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City View Newsletter

Volume 2, Issue 16 • April 21, 2009
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Continuing incidents of youth violence, and the impact on city services of the economic crisis, have made the past few weeks a bit like an emotional roller coaster. Here’s my perspective on a few of these and other issues.

You can manage your FREE subscription to my E-Newsletter by clicking on the link at the end of this page. You can also continue the conversation with me at my personal blog site at www.timburgess.com. Please join the conversation.


Stopping Youth Violence

Last week I sat down with four young people in a medical school classroom at the University of Washington for a discussion about youth violence, a pressing and continuing challenge in our city. Just before our meeting, the room had been used for a class on cardiology, apropos for a discussion about the heartbreaking reality of street violence involving our children.

Each of the young "reporters" —three men and one woman— described their own histories with violence. Listening for about 90 minutes to these good people was extremely informative. They chose to be vulnerable and their comments were raw, tragic, and piercing; I’d like to share a few of the more poignant comments from my notes. I’ve blended statements from all four of the youth to provide a sense of the breadth and impact of their personal experiences.

". . . the seeds of violence were planted at home; that’s where I learned to fight . . . I’ve never considered myself a violent person, but I kept getting into fights . . . my grandpa would pick me up after a fight and rather than steer me in a good direction would ask ‘who won?’ . . . teachers need to look past my angry words and try to understand what’s motivating those words . . . we just want people who can see our positive strengths and have empathy . . . I remember being very angry when I was about five years old . . . I started carrying guns and selling drugs . . . the first time I held a gun it made me feel powerful, cool . . . I sold drugs to get money so I could buy better things, we didn’t have much . . . my friend was killed in a car accident and I started to think about changing my life . . . I grew up in the suburbs way south of Seattle, my father was an engineer who was doing drugs, then selling drugs . . . I was called a nigger all the time by people who hated me . . . I was fighting with people frequently, I was very angry . . . I sold drugs and did very bad things trying to gain respect . . . in the University District I experienced two worlds, all these university kids coming and going and another world of drugs, sex, violence . . . I wasn’t a bad person but I thought ‘you get justice on your own or you don’t get it at all’ . . . I realized there was a lot of unnecessary drama in my life, then somebody asked my opinion and really listened to me and I thought that I should make some different choices . . . now I work with other kids who are just looking for respect and love."

The common experiences among these four young people are striking: violence in the home, absent or uninvolved fathers, poverty, discrimination, a yearning for acceptance and love, and a deep need to belong.

The vulnerability of these young people reinforces my conviction that solving youth violence requires a continuum of actions by police officers, social workers and counselors, teachers, clergy, and family and friends. Progress will be achieved on neighborhood sidewalks not in the offices of City Hall.

I also believe city leaders need to speak frankly about the problem and help bring people together to find solutions. I first spoke about youth-on-youth violence—much of it tied to gangs—in January 2008 when a teenager was shot to death at the edge of my Queen Anne neighborhood; four others were killed before the year ended. I will continue to speak out on this issue and provide whatever leadership I can. Good people across Seattle need to do the same.

A Seattle Public Schools teacher who is having a positive impact on kids writes a blog called "Dear Mrs. Z." Read her post which expresses a view very similar to what the four young people told me in our conversation at the UW.

Tim at press conference introducing new Middle School officers
Specially trained police officers have been assigned to five city middle schools, a key component of the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative. I spoke at a news conference introducing the officers along with Mayor Greg Nickels.

Today, the Council’s Public Safety, Human Services, and Education Committee will vote on the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative. The Mayor’s Initiative invests nearly $8 million over the next two years in an array of specialized services—street outreach, counseling, mentoring, anger management, education, job training—aimed at approximately 800 young people who are now involved in the juvenile justice system, are likely to become involved, or are frequently suspended from middle school for violent behavior. Most important, the Initiative recognizes that one of the most effective ways to prevent violence is for community members to engage directly with at-risk youth—listen to, and respect and love, them.

You can learn more about the Initiative here.

