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caption: Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, along with Police Chief Carmen Best, announce their proposal to reorganize the police department, reducing its size and funding, July 13, 2020.
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Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, along with Police Chief Carmen Best, announce their proposal to reorganize the police department, reducing its size and funding, July 13, 2020.
Credit: Seattle Channel

Seattle Mayor on federal law enforcement in Portland and eviction restrictions

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on the protests in Portland, federal law enforcement in U.S. cities, and the police department budget.

This is an edited transcript of Ross Reynolds' interview with Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on Thursday, July 23, 2020.

The new National Hockey League team is going to be called the Kraken -- a mythical predatory mollusk, like a squid, or octopus. Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Release the Kraken. I love it.

Even though it's an Atlantic Ocean mythical beast?

Oh, it started right in the Pacific. The Atlantic always tries to take credit, but if you had a mythical sea monster, it would be right here in Seattle. I think the name is great. I think the maritime routes are great. I think the logo is -- the S is for Seattle and Stanley Cup, the red eyes is fierce. So I think it's a great name.

Okay, we'll see what other people think.

I think there's gonna be a big run on Kraken rum today in Seattle.

Governor Inslee is holding a press conference at 2:30 (ed. note: Inslee announced new restrictions). Do you know anything you can tell us about what he might say regarding COVID-19 restrictions?

I think the governor is still assessing, but we are not in a good place in the state, the county or the city. Our numbers are climbing at a pretty alarming rate. We are back to where we were at the end of March, in terms of daily cases and number of infections.

Most of this has been young people driving the level of infections, but what we've seen in other states like Florida, is within two weeks it's going to be moving to older populations, vulnerable populations, and be a real health stress on our city and our hospitals. So, Governor's concerned, I'm concerned. And we're looking at a range of restrictions we could do without shutting down businesses.

We know that workers need to work and businesses need, what income they can have. But we're not in a good spot. And I urge everybody who's listening to this: people let their guard down. I know even I have in some regards.

We really -- mask, mask, mask when you're out, regardless of whether you think you're going to come in six feet of somebody. Wash your hands regularly. Make sure you keep six feet from people. Covid is a real threat. And we see it now spreading throughout our community at a rate that we had not detected before. And so I can't stress enough what a precarious position we're in in the city of Seattle.

President Trump has sent federal law enforcement officials to Portland, where they've been arresting protesters. Now he's dispatching law enforcement officials to Chicago and Buffalo, ostensibly to help with a rash of violent crime. You've written to the US Attorney General that deployment of federal forces in our streets is not requested nor acceptable. Do you know of any plan to send federal law enforcement here?

I do not at this point, but the President's been threatening it for weeks now.

Originally, Pete Holmes and I sent a letter because the President indicated he was going to send federal forces in, indicating military. That of course would be illegal. And we indicated we'd seek legal restraint if he did so. He then changed it to federal forces, stating very publicly, and then we saw that he actually did it in Portland. And I think we are seeing what a disaster that kind of federal overreach is.

I was the former US Attorney, which was the chief federal law enforcement officer for Western Washington for five years. I understand and appreciate the importance between federal law enforcement and local law enforcement. Federal law enforcement should not be doing what they're doing. And we see night after night after night, why and how it doesn't work. And I think every American should be worried about that kind of overreach in our cities just months before an election.

The economic collapses got people looking really closely at their budgets and one concern for renters, of course, is eviction. There are some protections in place. When do they expire and looking to the horizon, what can Seattle do to prevent more homelessness because of evictions?

As August 1 approaches, I am so mindful that people's rent is coming due. And it's combined with the fact that under the federal unemployment rules, the Covid premium that people were receiving expires and will not be in their unemployment check starting in August -- which is going to cause a huge amount of problems for so many people in Seattle and other cities.

As mayor, we will be extending the prohibition against evictions, and I intend to extend it through at least the end of the year. We know we're going to be in Covid at least through this year and probably into next year.

We can't afford for people to lose their homes. That's why we will continue to make sure that nobody's power gets cut off, they will have their electricity, their water, they will have a place to live. We will work as hard as we can with the governor and the state to make sure that we try to keep landlords hold, because we know many of those landlords themselves have to pay their mortgages and it's often families who own small rental houses or old buildings, the most affordable in Seattle.

So I've talked to the governor about that. He's looking to see what he can do with the state level on evictions and relief for both renters and landlords. And we're going to continue to work for helping with rental assistance. We launched the program about two months ago now. A number of people are utilizing it.

I've been making calls to see if we can get additional contributions from philanthropy and others to make sure -- King County United Way -- can continue to really help people through this crisis.

So there will be no evictions in Seattle before the end of the year.

