Speaking to a packed city council chambers this afternoon, Mayor Ed Murray outlined a "Summer of Safety" plan to address what he called a "crisis of confidence in public safety" in Seattle. The public-safety-focused speech was unusual for a Seattle mayor; typically, the mayor appears formally in council chambers just two times a year, to deliver his state of the city speech and his budget proposal.
Murray outlined a 15-point plan focusing on police accountability and reform, youth violence-prevention efforts like job programs and expanded community-center hours, and a crackdown on gun violence in Seattle.
Among the more substantive items Murray outlined in his proposal, which the city estimates could cost around $500,000 a year (about half of that from existing sources):
• Wresting control of the Office of Professional Accountability, the office within SPD that investigates allegations of police misconduct, from SPD control by turning it into an independent organization with civilian oversight. The council would have to approve this proposal, which would represent a sea change in how complaints against SPD officers are handled.
• Hiring a liaison to Seattle's East African community and linking 20 female SPD officers with 20 young women in Seattle's immigrant and refugee community in an effort, in Murray's words, "to deepen ties between our police force and those communities."
• Developing a community safety plan for every neighborhood in Seattle, something the new police chief, Kathleen O'Toole, has already mentioned as a priority.
• Creating a "joint enforcement team" to deal with chronic nuisance properties and property owners (like hotels that allow drug dealing and prostitution) that "disrupt the quality of life in our neighborhoods."
• Expanding hours at community centers and increasing youth programming apt parks and libraries.
• Instituting a series of walks in Seattle neighborhoods (we're predicting seven, to correspond with the seven new city council districts) to identify elements of the built environment (graffiti-covered buildings, overgrown trees) that could help contribute to crime.
• Doubling the number of jobs for teenagers through a privately funded "Summer Jobs for Youth" initiative;
• Requiring an annual progress report from the mayor to the council that looks at how the city is doing on public safety.
• And convening a joint city-county gun violence prevention summit in the fall.
Murray, whose usual speaking style could be described charitably as "staid," became unusually emotional while talking about gun violence this afternoon, describing the problem as an "epidemic" that plagues every city in America.
Speaking about the murder of three young black men in Southeast Seattle two weeks ago—murders the media largely overlooked while frantically covering every aspect of the SPU mass shooting that same week—Murray said, "No one is hurt more by crime than the poorest. And in this city, as in most cities, we cannot talk about poverty without talking about race. In Seattle, 54 percent of African American children live in poverty, compared to 6 percent of white children.
"That is a moral failure that we all share, and that we all must confront."
Murray added, "The gut-wrenching truth is that I do not possess the simple solution that has evaded my predecessors and colleagues. Nor have I uncovered the undiscovered words of grace that will heal the families of those who have been harmed by gun violence. But these are not reasons to lose hope. Deaths by guns are not inevitable. We can prevent gun deaths by recognizing that it is an epidemic."
The city council appeared warm to Murray's proposals. In a statement shortly after the mayor's speech, city council public safety chair Bruce Harrell (who will participate, along with city attorney Pete Holmes, in Murray's first "Find It-Fix It" community walk in the Central District on July 2) said, "I would like to express my gratitude to the Mayor for prioritizing public safety and calling all departments to engage in addressing public safety. I believe our focus, commitment and collaborative partnerships will be much different than what this city has ever seen."
Tomorrow night, O'Toole will appear before a live audience in Southeast Seattle on Seattle Channel's "Ask the Mayor" program, where audience members will be able to address questions to the new police chief.