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Budget Adjustments and Priorities

The Mayor announced his mid-year budget adjustments last Friday. Fortunately, Seattle city government is in better shape than King County or the state of Washington. The Mayor is seeking the Council’s input on the cutbacks, but he can restrict spending without gaining any formal approval from the Council.

I was especially careful to work with the Mayor and his staff to ensure that public safety and direct human services funding was not reduced. In my view, these are crucial areas of service for the city and cutting back would only cause other problems.

I will continue to advocate hiring new police officers until we reach the threshold necessary to fully implement the Neighborhood Policing Plan. And our most essential human services programs must continue—emergency food, homeless shelters and housing, community health clinics, and domestic violence prevention.

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Safer Streets Initiative Update

We’ve made great progress on the Safer Streets Initiative I introduced last summer. Six of the 12 strategies have been funded or fully implemented. Yesterday, the Council was briefed on the city’s application for federal funding of a beefed-up anti-graffiti enforcement effort. I was pleased to hear this since strategy #7 in the Initiative calls for just such an effort.

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New City Jail: Is it Needed?

Council President Conlin and I will send a letter later this week to the King County Executive and Council requesting a multi-year extension of the jail services contract. New arrest and booking trends suggest that a new jail for city misdemeanor arrestees might not be necessary—although the figures are not conclusive. Mayor Nickels’ staff has discussed the possibility of extending the contract but thus far a satisfactory resolution with the county has not been reached.

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New Police Chief Criteria

Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske is likely just a week or two away from being confirmed by the U. S. Senate as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Upon his departure from Seattle, Mayor Nickels will begin the search for a new police chief, a position requiring City Council confirmation. (Read my earlier blog posting.)

Here’s my preliminary criteria—listed in no particular order—for a permanent Chief based on my experience as a police officer and detective, my 12-year stint on the city’s Ethics and Elections Commission, and my perspective from the Council.

  • Open to innovation and willing to challenge the status quo.
    Policing strategy and philosophy evolves over time. The new police chief should be someone who embraces this evolution.
  • Fact-driven.
    Effective police departments are deeply involved in the community and pursue evidence-based crime fighting solutions. The current literature in criminology and public policy is packed with evidence of effective crime deterrence and prevention strategies. The new police chief should be aware of this evidence and be a champion of evidence-based policing.
  • Strong leadership on integrity, transparency, and accountability.
    Police officers are our protectors. To provide that service, we give them tremendous power, including the ability to use deadly force if absolutely necessary. Our police officers work for us, and we compensate them well with a very attractive package of salary and benefits. In exchange, we set a very high bar for professional conduct at all times, in every situation. The police chief is the most important leader in setting expectations for officer conduct.
  • Committed to community, problem-solving policing and full implementation of the Neighborhood Policing Plan.
    Modern policing is rooted in the belief that neighborhood residents are best able to identify problems and enlist the police as partners in finding solutions. This understanding positions the police officer as the problem-solving facilitator in the neighborhood, using a team approach that is very effective in creating safer and cleaner neighborhoods. The Neighborhood Policing Plan will give officers time—as much as 30% of their work shift—to focus on problem-solving efforts. The Plan will also deploy officers where and when they are most needed to respond to 911 calls for assistance and deal with crime "hot spots." The new police chief will be the first to implement the Neighborhood Policing Plan in full and must be strongly committed to community policing.
  • Committed to and supportive of "broken window" police strategies.
    This theory of policing holds that if attention is paid to minor offenses and social disorder, greater harm from more serious crime can be avoided. I’m a strong proponent of the "broken windows" theory of policing. I’ve seen the impact of this style of policing in New York City and elsewhere, including right here in Seattle. The new police chief should also be a proponent of this philosophy of policing.
  • Sensitive and responsive to all communities, especially those where conflict with the police has been a historic challenge, and embracing of diversity.
    All citizens and residents of Seattle deserve professional and fair police services regardless of where they live, the color of their skin, their economic or educational status, their sexual orientation, or any other factor. The new police chief needs to set the bar high. Join me online!

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Blog me at www.timburgess.com. Join the conversation. Share your opinions, thoughts, questions, and criticisms. All postings at my blog are moderated. We'll talk again soon.

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