Leschi’s Long Hot Summer

One hardly knows where and what to start discussing with all that is going on, but of course I do have opinions and that is what the editorial is all about.

Defunding the Police: I understand that the police are asked to do many things that are not actually what we consider public safety issues and very definitely they don’t receive enough training to be stepping into situations that call for Crisis Intervention. There are many people who would be alive today if experienced professionals had intervened in cases like Charleena Lyles. Newspaper reports indicate she was a small woman and was dealing with two armed police officers. News reports also say she had a knife but did not describe the knife; there are many knives in most kitchens from paring knives to butcher knives. As we know, the pregnant Charleena was shot and killed in front of her four children who are now damaged for life.

When I was the oldest student at the School of Social Work, we had an assignment in Nancy Amidei’s class to work on some issue and present our solutions to appropriate authorities. I was working with a middle-aged man and a younger man whose brother had a mental health diagnosis; the family was in constant fear that if he had an episode in public, he would be a victim of the police. This was an issue that had recently appeared in the newspaper where a man with mental health issues was shot in his grandparents’ back yard on Yesler. We did a lot of research, especially with the new crisis intervention team in Los Angeles. The City was trying to avoid this type of killing and were experimenting with a new team trained to intervene in situations where mental illness was a factor. The initial results were good, but they needed to expand the team as these calls came in over the entire 24-hour period 7 days a week and the newly formed team could not handle all the cases. We arranged a meeting with then City Councilwoman Jane Noland and a police liaison officer, Clark Kimmerer. They were interested in our report and took both the report and the statistics to the Mayor and City Council. The result was the formation of a Crisis Intervention team here, but just as in LA, this one team could not always be available and for some reason, steps to increase the team weren’t taken. The three of us students moved on to other classes and eventually graduation and we did not pursue it unfortunately. Soon I was working and dealing with my own cases and we were raising a grandchild at that point, so I was not paying attention either…. until now.

I feel that starting out by defunding the police is not the way to tackle this; instead, develop a plan of what you want to see first so the money is transferred into a more appropriate service. Just cutting it out of the police budget may mean it drops into that black hole where no one can find it, or it is used for a pet mayoral project.

We also know that the public wants the police to step out of the homeless sweeps and leave this to social workers but provide resources. Homeless individuals seem to do better in the tiny house villages than shelters, which do seem dangerous in this pandemic. It may not be necessary to lay off large numbers of police; some might want to transfer into the Crisis Team, and we know that some officers have graduated from the School of Social Work and have some of the necessary skills. These folks are generally used in public relations jobs for the police.

One of my favorite reporters and a watchdog of the City Council and Mayor’s office is Maria Tomchick. She said that the police department has successfully lobbied for increased funds due to increased population and while we have grown, the numbers are very different. The population is one third larger during this same period and the police budget is 3 times larger! Maria can be heard on Saturdays at 1pm on KODX FM; it can be streamed. KODX is a low-powered station that has picked up the interesting programs that used to be broadcast on KEXP as Mind over Matters.

So, I would say to the City Council, take your time and use your listening skills to determine what the ideal police force would look like and what auxiliary services are needed to absorb some of the services. The “defunding” will take care of itself once the auxiliary services are fully funded. And I would say to the public, put your creative caps on and forward your ideas to your District Council representative.

~Diane Snell

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