Week in Review: March 29, 2024 - with Naomi Ishisaka

Crystal Fincher and Seattle Times columnist Naomi Ishisaka covered Seattle's City Council race, deaths at ICE and King County detention facilities, gun violence prevention, the Attorney General's policing plan, and an unpermitted gravel yard causing problems near a school.

Week in Review: March 29, 2024 - with Naomi Ishisaka

Political consultant Crystal Fincher and Seattle Times columnist Naomi Ishisaka discussed the Seattle City Council race that just gained two new candidates, major public safety, policing, and incarceration issues, and an update on the concerning case of an unpermitted gravel yard operating adjacent to a Snohomish County elementary school complex. 

New Candidates Running for Seattle City Council 

One key topic was the Seattle City Council race for Position 8, with two progressive candidates - Alexis Mercedes Rinck and Saunatina Sanchez - challenging incumbent Tanya Woo. Ishisaka noted it will be "a real test of how lasting" the more moderate shift on the council will be, or if it was an "anomaly" driven by low turnout and business interests' spending.

Fincher emphasized that candidates now face pressure to offer detailed solutions on challenges like the $250 million-plus budget deficit. She hopes for "a substantive discussion" where candidates "really talk through these issues from the budget to business development to public safety."

Everyday Gun Violence

Gun violence arose as a major concern impacting communities citywide. Ishisaka, who lives in Rainier Beach and wrote a recent column on the subject, said it leaves residents fearing for their safety daily, stating, "I feel like the impact of that is getting lost a little bit in the noise of how we focus on one segment of that conversation and not another...the fear and the frustration is real - and we can't dismiss that. And we can't pretend like it's not happening, especially if we say we care about communities of color - because communities of color are the ones that are most harmed by this." Both called for comprehensive approaches focused on prevention, youth programs, and community investment - not just police response.  

Seattle Dual-Dispatch Pilot is Underutilized

They discussed a reporter’s recent ride-along with Seattle's CARE team of six social workers who respond to low-priority calls alongside police and firefighters as part of a daytime pilot program in downtown Seattle. During a 5-hour ride-along, the CARE team received zero calls for service, which was described as uncommon but not an anomaly. During the week of the ride-along, the CARE team received 14 calls for service. Of those 14 calls, 11 came at the request of an SPD officer, not through dispatch sending the CARE team alongside SPD. 

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the City and the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) limits the CARE team's authority, allowing SPD officers to maintain ultimate authority on shared calls and prevent CARE from responding. The reporter noted that “the MOU effectively allowed the union to neutralize the program’s primary objective” amid SPOG leadership’s “distaste for police alternatives, appearing to view them as an insult to SPD officers.”

Fincher expressed deep frustration that the CARE team pilot’s design and extremely limited scope are preventing its effectiveness, at a time when over 70% of Seattle residents favor non-police emergency response and an SPD report noted that over 50% of 911 calls are non-criminal and could be handled by civilian professionals, freeing up more offers to respond more quickly to criminal calls.

“If this is accurate, it sounds like the way that the CARE team is actually dispatched is so restrained by being attached to the police that they really don't have the agency to go out and make these contacts themselves. And so they're sitting back and not being able to be on the streets where they're needed in the way that it was intended. And I think that when you add those all together, you've really put yourself at a disadvantage and limited the ability to really evaluate if this approach will work,” said Ishisaka.

Ferguson’s Police Centric Plan

Discussing a recent column that considered Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Bob Ferguson's "cop-centered plan" for public safety a smart political maneuver, Fincher disagreed, noting candidates statewide are winning on more comprehensive, evidence-based approaches combining policing with prevention and social services.

Deaths at Tacoma ICE Facility, SCORE and KC Jails

Turning to incarceration issues, Fincher and Ishisaka expressed outrage at recent deaths and mistreatment in ICE, the SCORE facility, and King County jails due to understaffing, poor conditions, and inadequate medical care. "If someone is incarcerated and sentenced...that is the punishment. The punishment should not include death or neglect," Fincher stated.

Ishisaka highlighted the secrecy around jails enabling "impunity to rule the day" with little outside visibility. "Unless we get more eyes on what's going on in these facilities...we're going to continue to see these kinds of abuses continue."

Both argued current punitive policies are ineffective and counterproductive long-term, with incarceration being expensive yet failing to rehabilitate or reduce recidivism. "We owe it to people to do better," Fincher said, advocating for evidence-based rehabilitation and prevention strategies over cyclical punishment.

The conversation underscored how leaders face immense public pressure to comprehensively tackle public safety via policing reforms, prevention programs, rehabilitation, and oversight to address root causes of crime and violence while repairing broken systems. As Fincher stated, "We have to care. We have to get involved."

