Responsibly Moving Forward with the North Precinct

Over the past several months, the Gender Equity, Safe Communities & New Americans committee (GESCNA) has had multiple public hearings regarding the design, operations and cost of a new police precinct that would serve all of North Seattle (Council Districts 4, 5 and 6).  The current Seattle Police Department’s North Precinct serves approximately forty percent of the City of Seattle’s population.

In 1998, the North Precinct was identified in the Seattle Police Department Long-Range Facilities Plan, which noted 18 years ago that the existing facility was already overcrowded by thirty percent.  Today, the North Precinct houses 254 staff or sixty-five percent over its designed capacity.

From 1998 through today, the City of Seattle has worked to develop and advance this capital project to meet the public safety needs of North Seattle.

Prior to my election, the City Council took approximately a dozen budget-related actions on this project.  As a new councilmember, early on I expressed concerns about the $160 million price tag approved in the 2016-2021 Capital Improvement Project budget.  While I believe that the City must construct a new North Precinct to meet existing and long-term operational needs, the City must find ways to minimize costs in the context of a homeless state of emergency, affordability crises and legitimate concerns of police reform.

As a result of additional City Council scrutiny, the total estimated project cost was reduced by an additional $11 million to $149 million.  While this is an improvement, more must be done to ensure that all cost savings have been found.

I have also heard concerns from community members who are a part of Black Lives Matter and #BlockTheBunker. As a former civil rights lawyer, who has sued the Seattle Police Department for bias policing and excessive force, I understand that for some this capital project represents social inequities within our policing and criminal justice systems that disproportionately impact communities of color.

In this overall context and in order to provide clear policy direction to the Department of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS), I co-sponsored Resolution 31698 with Councilmembers Tim Burgess (Position 8, Citywide) and Debora Juarez (District 5).  This resolution was passed on August 15, 2016, with a 7-1 vote.

My resolution does not endorse a specific budget number for the North Precinct because I believe it is more appropriate to have that conversation in the context of the City’s ordinary budget process and after more robust engagement of the north Seattle community.  Instead, my resolution directs FAS to, over the next several months, do the following:

  1. Complete a Racial Equity Toolkit Analysis. FAS must apply the City’s Racial Equity Toolkit (RET) to the facility’s operations, including potential use and programming of the publically accessible areas in and outside of the facility.  This will include meaningful outreach to north Seattle communities of color, including those disproportionately impacted by bias policing.
  1. Hire an Independent Third-Party Cost Estimator. FAS must retain an independent third-party cost estimator, whose responsibility will be to provide an independent evaluation of estimated construction costs with an eye towards finding additional cost savings.

I believe that my resolution provides much needed fiscal oversight over this significant capital project that will provide an additional opportunity to find further cost savings. My resolution also directs FAS to structure meaningful conversations with north Seattle residents about the proposed facility.

I agree that the SPD must be transformed in a manner that does not perpetuate systematic injustice. As a community, we should not have to choose between being protected from real criminal activity and constitutional, bias-free policing. That’s a false choice. We can have both public safety and law enforcement that is well trained to deescalate rather than shoot-first and ask questions later.  That is the challenge that remains and we must continue to work on reform via police accountability legislation that will be considered in my committee before the end of this year.

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