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caption: Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan sent a letter to supporters in which she endorsed candidate Mark Solomon for Seattle City Council District 2. She said two other candidates would "cause more division in our city."
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Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan sent a letter to supporters in which she endorsed candidate Mark Solomon for Seattle City Council District 2. She said two other candidates would "cause more division in our city."
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Mayor Durkan on the Seattle Police budget

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan joins us for our weekly check-in

This is an edited transcript of the conversation between Ross Reynolds and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on Thursday, June 25th, 2020.

Mayor Durkan earlier this week you and Police Chief best announced that the police will be returning to the East Precinct on Capitol Hill. And you're going to try to get the Capitol Hill organizing protests zone to not continue under the current conditions--you want some changes. Between now and that announcement what has happened?

So I think we've seen some positive progress. And I think it's important for people to know is Chief Best made clear, and I indicate in the press conferences, we're going to do a phased approach and returning to the precinct, they're still policing in the area. They've now stationed police officers so that they can respond quickly to calls, but getting back in the precinct is important to the chief. But resolving what's going on, in and around those blocks and Capitol Hill, I think gives us an opportunity to actually lead with some of the programs that we say we want instead of a police response.

We obviously can't just send police in and have them clear out, you know, the many people that were there, that would not have been possible, and it probably would have escalated things. So we've been working with Black led organizations, to really listen to them on what changes they want to make to policing, what kind of investments they want in the community, and then have them be the ones talking to people in that area. We've also set up nearby community hubs. So as people start to leave the park and we ask them to move to different places we can give them resources. So, we've got at Seattle Central College, we've set up a hub that has outreach workers, people that can provide some mental health services, people that can provide shelter or other services that homeless people might need, a range of services so that we really are taking a thoughtful approach to moving people to get to a place so they can get services they need. Because there's a whole range of people now who have come to that park and for sometimes different reasons and we want to make sure that we address this situation holistically.

In a new development. Some residents and businesses on Capitol Hill have filed a civil rights claim in federal court against the city. They say that the organized protest zone amounts to illegal taking of their property without due process, and they allege that the city is actively endorsed and enabled CHOP their suit calls for the removal of the blockade stronger police presence. KUOW's Angela King talked to one of the plaintiffs, Bill Donner, who's owner of Richmark Label on Capitol Hill. He's on Pine Street, just east of the Cal Anderson park where the protests are centered. He says he's supportive of the protesters, but it shouldn't be on the back of one neighborhood. Here's how he described what it's like going to work:

"We have semis trucks coming in and out all day long. Drivers periodically will not come in. They feel threatened. They're fearful. The protesters have allowed them in, but they've intimidated them. Sometimes [there] have been blockades, we have to get out, try and push them. The Department of Transportation has tried to be helpful, but they're not going to put their lives in jeopardy for what's been going on. It's been awkward. Of course, the exterior of the building has completely been ruined."

What is your response to what Bill Donner had to say and to this lawsuit?

So, I haven't had a chance to review the lawsuit yet, the city attorney's office will look at that. Based on what I know of civil rights law, w e want to sit down and talk--I've been meeting with community businesses, residents of that area, try to both hear from them what they need most from the city during this time, as we transition people away from those blocks on Capitol Hill. I mean, to be clear, people have a right to gather into protest. It's enshrined in the US Constitution, and it's one of the first and most fundamental of rights, the same right, that gives [the] press the right--the First Amendment. And so we are trying to accommodate people who want to protest peace. And we'll maintain an area for people to protest. But we also recognize that this has created a large burden on the community, on businesses.

And so we want to move forward with trying to really resolve this as quickly as we can, without of course, just making it a police action. I don't think that's necessarily the right way to go. It's what we've been talking about for two weeks. How do we approach certain situations in our city or conflict without necessarily [the] police being the first people to respond? And so we really are trying to, you know, to listen to protesters meet demands, have the sums of questions. We also want to work with community and residents and protesters in the LGBT community to think of some ways that we can really recognize the importance of these protests and their demands, and in the history of our city. And so, we want to sit with folks and say, you know, let's re-imagine some features to Cal Anderson Park which is has such a historic place For the LGBTQ community, in our city, but now can be a place to remember these protests and to mark the importance in the in the city dialogue. So should we create a community garden there? Should there be a speaker's corner or complicated conversation corner? How do we preserve some of the better art that is there and maybe create some more art pieces in the park itself? I think these events have been unprecedented in our city in our country.