Problematic Gravel Yard Gains AG’s Attention

The two also discussed the continuing and concerning case of an unpermitted gravel yard operating adjacent to an elementary school complex in unincorporated Snohomish County causing disruptive noise, dust, and reported health issues for students until media coverage and resulting public pressure prompted intervention, and now Washington state’s attorney general and health department are raising concerns and urging Snohomish County to scrutinize a permit application the yard submitted last month.

"This random gravel yard next to the school - the fact the gravel yard itself sent a cease and desist letter to the school telling them to stop complaining was, to me, just mind boggling in its audacity. It's telling that they thought that that could potentially be effective when they were the ones with the unpermitted gravel yard right next to this elementary school," Ishisaka said of the gravel yard operator's attempt to bully the school into silence.

About the Guest

Naomi Ishisaka

Naomi Ishisaka is the Assistant Managing Editor for Diversity and Inclusion and the Social Justice Columnist for The Seattle Times. She is a journalist and photographer who focuses on racial equity and social justice.

Find Naomi Ishisaka on Twitter/X at @naomiishisaka.

Podcast Transcript

[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 get the full versions of our Tuesday topical shows and our Friday week-in-review delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. 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 to the program for the first time, today's co-host: Assistant Managing Editor for Diversity, Inclusion and Social Justice columnist for The Seattle Times, Naomi Ishisaka. Welcome.

[00:01:10] Naomi Ishisaka: Thank you so much - I'm so glad to be here.

[00:01:12] Crystal Fincher: I'm so thrilled to have you here - have been a long-time reader and fan of your column, so very excited to have your perspective. Wanted to start out talking this week about developments in the Seattle City Council race for Position 8 - that's a citywide position currently held by Tanya Woo, who was appointed to that seat shortly after the terms began for the rest of the new council to fill the seat that was vacated by Teresa Mosqueda. Two challengers have filed to compete against her in the seat - Alexis Mercedes Rinck and Saunatina Sanchez. As you look at this race, how do you see this unfolding and what do you think about those candidates?

[00:01:59] Naomi Ishisaka: I've been catching up a little bit on this in the last few days, and it's really interesting to see sort of the pendulum swing on the city council, and then also these two candidates who are clearly trying to reestablish a little bit more of that progressive voice that we've seen for the last few years on the majority of the council and now has been significantly diminished in this last election. And a lot of the policy proposals that they've advocated - these two new candidates - are very similar to what we saw with the bulk of the council in the past. And so it'll be interesting to see if the climate that led to more moderate council allows for these types of policy approaches to hold ground again - and if last election was an anomaly, or if it was a sign of change that's going to be sweeping in the next election as well. I think it'll be a real test of how lasting that change will be and how far-reaching, or if it was just a combination of political pressure from business interests, plus a very poorly attended election cycle on an off-year - so it'll be interesting to see.

[00:03:03] Crystal Fincher: It will be very interesting to see. Absolutely agree with some of those dynamics - the low turnout in an odd-numbered year in that race, in addition to nearly unprecedented spending in that race by those business interests. I think another dynamic that's going to be interesting is more of an expectation of a substantive discussion of the challenges that are facing the city. In a number of these campaigns that we saw last year that resulted in these candidates winning - certainly highlighting issues of homelessness and public safety that are of great concern to most people in Seattle. But there was a lot of vagueness in the discussions, lack of detail. saying - Well, we need to explore things, I'm not familiar with that, but I think I'm interested in that. We'll have to see, we'll have to evaluate, we'll have to audit the budget. And now that these councilmembers, including Tanya Woo, have taken power, there's a lot of learning going on and there's a lot of need to come up with some more definitive answers and take action. Many of those councilmembers are new to public service at all, new to a lot of the functions in the city, including Tanya Woo - they've been spending a lot of time getting up to speed. But now there's going to be an expectation to share where exactly you are at on these issues. And so when it comes to issues of revenue - have a fuller discussion about that - the City's facing a huge $250 million plus budget deficit. So really important to explore how each of these candidates plans on doing that. We've heard from Tanya Woo about where she stands since she's taken office, which is not exploring progressive revenue and looking at ways to cut and manage the budget - and perhaps transfer money, use money from the JumpStart Tax. We've seen signals from, certainly, Alexis that that's not an approach that she wants to take, looking at reliance on progressive revenue. And there do seem to be some at least initial stark differences in the proposed approach. So I'm looking forward to just seeing how they really talk through these issues from the budget to business development to public safety - what the stance may be on the Seattle Police Officers Guild contract - and just how we deal with a lot of these challenges facing our community, from transit to climate change, to how we support kids in the city and help facilitate their education. A lot to discuss, a lot that's going to be talked about, and we'll certainly be following this eagerly.