That's right. I, of course have to issue the order, and the council will have to approve it. But it is my intent to do so. We're just checking some final things with the city attorney's office and and waiting to see if the governor acts because we want to be in alignment with whatever the governor does.

Do you have any concerns that small landlords themselves may be facing economic issues?

I've talked to the governor about that on what tools we have to help those small landlords who do have those challenges.

I've talked to All In Washington and All In Seattle and some of the philanthropy and private enterprises that we don't just have rental relief, we have mortgage relief. Because this is a tough time for everybody right now. Whether someone happens to be a renter, or whether someone happened to be able to buy their house or they have a house they're renting to others.

Our economy is suffering, is going to be suffering for a long time, and we've got to do everything we can to help people stay in their homes and to help small businesses.

Your lawsuit to stop a city council ordinance banning crowd control measures -- like tear gas -- was dismissed by a federal judge yesterday, what happens next?

We actually did not bring a lawsuit. What happened was the city put a notice into Judge Robart to indicate where the different parts of city were.

Chief Best had indicated because of the the law that was passed by the ordinance, the Department of Justice had notified the city that they believe that the requirements under the city ordinance conflicted with our obligations under the consent decree. So we wanted the judge to clarify that. The judge did clarify that we can move forward.

We're having the city attorney give the department -- the Chief is talking to the department, to see how we implement that.

Are tear gas and flashbang grenades -- the methods the city council seeks to ban -- are their less lethal alternatives to crowd control than that?

The tear gas is not in question. The Chief and I have made very clear that that should not be implemented in Seattle. Flashbangs were were one of the munitions, but the new law also prohibits the use of pepper spray. It bans a whole range of things.

And so the Chief right now is working to assess with the city attorney how to implement that, as it does conflict with some of the procedures and policies that the court approved. There's a thing called the continuum of force: you start with de-escalation, hoping you never have to use force. Then you go through each of the options to try to make sure that you never get to lethal force. And so the department and the chief are assessing right now with the tools that the city council has now prohibited the department from using, what they will do in a crowd control situation.

Is this subject to negotiation with a union? I asked you this a few weeks ago, you said you were going to check with the city attorney on it. Does this have to be negotiated with the Seattle Police Officers Guild?

I think the police officers guild has taken the position that it does have to be negotiated. But we have not heard that formally from them.

Do you take that position? Or do you oppose that position?

I think until they bring a formal position, we're not in a position to say whether it is or not. And I'm not trying to be cute, but I think there's a whole range of things that at anytime that various unions might say, and so we're waiting to see what position they take formally.

We're going to be back at the bargaining table. As you know, we were bargaining both with the Seattle Police Management which is the captains lieutenants, and with the Police Officers Guild, but because of the pandemic, we haven't been able to have bargaining. We're going to see if we can find some way to do that remotely. Because we think it's important to get there. We've been talking to community about those things they think need to be included in this round of bargaining.

The Seattle City Council wants much deeper cuts to the Seattle Police Department budget. You don't agree. How will this budget question be settled?

I think the city council now is reviewing the budget. Yesterday, the Chief sent to the council her response to Decriminalize Seattle's proposals on what they could cut. Many of the things can't be cut. Other things will have a dramatic impact on the ability to provide police services.

I think a number of council members have now articulated they realize that this may have to be done over time. And is not as simple as just saying let's do 50% and work from there. The chief made it clear and I support her, that we must make sure that we can provide public safety in every part of the city. But at the same time, I am completely committed as is the Chief, to reimagining what policing looks like.

We want to have a city where when someone calls 911, they get the help they need. And sometimes you need a police officer and you need them right now. But other times you need a different kind of help. And so we have to really be thinking about how do we have the resources to get that different kind of help. We don't have that in place right now. You need a 24/7 capability in every part of the city to get the kind of help people need within 6 minutes. And that's going to be quite an undertaking to develop and for each part of the community to know what kind of help they'll need, whether it's domestic violence advisors or deconfliction people or social worker or mental health worker, sometimes you need that and a police officer.

So it's gonna be a complicated process to see how do we build that kind of response? What's really needed is gonna be different in different parts of the city. And it's got to be available 24/7 to people when they need it, because the worst thing that could happen is if we set up a system, someone dials 911, and they can't get the help they need

Deconfliction official. Is that a thing?

It could become a thing.

Adam in Capitol Hill: Who gave the order for the Seattle Police Department to abandon the East precinct? According to the reporting I've been able to read on the matter, it does not appear to have been ordered by you or by Chief Carmen Best. Who gave the order?

It was the field command supervisor who was on site that day. And I think I said this a couple weeks ago, when I talked -- the day was a pretty fluid event. They determined that the precinct could be at risk. And so they were removing all of the confidential and others sensitive information, weapons, and the like from the precinct.