It's important for us to mark them for the importance that they have. But long term, what's really going to show the importance of the protests are the changes we bring to policing, into all the other systems in our society, so that it is really serving community and it helps dismantle the racist past that has kept so many of these things in place that people are protesting against.

Bill Donner of Richmark label told us he'd sure like it if the city would repaint his building, is that something the city would do?

I won't get into specific buildings. We've talked with community, both protest community and business and residents that we can we have a day where people come in and we together, we just kind of, you know, paint and remove graffiti and restore and look at how we not just move beyond this, but how do we, we mark the very importance of what people were saying and continue to protest in the streets. So I won't talk about any individual business, but I think it's really important for us to come together as a city and move forward on on a lot of these things. And it's going to take some time, there's a lot still conversation to be had about what is the right direction to go. And how do we really make systemic change, so that we make generational changes and not just quick fixes.

Our reporting suggests that people within the Capitol Hill organized protests zone would strongly resist any step to kind of step down what's going on there would strongly resist police returning to the East Precinct and I'm wondering, is there a leadership group at the Capitol Hill organized protests that people follow, that you've been able to speak with? Do you feel as though you're negotiating with all the folks who were there, which are a very disparate group?

I think it is a very disparate group, but in some ways, it's not necessarily a negotiation. We're trying to listen to people to hear what their substantive concerns are, and are already making some of the changes that we hear across the community that people want to make in our department. So I think that, you know, part of the, you know, I think you hit the nail on the head, so to speak, in that-- there are a lot of different people with a lot of different interests who are drawn to the park for different reasons.

I was riding my bike around there earlier this week. And, you know, there was one group of younger folks who were packing up with their sleeping bags and their tents and other stuff, and talking about which flights they were catching home. And so I think that there's a core group of protesters who are there to really ask for change, but then there's a range of other people too, which is why we have such a range of services we're trying to provide as we move people out of the park.

Did people recognize you and try to talk to you?

No, I was in-CHOP-nito.

Richard: So my question for the mayor is how would you respond to people who live in the CHAZ area who basically say that the protesters in the area, who basically have asked for a no cop zone deserve the violence that has been inflicted on them, and it's basically on them that there has been no police presence to protect them from said violence.

Chief Best and I made clear that we don't want there to be any no cop zones, or any no fire department or any civil service. Every business, resident, and visitor to Seattle deserves a threshold amount of services, public safety, support, and the like.

We obviously had some very tragic shootings in the park where we were not able to get to the individuals who've been shot. Whether we would have changed it had we gotten in there, we don't know we have not been able to prevent gun violence in our city since I've been mayor; it was a very violent weekend across America. And so I reject the idea that anybody deserves any kind of violence. I think that's anathema to who we are, and that we should stand against gun violence or any violence for any person living or visiting Seattle.

The city put a ban on tear gas, blast balls, and other crowd control methods. The Seattle Police officers Guild, which represents rank and file police officers, has submitted a request to bargain on that. They have a bargaining agreement with the city they contend that the ban substantially changes their working conditions, and may even lead to more violent confrontations. Here's what Lisa Daugaard, the former co-chair of the community police commission said about their request:

"Where we ought to be and need to be is that the city is free to make this kind of policy change, both without bargaining and without seeking court permission. It's very difficult otherwise for community members to hold their public leaders accountable for what's going on in our streets. I hope that the council and the mayor don't find their hands tied by either process."

Mayor will bargaining with the Seattle Police officers killed on this ban on tear gas and other crowd control methods tie your hands?