[00:05:41] Naomi Ishisaka: The other thing I heard was I feel like this last council was swept into office in large part over frustration around public safety, homelessness - a lot of visible manifestations of despair and hopelessness that we're seeing in our communities. And what I heard from these two challengers is a desire to look more upstream - what are some of the root causes of how we got here in the first place, and how can we change the trajectory in the city so that people aren't in a place of such despair and hopelessness that leads to crime and violence and homelessness and all the other things that we're seeing. And so having that both-and conversation is so important to say - yes, people are incredibly frustrated. And at the same time, how do we go further upstream to make sure folks aren't in that situation to begin with? And that's what I heard from them.

[00:06:24] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. It's gonna be so important to resist the flattening of conversations that we see in politics to these very sharp binaries. Is it more cops or is it community-focused safety? Is it encampment sweeps or is it looking at more comprehensive housing-focused solutions? Certainly there's evidence to support some approaches and not others, but I think most residents in the city - and I feel like polling supports this - understand that, for example, when it comes to public safety, even for people who prefer more police and say - Hey, we want more police. They uniformly nearly say - We also want a more comprehensive response. We want more support for people who are going through behavioral health crises. We want more support to help people with substance use disorder. We want supportive housing - really getting at those issues. So I hope we can have a robust conversation about those throughout this race.

Speaking of public safety, you wrote a column recently talking about - hey, we hear a lot of concern about gun violence. We also hear concern about police violence. And a caution to people to say - attacking all violence matters and focusing on the police to the detriment or the absence of everything else is not the right path. You want to share more about that piece?

[00:07:53] Naomi Ishisaka: Yeah, I've written many times in the past five years since I've had this role about violence by police, police impunity. I wrote recently about the tragic killing of Jaahnavi [Kandula] - that wasn't a shooting, but that was nonetheless marked by a clear lack of seriousness around a very tragic death by the police running over a young woman in a crosswalk. And those things are absolutely critical for us to focus on - no doubt - there's so much that the public needs to be constantly vigilant around. The consent decree was considered to be full and lasting and sustained compliance - a U.S. judge ruled that about the Seattle Police Department - and later, Bruce Harrell said that SPD was a transformed organization. And I think we see things that indicate that that's not exactly the case. And so it's pivotal we keep our attention on that.

At the same time, in our communities, in the community that I live in - Rainier Beach - our daily lives are peppered with gun violence. It's something that we think about constantly. It's something we think about when we go to a grocery store. It's something we think about when we're driving down the street. I have a friend whose car was hit by a stray bullet just coming from the grocery store. It's an ongoing, persistent part of our daily lives. And I feel like the impact of that is getting lost a little bit in the noise of how we focus on one segment of that conversation and not another. And that's not to say that all types of gun violence are the same. They're not. But at the same time, the impact on our communities is devastating. And the fear and the frustration is real - and we can't dismiss that. And we can't pretend like it's not happening, especially if we say we care about communities of color - because communities of color are the ones that are most harmed by this. And I've just noticed over and over and over again how - if you are a victim of one type of violence or one type of tragedy, you might have GoFundMe's created for you, you might have stories about you in the local media, you might be the source of a lot of care and compassion from the larger community. But that's not the case for other folks. And I don't understand why. I don't understand why not everyone gets the same amount of care, why not everyone gets the same amount of attention, why we're not wrapping our arms around people in the same way. And that's really what I was asking for and calling for.

[00:10:09] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and I think certainly the call to acknowledge, and care for, and intervene in all types of violence, all types of gun violence is critical and necessary. Absolutely see it impacting our communities - I see it throughout South King County, we see it in North Seattle. One of the challenges that we have now is that gun violence isn't segregated to certain areas in our society. We've seen it in schools in West Seattle to North Seattle to South Seattle, Rainier Beach - it is unfortunately that prevalent. And even within those, I certainly have seen different responses based on the race of the victim involved - how that victim is perceived. So many times I've certainly seen more of a dismissive attitude - unfortunately, by too many people - Well, that was probably just gang-related. Sometimes that assumption is made just by seeing someone who is Brown or Black being a victim of a crime. Sometimes there being an assumption that they deserved it.

[00:11:15] Naomi Ishisaka: What did you expect was going to happen? Yeah.

