023 was not acceptable. We need to have a representative force where women are well represented. We need to be creating that culture and an environment of inclusion. And also the idea that you can advance, you can be promoted, you can move forward in the organization." So if he is serious about that, he has to address the culture - and that's going to involve addressing a number of things. That's going to involve, perhaps, addressing a number of the people currently in leadership who have created and who continue this culture and who are going to have to be dealt with if this is going to change. But this isn't something that's just going to change because there're new people elected in office. This isn't something that's just going to change because they're getting compliments more as a department and more funding has been thrown at them. This is going to take active engagement and a difference in leadership, a difference in training, a completely different approach. So we'll follow this. Mayor Bruce Harrell also said that he is planning to meet with women throughout the department to hear directly from them and listen to their concerns - we will see what results from those conversations and what happens. But now there is a lot of touted alignment between the mayor and city council here, so there really should be no roadblocks to them really addressing this substantively - if they're serious about addressing this.

[00:26:58] Robert Cruickshank: I agree. And one of the ways you'll see whether they're serious or not is how they handle the SPOG contract. And one of the things that helps change a department's culture, where this sort of behavior is clearly known to not be tolerated, is for there to be real consequences. How are officers disciplined? How are officers fired? How are they held accountable? Right now, it's very difficult to remove an officer - the current contract rules make it very easy for an officer to contest a firing or disciplinary action and be reinstated or have the disciplinary action overturned. You're not going to eradicate a culture of racism and sexism without changing that as well. And that is at the core of the fight over the SPOG contract, and we will see whether the mayor and the city council are serious about cultural changes at SPD. And you'll see it in how they handle the SPOG contract - hopefully they'll put a strong one out and hold their ground when SPOG pushes back. But that's not going to happen, honestly, without the public really pushing City Hall hard. Because I think you see - from both the mayor and the city council - a desire to cut deals with SPOG, a desire to not go too hard at them. And I don't see - absent public mobilization - a strong SPOG contract coming.

[00:28:07] Crystal Fincher: I think you're right about that. In other SPD public safety news, Seattle is planning a significant rollout of the ShotSpotter system. We've talked about that before here on the show - it's basically a surveillance system that's supposed to hear, to be able to determine gunshots from noises, to try and pinpoint where it came from. Unfortunately, it has been an absolute failure in several other cities - we've had lots of information and data about this. And this week, we received news that the City of Chicago is actually canceling their contract after this failed in their city. And so once again, people are asking the question - Why, with such a horrible track record, are we spending so much money and getting ready to roll this failed technology out in Seattle? Why is this happening?

[00:29:04] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, I mean, that's a good question. I see people on social media speculating it's because of campaign donations and things like that. I'm not sure that's it. I honestly think this goes back to something Ron Davis said in the campaign when he was running for city council, criticizing his opponent, Maritza Rivera, who ultimately won, and other candidates in-line with Sara Nelson for wanting to, in his words, "spread magic fairy dust" around public safety issues and assume that would work. And that really, I think, is what ShotSpotter is. It's magic fairy dust. This idea that there's some magical technological tool that can quickly identify where a gunshot is happening and deploy the officers there immediately. It sounds cool when you first hear about it like that, but as you pointed out and as Amy Sundberg has written about extensively, it doesn't work - just literally doesn't work. The number of false positives are so high that officers are essentially sent on wild goose chases - you can't trust it, it's not worth the money. And Chicago, which is a city with a very serious gun violence problem, explored this. And for them to reject it means it clearly does not work, and Chicago needs solutions that work.

I think honestly, the reason why the city is adopting is they want to do something that looks like they're acting, that looks like they're taking it seriously, even though this isn't going to actually succeed. It is very much that magic fairy dust of trying to appear serious about gun violence, without really tackling the core issues that are happening here, without tackling the problems with policing, without tackling the underlying problems in communities and neighborhoods that can cause gun violence. There is a growing issue at schools in Seattle with gun violence. And students have been trying to raise this issue for a while, ever since a shooting at Ingraham High School in late 2022, another shooting that led to another student's death in near Chief Sealth High School in West Seattle recently, to a group of students robbing another student at Ingraham High School at gunpoint in recent weeks. There's a serious problem. And what you're not seeing is the City or the school district, to be honest, taking that very seriously or really responding in the ways that the students are demanding responses. And I think the really sad story with something like ShotSpotter is all this money and effort is being spent on a clearly failed piece of technology when other answers that students and community members are crying out for aren't being delivered. That's a real problem.

[00:31:21] Crystal Fincher: It is absolutely a real problem. And I think there's near unanimous concern and desire for there to be real earnest effort to fix this. We know things that help reduce gun violence - there's lots of data out about that. The city and county have done some of them. They've implemented some of them on very limited basis. But it is challenging to see so much money diverted elsewhere to failed technologies and solutions like this, while actual evidence-based solutions are starved, defunded, and are not getting the kind of support they deserve - and that the residents of the city, that the students in our schools deserve. This is a major problem that we have to deal with seriously. And this just isn't serious at all. I feel like - it was the early 2010s - this technology came out and it was in that era of "the tech will save us" - everyone was disrupting in one way or another. There were lots of promises being made about new technology. And unfortunately, we saw with a lot of it in a lot of different areas that it just didn't deliver on the promises. So I don't fault people for initially saying - Hey, this may be another tool in the toolkit that we can use. But over the past 10 years, through several implementations in Atlanta, Pasadena, San Antonio, Dayton, Ohio, Chicago - it has failed to deliver anything close to what has happened. In fact, it's been harmful in many areas.