So I think people need to step back a little bit because the policy that was in place was a crowd management policy that was negotiated in effect by the Community Police Commission and Miss Daugaard, together with Council and the previous Mayor, before I was here, the federal court monitor. It was reviewed and approved by the Federal Court judge, so that was part of the consent decree process. When we saw that the continual escalation of these crowd control policies in how they came out in practice, it was clear we needed to have a different approach. And so, I approached the Office of Police Accountability and Office of Inspector General, our two civilian oversight groups, who now together with the Community Police Commission and community, will really-- I will ask them to assess how we can improve our crowd control policies.

We saw, across America, over 100 cities, tear gas was employed. We saw the same type of crowd control mechanics that I think everyone has seen as too great have a militarization of civilian police. And so I think we haven't had to have that in Seattle. We've had very large crowds that have not required the kind of crowd management techniques that we saw and I think everyone agreed that was not successful. So I'm really looking forward to getting that review from the police experts from our accountability partners and partnership with the federal monitor and the federal court, to help guide us.

In addition, I was talking to the mayor of Chicago, who is going to be heading up a task force for the US Conference of Mayors working together with civil rights groups and the International Association of Police Chiefs to see if we can come up with best practice nationally. Normally, the White House and Department of Justice would lead that but there's an absolute leadership vacuum at the national level. The US Conference of Mayors is stepping up to see if we can get practices not just in Seattle, but across the nation to better reflect how we can have de escalation be the number one goal in crowd control as it is, should be, the number one goal in every individual interaction between police and residents.

Are going to have to negotiate those policies with the Seattle Police officers guild? Because they say that these kinds of changes, the bans that you've proposed, really change their working conditions. They say you can't do that without negotiate with them,

We've asked the City Attorney's office for their view on that to see whether it is something under labor law, we are required to negotiate in good faith and we've not yet got a response. There [are] other areas, I think have been indicated that they do. I think the broader question is, number one is we need to have the best policies in place. And they need to be not just here, but across Washington State, I think we've seen play out over the last two weeks is the lack of uniform policies not just in policing, but in the accountability features has led to a lot of public distrust. For example, you know, in Tacoma, a police killing leads to a very different inquest process than it does in King County and accountability to the public and to the families of the individuals who died at the hands of police.

We need a statewide law that requires a type of investigation by an independent body, as well as unit inquest policies, because those things actually are going to have a great impact on policing. We'll do a lot of work here in Seattle. And we've got that underway already working with a counselor working with the community, really listening to people on how we re-imagine policing. But we have got to have some of the things done at the state level, including changes in police union power at the bargaining table, which is dictated by state law.

From what you just told me, you're waiting for the city attorney to make a ruling on whether you do need to bargain with a police officers guild on this ban that's in place. So you might have to bargain.

You may have to bargain but the ban is still in place. And so, then you basically bargain the consequences of it. It's not that you delay it until you do that bargaining. But we do have multiple reviews of the policies underway now. As you know, there's a federal court action pending before Judge Jones looking at these very policies, he issued a temporary restraining order and Council passed a law. So I think that our oversight bodies are doing a review right now to tell us what they think the best practices are for less lethal tools. And getting all those back. We then have to engage community and chart a path for the city of Seattle.

Mclain: Last Thursday afternoon, I went down to the public health center on Fourth Avenue and was able to get a pre COVID-19 test. I got my results on Friday morning, less than 24 hours later. Yesterday, I had a doctor's appointment and I asked the nurse how frequently they were tested. The same nurse who tested me today a week earlier, told me that they're not provided with any COVID-19 test. My question is, why is the city or the county not providing pre COVID 19 tests to the healthcare workers at the health center?

Yeah, great question. Actually, the county and the city do have a whole range of free testing sites The city has two, the county has multiple both in our public health facilities and elsewhere. And so, whether you're a healthcare worker or resident, you can get tested and get tested for free. Health care workers. The general principles are if they've not been exposed or aren't suffering any symptoms, the guidance is still that they won't be tested. We we made sure, for example, with protesters that we urged as many people as possible to get tested because there was no social distancing. There [were] none of the other things we're trying to do during the time of COVID. So there's testing available both through the hospital programs themselves and through King County and city of Seattle.

Mayor Durkin, the city has a budget crisis that it's facing and as you're well aware, these two city council proposals are on deck to institute a big business tax to help fill that budget deficit. Would you sign off on some form of big business tax to alleviate the city's budget problems?

