Seattle’s botched experiment with defunding the police keeps getting worse

Whether you think defunding the police has some merit or not, it’s becoming clear that no entity in the country has messed with the idea as much as the city of Seattle.

We didn’t even manage to set the meter reader part correctly.

It never made much sense that moving parking enforcement out of the police department and into the highway department could promote social or racial justice. But it was still offered during the hot summer of 2020, as a way to stick it to the cops by cutting their budget. Along with more meaningful moves, such as moving the 911 dispatch center to a new department to try and change the number of calls answered by armed officers.

City council first reduce the police budget by approximately 17%, without ever reaching the 50% target. But the agency has been in a tailspin ever since.

More … than 400 officers left while crime soared. Last week, the Seattle Times and KUOW reported that new sexual assault cases were not being investigated due to staffing shortages. Meanwhile, the softer approaches being considered for community safety are still in the pilot stage.

Last week, the city announced that it reimbursement of 100,000 parking tickets and overriding another 100,000 due to an oversight – namely that parking enforcement officers, who are civilians, were not reassigned the authority to write tickets after being kicked out of the police department l last fall.

It’s a $5 million mistake – or it would be if it was hopefully the end. But there’s another wrinkle, which like most police defunding efforts so far, could snowball further in an unintended direction.

It turns out that during the seven month period that the lifters didn’t have the right commission to do their job, they also authorized over 10,000 car and truck tows on the streets of the city. town.

“We are still processing our data, but so far we have 10,256 Seattle PEO authorized pounds [parking enforcement officers]said Chuck Labertew, president of Lincoln Towing, which holds the only city-initiated towing contract.

Most of these impounds were “rush hour tows”, in which parking attendants accept an impound and tow trucks rush to clear the traffic lanes of parked cars during rush hour. If the tickets aren’t legitimate, there’s no doubt some people will dispute the tows as well, Labertew says.

“We also auctioned off some of these cars,” Labertew said. He estimated that around 1,700 of the more than 10,000 cars had been sold.

In a statement Friday, the city said it does not plan to automatically reimburse towing and storage costs related to wrong tickets, on the grounds that it does not necessarily need a ticket to get towed.

“This ruling does not affect a person’s rights to request a hearing to dispute a tow, as provided by city law,” the statement added.

Labertew of the towing company was skeptical.

“What’s going to happen here is we’re going to get sued, I can guarantee that,” he said. “And I will pass on each of these lawsuits to the city.”

Well, that’s a route to defunding – via a lot of bureaucratic work.

Seattle City Council member Alex Pedersen summed up the ticket fiasco: “It reinforces that revamping our public safety systems is complicated and can lead to unintended consequences unless implemented. with the greatest care.”

Yes, and it is not yet known who in the administration failed here. But all nine council members voted for it in the activism-fueled atmosphere of 2020. At that time, there hadn’t been a thorough study of the move, and no one was really asking. Black Lives Matter protesters weren’t calling for parking meter readers; they focused on the work of real cops.

There has been talk of expanding the duties of parking attendants to include some of the things cops do now, like directing traffic or responding to speeding cars. But if they’re going to do crime work in the future, why transfer them to the highways department in the first place?

The real reason for all of this was performative – it was supposed to feel like it was cutting the police budget drastically, without actually cutting any city services or saving money.

No matter what happens with the tows, or how much bad tickets end up costing the city, those pushing for the real concept of defunding the police should be most infuriated by this botched theater. Because handing over parking control was supposed to be the easy part.

The hardest part — softening some of the city’s public safety response — is a worthy goal. It is incredibly complex and delicate work. This means having a system in place that can accurately, safely and often instantly assess whether to dispatch to unstable street scenes welfare workers or uniformed officers with guns.

What happened with the meter readers certainly doesn’t give the effort much confidence.

Comments are closed.