[00:11:17] Crystal Fincher: Yes. Yes, absolutely. And it's so frustrating to see that. I'm also frustrated by the flattening of conversations when it comes to gun violence, issues of public safety and policing - suggesting that when it comes to police violence, that wanting to reduce the amount of violence - which is really critical for the community and police, that isn't good for anyone. Any suggestion that there be any kind of restraint on what police can do, calling for accountability, calling for reduction of violence, calling for de-escalation, calling for more comprehensive tools to respond to violence - that that is somehow anti-cop. And then getting into the conversation - Well, if you're pro-cop or if you're anti-cop - and I feel like that has permeated too much and is taking the oxygen out of the more comprehensive conversation that we need to have, which is how do we address gun violence and violence overall? How do we reduce the number of victims in this? And there are really encouraging and engaging community-based programs, partnerships, a regional approach and strategy that are evidence-based - that are showing results, that are unfortunately not funded nearly to the amount that we fund other elements of a public safety response.

But also that is related in the conversation - Are we just focusing on responding to crime, which is very visible? Are we just focusing on responding to these shootings that are happening in our communities, at these schools? Are we just as invested in the prevention of this? Are we as invested in our kids when it comes to youth gun violence and giving them alternatives, investing in making sure they're cared for, they're healthy and fed, they're educated? - all things that show to reduce gun violence. To me, the lack of interest in violence, particularly in our communities, is reflected most of all in the type of investment we see or don't see - and the type of defunding of community safety, community investment programs. I personally wish we would really take prevention seriously, and we know what accomplishes that. And not just the response after something happens. That is how we can meaningfully invest in and address the violence that is happening. We have to care. We have to get involved. It is scary to think about what's happening. It's scary to think about sending your kids to school and they might not come home. Hearing that as school is letting out, there's just a drive-by shooting. Then that same day, there's another shooting. It's terrifying. It's so sad. And I do wish we would focus not just attention and not just sympathy, but investment that really demonstrates how we care and how we invest as a community. How do you feel about that?

[00:14:23] Naomi Ishisaka: I really appreciated what your guest on your podcast last week from the King County Gun Violence Prevention Office said about needing to look five years down the road, and I think that's something that we don't like to think about or talk about. Like you said, we're very short-term. We're very thinking about what happened after this one thing that happened today, which we absolutely should. But at the same time, we also have to think about - what are the investments that we need to do now to prevent something from happening five years down the road - to create that foundation, that scaffolding to keep kids, in particular, from feeling that sense of despair and hopelessness that leads to the type of violence that we're seeing on our streets. That's not something that is going to be achieved by some quick hit or some quick soundbite. It's going to take a lot of time, a lot of behind-the-scenes work, multitudes of different strategies all happening at the same time and the investment to make those strategies possible. And I think those are the types of interventions that we see a lot less willingness to prioritize.

[00:15:25] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, definitely agree. And when it comes to police violence, there are cases that we've seen - here in Seattle, certainly in South King County, Tacoma, other places - where it is pretty, I think, universally accepted that police could have and should have handled things in a different way. We've seen police wind up on trial for the way things have happened. We've seen OPA reports and other investigative reports saying that either they didn't follow policy and procedure or training, or they had better options for de-escalation and intervening that then escalated and led to violence that can certainly maim people or wind up in people losing their lives. Certainly not all the situations, but it has been in several widely publicized incidents. And I think the focus on that is a particular frustration in a couple of different areas. One, just looking at the types of double standards that we've seen that I think people find unacceptable - that when there is violence against people in the public by people in the public, there is an expectation and certainly a goal that that person is held accountable. And that's not a question - they're at least going to be put on trial or plead or something. There's going to be an expectation of accountability - that's never in doubt that that process is going to proceed.

Where that is a question when it comes to police. And I think that we have a big conversation, again, that has been put into this binary of - they're permitted to do everything and if you question it, you're anti-cop. And over and over again, we hear these conversations from people saying - Well, we want to hire more cops, but we also want accountability. I don't think anyone is actually speaking against accountability, but where is the action that we see to make that happen, particularly in the local level? I think the frustration is not seeing any progress in that area. We certainly are investing in most departments and hiring additional officers and taking other steps, but it seems like we just never get around to the accountability part. And so it just feels like this wound that isn't healing - that every time something happens, reopens - and that pain and that frustration happens there. But true, we can't just focus on that - I don't believe I see most people only focusing on that. But sometimes our conversation set it up that way, and we need to be very thoughtful in how we have those and how we make sure that we really support the victims of those crimes.