I've supported and proposed before, progressive revenue including business taxes. As you know, I supported a payroll tax at the county level that would protect all businesses or monies they paid to people making $150,000 or more. And had we been successful in getting that through the state legislature we would have had 150 million dollars to spend starting January 1. Unfortunately, we were not able to get that through the legislature despite a coalition of support. I also support a range of progressive taxes, income tax capital gains tax. I'm willing to sit with people and talk about any range of taxes because I do believe we need to have more progressive taxation in Seattle and the state. We rely too greatly upon sales tax, property tax, Business & Occupation taxes, all of which are regressive in different ways.

It leaves us with bigger holes when we have shortfalls like this, because if you're depending on a sales tax, but there's a down economy, there's fewer sales, first people hit are government. If it's b&o tax, because it's a gross tax, it's unfair, particularly to small businesses. So I think we need to start peeling back our regressive taxes and put in place progressive taxes.

I haven't had a chance to talk to Councilmember Mosqueda about her bill. I know it's possible that the calculation, the way it's framed now that, there could be some wild swings in the amounts of the taxation. So I want to understand her approach to that. We've got to look at moving beyond the really regressive tax system we have in place and moving to a more progressive one. At the same time, we want to make sure as we come out of this COVID we have the chance to have an economic recovery here. And, have really a place for job growth to flourish. As you know, most of our tech companies were able to move their employees so that they work from home. And when they'll move back to their places of businesses and clear and when they are able to move back. We want to move them back to Seattle.

Heidi, Beacon Hill: I know that there's been talk about Police budget and defunding the police. And two days ago, Forbes put out an article listing the top 10 Police Department compensations and their officers and lieutenants that make between $300,000 and $414,000 a year, which seems like a lot of money. And I'm wondering if that will be part of the adjustment of the budget, and if not, what the justification is for paying those police officers that high of a salary?

I saw that article and have questions in I'm note all of them make much more than I do as mayor as well. Look, I think we've got to change how we have the police departments structured. I think that as a city, and as governments, we should be looking at personnel structures as well. Lots of times the salaries that are the highest are reflecting seniority and overtime pay, that is, I think, an archaic remnant of funding from the past. And so I think we've got to be able to look at all of that if you look at some of our departments, whether it's City Light, or others, you'll see that again, that there's a number of people who have been there for a long time who are being paid very high salaries, and there tends not to be much diversity in those ranks. And so the pay disparity we see between men and women and people of color in the city of Seattle is driven largely by those departments that where people with greatest seniority, get significant pay, and then the newer hires where we've tried to really bring in more diversity, are lower so we've got I think we've got to look at all of that, not just in the police department, but across city government.

What do you think about Seattle Police Department officials being paid more than you're paid as mayor?

I know! I was tempted to say how many people in this city are paid more than me? Of course, I'm not taking any salary this year, so that's everybody. But I think it does tell us a lot. The same happens at the state there's a number of state employees are paid more than the governor. I think sometimes you got to compete with private industry and that's why you pay them more head of City Light. We have to draw from, you know, a pretty tight pool of people. And police chiefs tech tend to make that kind of money nationwide. But I think it's a dialogue worth having.

Mayor Durkin, as you know, one of the three demands up in the Capitol Hill Organized Protest is to reduce police spending by 50%. you're proposing a reduction of 5% from the 2020 budget about $20 million. I'm wondering why you came up with that number. And is that a hard and fast number? Or do you think 50% is too much?

Well, I think they were talking about two different things. So the budget here, that's here now, is just the correction to the budget that was already passed, and we're halfway through it. We're halfway through the year, it's the 2020 budget, because we had such shortfalls, we're required to have a balanced budget. And so we had to look across all departments on the spending that was already approved and how to reduce it. The conversation we're having with community now is, obviously we've got to make some changes now to reflect that we mean it. But how do we make those deep systemic changes in policing itself, and then have the budget follow that form?

We may not end up spending less in public safety because we may pay more to mental health care workers in domestic violence or addiction specialists, and less in the police armed police response. But we're just having those discussions.