Last week, The Seattle Times reported on the Seattle Police Department’s failure to adequately staff its Sexual Assault/Child Abuse Unit. Instead of grappling with subsequent criticisms from advocates for sexual assault survivors, local right-wing media seized on the phrase “staffing levels” and shifted the focus away from a managerial decision at SPD to a polarized debate on the culpability of the "defund" movement.
Here’s noted independent journalist and law enforcement stenographer, Brandi Kruse:
THREAD: Seattle doesn't have enough detectives to investigate RAPES. To blame anyone other than Democrats is media malpractice. pic.twitter.com/2Rw7TprTa0— Brandi Kruse (@BrandiKruse) June 6, 2022
Normally, I’d roll my eyes at Kruse’s obvious copaganda and move on with my day. But this attempt to blame "Democrats" and "the City Council" for decisions made by SPD leadership is instructive, as it perfectly shows why our public safety debate has become so detached from reality. Let’s dig in.
Kruse primarily blames SPD's purported staff shortage for the relatively low number of officers the agency assigned to its Sexual Assault/Child Abuse unit. But that claim conveniently overlooks the police chief's role in making staffing decisions. It also fails to address the striking claims from advocates, who told the Times that other local police departments have been dealing with similar staffing shortages but have not de-prioritized sexual assault investigations in the same way.
Here’s what Mary Ellen Stone, CEO of the King County Sexual Assault Resources Center, said in the article that launched Kruse’s tirade: “We work with 38 jurisdictions, and while everybody’s dealing with backlogs and everybody’s dealing with staffing shortages, we’re not seeing something similar from other jurisdictions[.]”
I’ll admit that I’m new to journalism, but Kruse omitting from her analysis this major piece of evidence seems ... bad.
Kruse then goes on to present TV clips from former Mayor Jenny Durkan and former SPD Chief Carmen Best, who warn that defunding the police will mean that cops won't come when people dial 911 during a rape, an assault, or some other violent crime.
With this little doom-and-gloom reel, Kruse implies that those two oracles accurately predicted that community demands to move some money from the police department to public safety alternatives would lead to the rape cases that have been piling up on SPD's desk over the last several months. If only people hadn't called for that reallocation of public funds—and, more importantly, if only the City Council hadn't sort of listened—the cops could have prevented these crimes from happening in the first place, the argument goes.
But to believe that, you'd have to believe that cops field lots of calls for violent crimes in-progress, and you'd have to believe that they successfully stop them in their tracks when they do. However, neither of those claims is true.
In fact, a 2020 New York Times analysis found that violent crimes make up just 1.3% of calls for service in Seattle.
In those limited circumstances where 911 calls involve an ongoing violent crime, Kruse's implied narrative still doesn't hold water. Consider the case of the Georgetown jogger, who had to chase down her own assailant and record his license plate so that the cops could arrest him later at his Auburn home. To stop a crime like that as it was happening, Seattle would need a cop stationed on every corner. Even if we wanted to live in that police state, we couldn't afford it. And anyway, cops just don't spend most of their time responding to ongoing violent crimes—or even to felonies, for that matter. They primarily arrive at scenes after someone commits a crime, and then they try to find the perpetrator and hold that person accountable after the fact.
Even worse than that? The @SeattleTimes gave Progressives who are responsible for the police exodus a platform to complain about the lack of detectives like it's not their fault - I shit you not. pic.twitter.com/SjxtTQq1Nt— Brandi Kruse (@BrandiKruse) June 6, 2022
Kruse then returns to her main argument, conflating an increase in officer departures with staffing reductions in the Sexual Assault/Child Abuse unit. While causally related, these are two separate issues. Activist rhetoric arguably prompted officers to retire early or find other jobs, but SPD leadership inarguably bears responsibility for deciding how to allocate current resources.
However, if Kruse wanted to look beyond the police chief in search of someone else to blame for a management decision, then picking the 2020 Seattle City Council seems like an odd choice. The Council’s 2021 budget trimmed just 17% of SPD’s budget following promises to slash funding by 50%, and the same Mayor who Kruse invoked to predict the ensuing public safety crisis signed it into law. Rather than dismantling the institution, those "cuts" amounted to the City moving parking enforcement and 911 call operators out of the department's purview, and also recapturing unspent money for vacant positions SPD failed to fill that year.
Kruse might have an easier time blaming the 2016 iteration of the City Council. Back then, SPD blamed a failing Sexual Assault/Child Abuse unit on “staffing issues,” too. Despite a law-and-order majority led by then-Council President Harrell, the Council clearly did little to solve the problem. And here in present-day Seattle, Mayor Harrell and SPD leadership have not seemed to struggle in finding officers to focus on their public safety priorities, such as Operation New Day’s hot-spot policing.
Given that context, it is, in fact, good media practice to hold the cops and the chief executive to whom they report responsible for how they allocate their existing resources. As Kruse correctly summarizes from the Times’ reporting, “The police department is prioritizing the wrong things, like homeless encampment removal and property crime ahead of crimes like rape.”
Meanwhile, voices of Republicans who warned about all of this are completely absent from the article. Go ahead, convince me the press isn't irreparably broken. I'll wait. pic.twitter.com/YjaEleHI4E— Brandi Kruse (@BrandiKruse) June 6, 2022
And finally, we arrive at the unhinged portion of Kruse's rant, where she concludes that the Seattle Times did a bad journalism by not handing the mic to Republicans to say, "I told you so." Of course, that point relies on the belief that SPD's labor shortage forced management to specifically de-prioritize sexual assault investigations. As we've seen, that argument is questionable at best and disingenuous at worst.
This rhetorical move, where a commenter asserts her own assumption as a proven fact and then demands that "objective journalists" report it as such, is common on the authoritarian right, and Kruse executes it better than most. Personally, I find this example of that move particularly damaging because it dismantles a potential pro-accountability coalition before it can even think about springing into being.
Democrats, Republicans, and the unaffiliated are rightly upset that they feel less safe than they did even a few years ago. A rational response to that feeling would be to look to the cops and ask for a better return on the hundreds of millions of dollars the City invests in the department.
But Kruse’s rhetorical move here redirects that outrage from the cops to politicians who actually advocate for the investments that would better support survivors of sexual violence. State Senator Manka Dhingra, for example, earned Kruse's ire for voting in favor of police accountability legislation while also holding the police accountable for failing rape victims. In Kruse's view, those votes constitute an insult to law enforcement of the kind that played a part in driving them out of their jobs, which undermines the credibility of Dhingra's commitment to survivors. In reality, the two positions Dhingra holds reflect a consistent demand for police to deliver better results on public safety, which should be common sense for tax-sensitive moderates.
Misrepresenting the goals and policy positions of the defund movement, as Kruse does here and elsewhere, undermines support for that common-sense policy by creating the impression that reform advocates simply don't like cops. On the contrary, many defund advocates hoped to reduce the amount of time cops spent dealing with low-level crimes by shifting resources out of the police department to invest in programs that address the root causes of crime. That move would free up the police to spend their remaining resources on solving violent crimes like the sexual assaults SPD de-prioritized due to resources constraints.
If copagandists were truly concerned with public safety, they’d be calling for new leadership at SPD who would allow the virtuous rank-and-file to do the work they claim would reduce crime. But they’re not. What they’re doing instead is misdirecting the public’s outrage at a very real failure of government toward the one policy “solution” that will pad the budget of their sources in law enforcement.
And that’s dangerous, because any threat of violence is a serious problem that we should be trying to solve – but we won’t make any progress if we treat the police themselves as the one government institution immune to public scrutiny.