The final thing I would say is supporting victims, supporting people who have been harmed - I feel like that's missing from the conversation so often. We're talking about going against people who are perpetrators. We're talking about finding people and about punishment. But my goodness, how are we supporting people who have gone through this? And it's not only the person who has been shot or killed - it's everyone in their family, it's their friends, it's their community, it's their school that are impacted. And there's so much data showing that how effectively we intervene when someone is hurt or harmed, when someone is involved with violence, is a predictor for future violence. So that in and of itself is a preventative measure. But also we have to heal people - we have to intervene and respond there because those things can destabilize lives and families itself. It's certainly an involved issue. I appreciate your continued attention to it - calling us to think about that and be more thoughtful because we certainly need to be.

Also want to talk about an article by Danny Westneat that came out talking about - [Bob] Ferguson took a hard right on a cop-centered plan and took a page out of Bill Clinton's book. To me, this is a place where actually a lot of Democrats are - we just saw that reflected in our legislative session. To me, this isn't odd coming from a Democrat, but I certainly personally feel and saw a lot of people who wish, again, there would be a more comprehensive approach to addressing gun violence that didn't just involve police, but involved measures aimed at prevention and what, again, data and evidence has shown is effective to prevent this from happening in the first place. What was your take on that?

[00:19:51] Naomi Ishisaka: I thought the Bill Clinton analogy was pretty apt. I think Ferguson is reading the political tea leaves and he's saying that there's been a shift in attitudes in the population since 2020, and he's making a calculation that this is going to be a smart tack. And I don't know if he's right or not - I think time will tell - but I think that it's a political calculation that he's making. And like I was saying earlier, these much more comprehensive, longer-term strategies that involve violence interrupters, that involve community-based approaches to solving crime - they're not as easy to encapsulate or as simple to articulate as just saying we're going to hire X number more police officers. That's something simple - people understand it, it seems like a concrete effort to solve a problem. The problem is that, as we know, it takes a lot more than that. And it's those other strategies, those other efforts - like you're saying - that don't have as easily measurable impact. I shouldn't say easily measurable impact because they do have measurable impact, but I think it's a little bit harder to encapsulate in a 30-second TV ad, for example. And like your guest last week was saying, these are long-term, complicated interventions that don't yield immediate results - and that's hard for people to accept. And when you're running for office, saying something that's going to yield results five years from now is a harder sell - that's the political reality that he's looking at. And I wish that there was a much more comprehensive approach to the idea of how we solve crime and violence, but I'm not particularly surprised that he took this approach.

[00:21:32] Crystal Fincher: So I have a different perspective. I don't think his opinion is rare. I do think it's opinion that's not actually based in the reality about what's happening now. Even if we - take Seattle out of the conversation - we're talking about a statewide race here. There's this just kind of accepted general wisdom that - people do only support cops, it's unpopular not to support cops, so we just have to go in with cops. My day job is a political consultant - this is something I do on the side, talking on the podcast. But the reality is that we have had people - whether it's this last cycle, every cycle, and the number is actually increasing - in every corner of the state, whether it's Bellingham or Vancouver or Spokane or Walla Walla or you name it - Renton, all over King County, all over the state, including in eastern Washington, who are talking about and winning with a comprehensive approach to public safety. Now, this is not a conversation about fund or defund, have cops or don't have cops - that's not a political conversation that candidates are having who are running. It wasn't last year. But what candidates are saying and what polling supports is that police are part of a solution and not the whole solution. And it actually didn't used to be controversial - ten years ago, we frequently heard police say - We don't have all the tools to address the issues that are on our streets. We don't have all the tools to address everything that we're being called for. If it's a call for someone who looks like they're having a behavioral health crisis or someone who is dealing with addiction, we can't arrest people out of that situation - hasn't proved to be an effective intervention for that problem. So alongside, we're seeing people elsewhere throughout the state saying - So having extra resources to respond to a call, having treatment facilities that we can send people to, having a complete comprehensive response is a more effective response in the short-term, actually, and having those resources available. Because the one thing that is always amazing to me that we don't talk about - even if we say we're going to hire more police, we hire them tomorrow - they're not on the streets for a year. What's the plan for the next year? Are we doing anything in the meantime? Are we continuing to do that? Or is it just a reliance on people responding to all of these issues that they don't have the right toolkit for?

So I feel like that column was a response to the thought that - Well, what's he supposed to do? Ask for no police? Say that there's not going to be any police? And I don't think that's on the table anywhere. And I don't think that is a common Democratic Party thing. I think what a lot of people are saying is - Where's the rest? Where's the rest of the plan? How are we going to address the rest of this? We would like a comprehensive approach that does have a shot at reducing the amount of crime. And we even hear conservatives saying - Yeah, we're trying to get these online. We're trying to supplement the response - certainly saying that they support having more police, they're working to get that - but that's not the only piece of the puzzle. I personally do hope we get to talking about all of the necessary pieces of the puzzle, because we're really, really suffering without it.