And so you have people who are interested in solving this problem who are not just saying - Hey, we just need to throw our hands up and do nothing here. We're not trying to minimize the problem. They're in active roles and positions really saying - Hey, this is a priority. And unfortunately, this is not a serious solution to the problem. The Cook County state's attorney's office found that ShotSpotter had a "minimal effect on prosecuting gun violence cases," with their report saying "ShotSpotter is not making a significant impact on shooting incidents," with only 1% of shooting incidents ending in a ShotSpotter arrest. And it estimates the cost per ShotSpotter incident arrestee is over $200,000. That is not a wise use of government expenditures. A large study found that ShotSpotter has no impact - literally no impact - on the number of murder arrests or weapons arrests. And the Chicago's Office of Inspector General concluded that "CPD responses to ShotSpotter alerts rarely produced documented evidence of any gun-related crime, investigatory stop, or recovery of a firearm."

Also, one of the big reasons why Seattle is saying they're implementing this is - Well, we're so short-staffed that we really need this technology and it's going to save manpower, it's going to save our officers' time, it's going to really take a lot of the work off their plate. Unfortunately, the exact opposite was shown to happen with ShotSpotter - "ShotSpotter does not make police more efficient or relieve staffing shortages." In fact, they found it's the opposite. ShotSpotter vastly increases the number of police deployments in response to supposed gunfire, but with no corresponding increase in gun violence arrests or other interventions. In fact, ShotSpotter imposes such a massive drain on police resources that it slows down police response to actual 911 emergencies reported by the public. This is a problem. It's not just something that doesn't work. It's actually actively harmful. It makes the problems worse that these elected officials are saying that they're seeking to address. With the challenges that we're experiencing with gun violence, with the absolute need to make our cities safer - to reduce these incidences - we quite literally cannot afford this. And so I hope they take a hard look at this, but it is really defying logic - in the midst of a budget crisis, in the midst of a gun violence crisis - to be embarking on this. I really hope they seriously evaluate what they're doing here.

[00:35:54] Robert Cruickshank: I agree. And what you're raising is this question of where should we be putting the resources? And shout out to Erica C. Barnett at PubliCola, who's been writing in the last week or so some really good articles on this very topic - where is SPD putting its resources? A few days ago, she had a very well-reported article at PubliCola about enforcement of prostitution on Aurora Avenue, which is a very controversial thing to be doing for many reasons - is this is actually how you should protect sex workers? But also, is this how we should be prioritizing police resources? Whatever you think of sex work, pro or con, whatever your opinion is - is that where police resources should be going right now when we don't have as many officers as the City would like to have, when there's gun violence, and when there's property crime? And then she also reported recently about, speaking of Bob Kettle, he put out this proposal that he wants to focus on what he calls a "permissive environment towards crime" and closing unsecured vacant buildings, graffiti remediation as priorities. Again, whatever you think about vacant buildings and graffiti - how does that rank on a list of priorities when there are problems with gun violence in the City of Seattle? There are problems with real violent crime in the City of Seattle. And how are police department resources being allocated? I think these are questions that the public needs to be asking pretty tough questions about to City Hall, to Bob Kettle, to Sara Nelson, to Bruce Harrell, and SPD. Because, again, they haven't solved the cultural problem with SPD. They're not going to get many new officers until they do. So how do you use the resources you have right now? And it doesn't look like they're being allocated very effectively, whether it's cracking down, in their terms, on sex work on Aurora or buying things like ShotSpotter. It just seems like they're chasing what they think are easy wins that are not going to do anything to actually address the problem. And we will be here a year or two later still talking about problems with gun violence because City Hall didn't make it a real priority.

[00:37:52] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Also want to talk this week about news that was covered - actually in The Seattle Times and elsewhere - about the private sector kind of corresponding organization to the King County Regional Homeless Authority - We Are In, a philanthropic endeavor from some of the richest residents in the states and corporations in the state - actually folded. It was a failure. What happened? Why did this fall apart?

[00:38:24] Robert Cruickshank: A lot of this stems from the debate in 2018 over the Head Tax - taxing Amazon to fund services related to homelessness. Mayor Ed Murray declared way back in, I think 2014, a state of emergency around homelessness. We're 10 years into that and nothing's been done. But what the City was looking to do in 2018 - Mike O'Brien and others were talking about bringing back the Head Tax, taxing the corporations in the city to fund services to address the homelessness issue. And the pushback from Amazon and others was - You don't need to tax us. We'll spend money better than government can and do it ourselves. And so that's what things like We Are In was intended to do. It was really intended to try to forestall new taxes by, in theory, showing that the private sector - through philanthropic efforts - can solve this more effectively. And guess what? They can't. In part because homelessness is a major challenge to solve without government resources, without major changes in how we build housing and how we provide services and where they're provided. And what you're seeing is that a philanthropic effort is not going to solve that. They keep chasing it because I think they have a political imperative to do so.

