With King County Charter Amendments 5 and 6 passing by double-digits, voters are practically screaming for the County Executive and the County Council to enact meaningful police reforms.
In case you completely blocked out the last election, and really who could blame you, those amendments imbued the exec and the council with the power to appoint the Sheriff and to change around the duties of the Sheriff's Office, as they had done in the days of yore. While the council supported an amendment to allow Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht to finish out her term before starting to look around for someone else, King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay said he plans to get a jump on the process of reshaping the Sheriff's Office as early as this December.
Though he has yet to pick a specific day, in an interview on Tuesday Zahilay said he will call a special meeting of the Law and Justice Committee, which he chairs, to launch the first round of conversations on the issue.
Zahilay said he wants "an extensive and thorough community engagement process" to determine what the future of public safety will look like in the county.
To that end, in the upcoming meeting and in others he wants to hear from people who've been "most harmed" and who will be "most impacted" by any changes to the Sheriff department's duties, especially residents of the county's unincorporated areas, youth "who have been marching in the streets for change," people who rely heavily on public transportation, and organizations who advocate alongside those groups.
Reports on various policing issues Zahilay requested in the 2021-22 budget will inform these conversations along the way, and this engagement will continue, he said, "until we have robust feedback from the community." Ultimately, he expects to produce a proposal by next year.
"A lot of the groundwork is already there," he added. "What we’ve been hearing is people want alternatives to sending armed officers on every call, and they also want community solutions to public safety."
During the December meeting, Zahilay anticipates reviewing a new report from central staff about 911 calls. "Preliminary results show us that about 99% of calls relate to things that are nonviolent, and only something like 1.4% of calls lead to arrest," he said, stressing the preliminary nature of that data. "So we definitely will use that information to show us where we need more investments, and how we create this diverse toolkit of options for the future of public safety."
Once that staff research actually emerges, it sounds like it will largely track with last summer's data from the Seattle Police Department, which showed that 90% of the crimes officers respond to are nonviolent.
Last summer I asked Zahilay what he'd learned from the Seattle City Council's initial attempts to reform the department. "Change is going to be messy," he said. "This is an extremely complex change to make. We’re talking about large institutions woven into the fabric of our society, and we’re trying to make fundamental changes to them, it’s never going to be clean."
"And we really have to engage as many people as possible," he added, "Especially diverse stakeholders within the Black community. We have to make sure when we say Black Lives Matter that we’re talking to as many Black people who’ve been impacted by our criminal legal systems as possible."