Also related, there was an article this week in The Stranger that dived more into Seattle's dual dispatch pilot and coming to the conclusion that it's underutilized. For people who've been following along, this isn't exactly surprising - this was some of the feedback when it was first announced. Certainly the CARE department, the dual dispatch team - a lot of excitement in wanting this to roll out, but it did roll out in a very limited pilot that was limited to just the downtown area, during the daytime, and requiring basically a response with police. What did you think of the article? And what do you think of where the program is at now?

[00:25:38] Naomi Ishisaka: I think this kind of goes back to some of the things we were talking about earlier. People are hungry for these alternatives, hungry for these pilots, hungry for different approaches that don't just use the same nails and hammers we've been using for decades. And I think that the way this is rolled out, from what this article said, is kind of emblematic of some of the ways that we kind of hamstring our own alternative approaches in ways that limit their ability to be effective. And then therefore potentially create a self-fulfilling prophecy of - if you've designed it to be limited in its scope and limited in its ability to be implemented, then the outcomes are probably going to be limited as well. And then when you go back to evaluate it, are you going to say - Well, that clearly didn't work because look at all the people it didn't serve and look at all the ways it didn't achieve its objectives. But in reality, if this is accurate, it sounds like the way that the CARE team is actually dispatched is so restrained by being attached to the police that they really don't have the agency to go out and make these contacts themselves. And so they're sitting back and not being able to be on the streets where they're needed in the way that it was intended. And I think that when you add those all together, you've really put yourself at a disadvantage and limited the ability to really evaluate if this approach will work. So I think it's pretty clear that - one, this is in its infancy, so there's lots of ways it can change and evolve. But unless it increases its ability to take calls and be out on the street where it needs to be, its effectiveness will be really limited.

[00:27:14] Crystal Fincher: I completely agree. This is another source of frustration where something so promising, something that is showing results elsewhere, something that just in North King County with their Regional Crisis Response team seems to be at least initially working well and showing very encouraging signs of progress - responding effectively to issues that police don't really have the tools or the time to respond to. And the hope with this setup was - Seattle police are understaffed, they don't have time to respond to all of these calls. A 2021 report from the Seattle Police Department itself said - hey, we think that about half of the calls that we deal with could be responded to by civilians, they don't require a sworn police response. And so we could take police resources off of that, redeploy them to higher profile incidences, respond to the community calls for more engagement, better response times, better intervention in violent crime. But this doesn't seem to be there. And the limited nature - the article recaps that this CARE team, the Community Assisted Response and Engagement team is currently six members, which is pretty limited for the city. It is mostly downtown, and it's there to be dispatched to nonviolent, non-emergent, non-medical emergencies that don't really require law enforcement action, like a person down or welfare check.

Or there are lots of calls that come in about unhoused people in the region - hey, they can handle those, that's not actually a criminal complaint. Certainly in 2022 and 2023, we heard that as the setup. But when it was rolled out, this is an absolute co-response - there is not an option for police not to be engaged. And in here, Ashley Nerbovig did a ride-along with the CARE team - who seemed like they were passionate and engaged and really wanting to do this - but some days no calls came in, some days they heard calls on the radio that were dispatched to police that seemed like it fell into their bucket. Some seem like clear behavioral response issues. Some seem like they were pretty unambiguously designed that the CARE team respond to those, but police not dispatching them. And the way the program is designed, they can't dispatch themselves. People can't call directly to them and say - I need a CARE team response. So it is really up to basically the police department's discretion as to whether it lands in this team most of the time. And they seem to be declining that. And that seems, according to this article and some committee reports to the council, to be tied to concerns from the Seattle Police Officers Guild about the types of calls that can be outsourced and really wanting to limit that - either to use as a bargaining chip in negotiations or just as a way to maintain their funding levels associated with the staffing levels now and whatever that is. But that seems to be having a negative impact on our ability to respond to these issues in the community.