But what happened was that We Are In wasn't producing the result they wanted to, leadership problems. And now Steve Ballmer is talking about - Well, maybe we'll just fund the King County Regional Homelessness Authority directly. It's like - okay, in that case, what's so different between that and taxation? There is a report that consultants came up with - I think got publicized in 2019 or 2020 - that the region would need to spend something like $450 million a year to really solve homelessness. You could easily raise that money through taxes and taxing corporations and wealthy individuals. And they are just so adamantly opposed to doing that. They would rather try to make philanthropic donations here and there, even when it's clearly insufficient to meet the need. It's not well thought out. It's not well programmed and just falls apart quickly.

[00:40:27] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. I agree. Over so many years, we've heard so many times - Just run it like a business. We need to run government like a business. And over and over and over again, we see that fail - that doesn't work. When you can't target what you're doing to a certain market, when you're only serving a limited subset - when you have to serve the entire public, when you have to actually invest in people, and this isn't a quick product or service that you can use that automatically fixes a situation, there have to be systemic issues that are addressed. And sometimes there's this attitude that - Oh, it's so simple to fix. If you just put a business person in charge of it, they'll get it done. Look at how they built their company. They can certainly tackle this. And over and over again - this is the latest example - that just simply doesn't work. They aren't the same. They aren't the same set of skills. They operate on different levels. There's different training. Lots of stuff is just absolutely different. And part of me, fundamentally, wishes we would stop denigrating and insulting the people who have been doing this work, who have been really consistently voicing their concerns about what's needed, about what their experience shows solves this problem, about what is actually working. There are things that are working. There are things going right in our region that we seem to not pay attention to or that we seem to, especially from the perspective of a number of these organizations who spend so much money to fight taxes, spend so much money to pick councilmembers, saying - Well, we think we have a better solution here.

And so we wasted time trying and failing with this when, again, the answer is systemic. We have to sustainably fund the types of housing and resources that get people housed once more, that prevent people from becoming unhoused, and that make this region affordable for everyone so that one unforeseen expense can't launch someone into homelessness. We have been doing a poor job on all of those accounts as a region for so long that it's going to take significant investment and effort to turn things around. Some of that is happening, and I'm encouraged by some things that we're seeing. But at the same time, we're also hearing, especially in the midst of these budget problems that cities are dealing with, that they're looking at unfunding and rolling back these things. Interesting on the heels of this ShotSpotter conversation, where we're investing money into that - they're talking about de-investing, about defunding homelessness responses, public health responses to these crises. And I think we have just seen that this group involved with this effort just does not understand the problem, had the opportunity to meaningfully participate in a fix, and it just didn't work out. That's great - they're doing a great job running their businesses. They can continue to do that. But it's time to really follow what the evidence says fixes this and not what business titans are wishing would fix it.

[00:43:55] Robert Cruickshank: That's exactly right. And yet for the business titans, it's a question of power. They want to be the ones to ultimately decide how their money gets spent, not we the people or our elected representatives. I think of one of the things we started out talking about today is - rent stabilization bill in Olympia. Capping rent increases is a way to reduce homelessness. There are plenty of people who are pushed into homelessness by a rent increase they can't afford. Steve Ballmer calling up those State senators who are going to be tackling this bill saying - Hey, this would really help reduce homelessness if you pass this bill. I'm going to doubt that Steve Ballmer is making those calls. If I'm wrong, I'm happy to be wrong. I don't think I am. For them, they want the power to decide how their money is spent. And even when they spend it poorly, they still want that power. And I think they're willing to hoard that power even at the expense of people who really are in need, who are living without a home, and who need all of our help urgently.

[00:44:49] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely agree. The last point I would want to make is that it's not like philanthropic funding is all evil, it's never helpful - it is. But this is about who is leading the solutions here and what we're doing. And I think that there are so many experts - so many people in organizations who are doing this work well - who need that additional funding. Let's put that philanthropic money into systems that are working instead of trying to recreate the wheel once again. So much time and money was lost here that so many people can't afford and that have had really horrible consequences. And I think a number of people who went into this were probably well-intentioned. But it just goes to show once again that - we know what works. And no matter how much we wish that it could be some simple fix over here, that it wouldn't require any public expenditure, it absolutely does. So it'll be interesting to follow and see what happens from there.

And with that, I thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, February 16th, 2024. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is the incredible Shannon Cheng. Our insightful co-host today was Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, longtime communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank. You can find Robert on Twitter at @cruickshank. You can find Hacks & Wonks on Twitter at @HacksWonks. You can find me on all platforms at @finchfrii, with two I's at the end. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review shows and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the podcast episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in. Talk to you next time.