They put up fencing, they were going to douse the precinct with some foam so it wouldn't be flammable. When they got there, they realized that the fire prevention could not be applied, and the fencing could not be placed on the perimeter but had to be attached to the building. The police commander on site made the determination that it would not be safe to leave people in the building.

It was never intended to be abandoned. He made the safety decision that they would take people out of the building but have them stationed nearby. As events unfolded, they then were not able to get back into the building as soon as they would have liked, but there was no order to abandon it. The field commander at the time made the decision that people could not safely remain in the building. He had them station nearby. And then with unfolding events they were not able to return to the precinct as quickly as they wanted to

Carol in Queen Anne: I would appreciate an explanation as to why no arrests were made last night. Atleast according to the media, it said police were present when the vandalism occurred, the breaking of windows, etc. But no arrests were made. Why not? I support the right to protest 100%. But you can't let people vandalize.

I think the caller raises a really good point that there is a distinction between lawfully protesting and committing property damage. And we saw last Sunday that there was protests in Seattle against ICE that was conducted for a long period of time, and was a righteous cause. People should have been in the streets protesting what ICE is doing, we support them in that. Then a very different group of people came and literally with bags of baseball bats, as reported, and went about breaking windows, starting fires downtown and on Capitol Hill. That is criminal activity.

The police department is investigating. I anticipate there will be arrests for that for Sunday and for last night. I would have to ask the chief as to what decisions and what ability there were to make arrests last night and whether police actually were present and had the ability to arrest people while they were conducting the acts.

I don't always rely on the media. Sometimes it's not 100% accurate because it's very fluid events. I know the Chief is absolutely committed to making sure that we do protect the public safety and that when people are committing those acts that we arrest them and hold them accountable.

Leslie in Wallingford: I watched your press conference last week with Chief Best and you really criticized the city council. It sounds like you have moved away from that. I've watched the city council, they're very thoughtful in their analysis and they're working very hard. How do you propose to continue to make that a union that works together? We need both branches of our government working together.

I think we are best when we work collaboratively. And I think the criticism that you heard was that we had 7 of the 9 council members announce, without ever talking to myself or the Chief, or looking at the police budget, that they were going to cut 50 percent. And I still object that we would simply pick a number out of the air and we're going to cut for that.

I think what we have to do is: what do we need police to do? And build the budget for that. And what are things we need other people to do? And how do we create the ability to do that and have the resources to do it. So it was very unclear when they first announced it, many said they thought it should be 50% of the overall budget, which literally would have meant no police for the rest of the year, because we were halfway through the year.

They now have clarified they mean 50% between now and the end of the year. And I still believe that based on what we've said is, we cannot cut 50% this year without severely undermining our ability to provide public safety and police services. And if we end up having to fire a bunch of officers, the first ones we're going to have to fire or layoff are going to be the ones most recently hired, which are predominantly are officers of color and people who are bilingual. So I'm hoping that they do take a more thoughtful approach and not simply try to work to a number.

Elizabeth in Seattle: I teach for Seattle Public Schools. And my question for Mayor Durkan would be given that the superintendent has just announced that Seattle public schools is going 100% remote. And seeing the PTSA statement that parents are concerned about childcare, as they should be, I'm curious if this wouldn't be a good time, an opportune time for Seattle to reallocate some of those dollars that go to the police to these specific kinds of services that would fill the gap that we're facing in this really scary time.

We faced this last year and I have three concerns about the fact that schools, in-person has been cancelled.

Number one, it is very clear that no school district in the nation did a good job of going online for those kids who already were at a disadvantage. And in Seattle, we have one of the largest opportunity gaps between students of color, and white students. And we have to make sure that not only does every family have access to the internet, and a device that can connect to the internet, but they've got the help, support and mentoring they need so that they can do that successfully.

Number two, a huge number of our students rely on free and reduced lunch. And we have to make sure that we continue to provide that nutrition and that meal to those kids and their families.

And the third is childcare. Many essential workers count on their kids being in school. And if their kids aren't in school, and they don't have childcare, they could miss their jobs. And so we're working right now at the city to stand up again, emergency childcare, but we're going to need the Seattle Public Schools to step in that breach to a greater extent than they were able to last school year.

We know it's a strain on teachers. I want to thank your caller who's a teacher. Teachers are underpaid for the great, great work they do for every family in Seattle. But we're all going to have to pull together and and make sure that we have ability to go forward.

We'll look forward to our conversation with you next week.

Thanks very much. Everyone take care and please, please, please wash your hands, masks, six feet. The pandemic is here and it's here for a while.