And it matters how we spend our money. It matters that we do things that are effective. We are in a budget crisis just about everywhere - city level, county level, certainly the city of Seattle is talking about this a lot. And it seems like we are not spending this money wisely. We're paying for this pilot for these people to essentially sit around right now. And the ideal answer is not - Well, it's not working in its current state, let's cancel it. A more cynical person may say that it looks like it was set up to fail because this was predictable and people said that this was going to happen in the way that this was constructed. But I wish we would take seriously that if we are investing money in the solution - that we set it up for success, that we are consistent with best practices that have been established and what is consistently shown to produce positive results. And that we track that - that this is not just something that, Well, we said we do it, so here it is and how effective it is doesn't matter. This is a matter of safety. And again, to me, this is about - are we really serious about addressing the issue of safety on our streets? Are we really serious about doing the best we can to intervene in every possible way to reduce the amount of violence that's happening, to reduce the amount of people that are being harmed and victimized? And it just seems like this isn't a serious approach, that this is not achieving the objectives that we wish it would. And in fact, it's not even having the chance to because it's so underutilized and there seem to be barriers to its utilization. Mayor Bruce Harrell is in his third year in office now. Three years ago, he certainly talked about this in running for office. This was a big point of conversation in the council elections last year. We keep talking about public safety and they keep saying we're going to address it, we're going to do these things. This is part of a comprehensive approach, so that is a good thing. But my goodness, we seem to be squandering this and it's frustrating to watch.

[00:32:32] Naomi Ishisaka: Very well said. Yes.

[00:32:36] Crystal Fincher: Well, also want to talk about a few stories outside of Seattle, including one that is particularly troubling and tells the current story about incarceration and the state of our jails and detainment facilities, where this past week we saw stories about the ICE facility in Tacoma, the SCORE facility in Des Moines, and the King County Jail. The ICE facility in Tacoma had a death occur there. There are organizations supporting immigrants who have been harassed there and basically a culture of secrecy and obfuscation. The SCORE facility in Des Moines - there has been a death there and report came of a woman dying of malnutrition, dehydration, low electrolyte levels and renal failure - after spending three days in custody, most of it curled up on the floor of a temporary booking cell. And we hear stories over and over and over again - have heard over the past several years - have even had corrections officers sign on to a letter saying, We are so understaffed, it is causing problems. We've had the King County Jail run out of clean water in the past couple years. These facilities seem to be just in a state of decay while being short-staffed, understaffed, inadequately staffed overall. And there being negligent medical care, basically, where it came out that the company, the contractor for the SCORE facility has previously been the subject of Congressional hearings because of their supposed neglect and mistreatment of people under their care medically. This is all on the public dime. And this seems to be just so unacceptable - when someone is to be detained, that is the issue. If someone's incarcerated and sentenced to something, they have to stay in that place - that is the punishment. The punishment should not include death or neglect. What is your take on this? And what do you see as the path through this?

[00:34:44] Naomi Ishisaka: I'm actually reporting on the detention center in Tacoma for my column on Monday, so I was just down there a couple days ago talking with some of the protesters outside. One of the things that strikes me about all these cases is something I was thinking about when I was there and talking to some of the advocates down there is - there's this out of sight, out of mind phenomenon that happens with our detention centers, with our jails, our prisons. There's so little visibility and transparency that the public and even the media have into what's going on in those facilities, it makes it so much more possible for impunity to rule the day. And we're seeing cases where people are incredibly sick and ill and they're dying, there're suicides - we have one of the highest county jail rates in the country in Washington state. Our ICE facility now has had two deaths in the past two years - the first one by suicide, the second one don't yet know the cause, but the person who most recently died and the reason why they're having these protests outside was in solitary confinement for over three years, according to the University of Washington. And those kind of conditions are very hard to verify and validate from the outside. And it creates conditions where they're allowed to have any kind of food conditions, any kind of health and safety conditions that they want - with very little scrutiny, very little oversight. Even the legislators, policymakers on all different levels - federal to local - have very little avenue to see what's actually going on on the ground in these facilities, which makes it very, very hard to hold them accountable to what's going on inside them. And I think from a media perspective, anything that you can't see or shine a light on is a ripe ground for abuse and that's what we're seeing now. And unless we get more eyes on what's going on in these facilities, more eyes from all of the different levels on the conditions in these facilities, we're going to continue to see these kinds of abuses continue.

[00:36:46] Crystal Fincher: I agree. And we really have an obligation as a society to do better. We should not be neglecting and abusing and basically leaving people to die under the care of the state - that's tragic, inappropriate, infuriating in all of these circumstances. And to me, it's part of this whole comprehensive conversation about public safety and how detached some of what we talk about, especially in political conversations, is from the reality of the system that we're working within. We have courts that are backlogged and overloaded. We have these incarceration facilities that are in various states of decay, understaffed, unaccountable. And I think there's a general societal expectation of some rehabilitation - the vast majority of people who are incarcerated are coming back to our communities. And data shows that the way that we are incarcerating them is making it more likely that they're going to come out and reoffend than less. And so we can't divorce this part of the conversation from the rest of the conversation on public safety. And so I wish, especially in political conversations, we would be more thoughtful and that the public ask - Okay, so you say you're going to jail everyone? Where? You say you're going to file all these charges? When? How is that actually going to work? Because it's not. And despite seeing the ineffectiveness and these challenges with accountability resulting in death but also in increased crime ultimately from people who are coming out - our failure to effectively intervene, our practices actually counterproductive to what we're trying to achieve in the community. And some of the things that fly as soundbites just are not effective in reality. We have to do better. We owe it to people to do better.

