In the past year, the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) failed to establish a workgroup to study ways to help people affected by police violence, as directed by the City Council. The lack of follow-through frustrated those who say the City doesn’t do enough for victims of police violence. The Mayor’s office has now stepped in, taken the program from the OPA, and handed it off to the federal monitor of the consent decree to review, which created yet another delay, says Castill Hightower, whose brother was shot and killed by Seattle police in 2004.

People struggle after police kill their family member or loved one, Hightower says. They may have difficulty getting to view the body and retrieving it for burial. Often they don’t qualify for  victims compensation funds and support programs available to other people after the murder of a family member.

Maria Giron, whose 23-year-old son, Oscar Perez Giron, was killed in 2014 by King County Sheriff Deputy Malcolm Elliot, says back then she worked two jobs and spoke very little English. She struggled to understand what was happening, and yet no one made interpreters available to her. She borrowed more than $10,000 to transfer her son’s body back to Mexico for burial, and to secure a Spanish-speaking attorney to represent her son at the King County inquest. (In 2017 King County made a change to its inquest process and now provides families with an attorney.) More recently, the family of Jaahnavi Kandula–who Seattle Police Officer Kevin Dave struck and killed as she walked in a crosswalk–had to turn to crowdfunding and community groups to help with the costs associated with her death and transporting her body back to India.

But families shouldn’t have to rely on public outcry and notoriety to get help after an officer hurts or kills someone, says Hightower, who helped write the legislation for the workgroup. She based the idea for the program in part on an Affected Person’s Program (APP) out of Ontario, Canada. The Seattle APP would start by offering services to the families of people cops kill as well as to people who cops seriously injure, either through use of force or in an act of domestic or sexual violence. Similar to a victim services program, the APP could provide these people with both emotional and practical services, whether that’s arranging language interpretation services or helping someone find a trusted attorney to advocate for them. 

Hightower says she wanted victims of police violence to lead the workgroup, since they’re best equipped to say which resources might have helped them. But after the legislation passed Hightower felt sidelined, first by the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) as it failed to stand up the workgroup, and then by the Mayor’s office when it took over and asked for the federal monitor’s thoughts. Hightower never wanted to involve the federal monitor, who some view as cozy with the Seattle Police Department.

In light of the growing mistrust felt by both Hightower and some of the other affected people meant to be part of the work group, Council Member Teresa Mosqueda says that, with the Mayor’s support, she’s proposed a budget amendment to fund the workgroup through 2024 and hand off the project to the City’s Human Services Department (HSD). 

The amendment asks HSD to contract with a community organization to coordinate the workgroup, and it also asks the department to let victims of police violence and their immediate family members take lead on making recommendations for a Seattle version of the program. After a year of setbacks, Hightower says she’ll remain skeptical of the plan until after the budget passes with the APP workgroup intact. The Mayor’s office still plans to get the federal monitor’s perspective on the program, said Jamie Housen, spokesperson for the Mayor.