And again, as we're talking about these budget deficits - we spend so much on incarcerating people. It is wildly expensive to incarcerate people. So to pay as much as we're paying and that money being unavailable for things that build healthy communities and reduce crime - just seems like we're speed running in the wrong direction. A lot of the people I hear taking a more hard line approach, a law and order approach, or punitive approach, say - Hey, we just need to get cops on the street, enforce laws, arrest people, hold them accountable. - don't seem to talk about this part of it. Don't seem to have any answer to this. Are not engaged with it. And we have to if we're going to address this issue at all. But we can't keep spending - I mean, I guess we could, but it'll be to the continued decay of other things to spend this much money on arrest, prosecution, detention and to have such poor, ineffective results.

The last story we have for today is a update to a story that we talked about that Daniel Beekman initially reported on about a gravel yard adjacent to an elementary school complex in unincorporated Snohomish County. It was causing major distractions in learning with lots of noise, lots of dust, complaints of health problems from headaches to dirty snot - from a gravel yard that was actually unpermitted, yet basically set up shop. The county eventually, after a while, intervened and said - Okay, you're unpermitted, you have to stop activity. That gravel yard didn't really stop all activity, the county had to say - Okay, you really need to stop. There still seems to be some acrimony there. But we saw recently - what doesn't happen frequently - but Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the Health Department chimed in, and they're also raising concerns saying that - Hey, the county needs to really scrutinize this permit application. What did you think about this?

[00:41:07] Naomi Ishisaka: This story was just so telling, and my colleague Dan Beekman has done a great job covering this from the beginning. The thing that kept striking me when I was reading about it was how many other incidents like this are happening every day that we just don't even know about, don't even hear about. This random gravel yard next to the school - the fact the gravel yard itself sent a cease and desist letter to the school telling them to stop complaining was, to me, just mind boggling in its audacity. It's telling that they thought that that could potentially be effective when they were the ones with the unpermitted gravel yard right next to this elementary school. And the thought that they could then bully the school into going along with them just spoke, I thought, to what the attitudes are when you are dealing with a school with a high level of kids of color, high level of kids that are low income - there was clearly a belief they could do whatever they want and get away with it. And I think what's been remarkable is to see that due to all the attention and scrutiny now, that they're actually coming up against some real resistance.

[00:42:14] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, that's encouraging to see. And also just a testament to the power of investigative reporting, of shining a media spotlight on this - because it was quite a while that they were kind of shouting into the void there in that community, probably just because of what you said - that we unfortunately as a society ignore and don't take seriously the concerns voiced by communities of color, low-income communities. And they did really set this up with the expectation of not having much friction. And for a while, there wasn't - for a while, they did skate by. But then once the region was made aware of this - it was pretty shocking to read how much of a negative impact this was having - no, kids can't learn with super loud destructions next door. No, kids can't learn with dirty air and coughing and headaches. No, teachers can't teach with commotion happening. And so why this happened in the first place is a big question. They did ultimately cease the activity and require the application. They have since submitted an application, but it still doesn't seem like an appropriate site. So hopefully they do heed the call from the attorney general. I do appreciate his attention to this because it is an issue that impacts communities - and people using the platforms they have, in what forums they do have, to bring attention to this is appreciated. I certainly hope that is scrutinized and really not allowed. There needs to be a different, more appropriate place for this to happen - that certainly does not seem like it's next to this school facility, the Fairmount Elementary School and Pathfinder Kindergarten Center. So we will continue to follow that, but it is getting more attention, not less, fortunately, which is good. And hopefully we see an acceptable resolution that prioritizes the health, safety, and learning of these kids at school.

And with that, we thank you for listening to this Hacks & Wonks on Friday, March 29th, 2024. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Shannon Cheng. Our insightful co-host today was Assistant Managing Editor for Diversity and Inclusion and the Social Justice columnist for The Seattle Times, Naomi Ishisaka. You can find Naomi on Twitter at @naomiishisaka. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter at @HacksWonks. And 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, Overcast, or wherever 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 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 - we'll talk to you next time.