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City of Seattle
Ed Murray, Mayor

SUBJECT: New CAO liaisons heading to SPD precincts

1/25/2012  4:00:00 PM
Kimberly Mills  (206) 684-8602

Next month four assistant city attorneys will be deployed among Seattle’s five police precincts to augment the City’s response to emerging and increasingly complex neighborhood public safety and regulatory issues.

The precinct liaisons -- Melissa Chin (South/Southwest), Jana Jorgensen (North), Sumeer Singla (West) and Matt York (East) -- will provide critical legal services on the issues of high importance to their particular precincts. They also will be accountable for managing a number of regulatory provisions in a more effective and efficient manner because they will better understand the dynamics in the individual communities.

“It’s an opportune time to launch a completely reengineered Precinct Liaison Program 2.0,” said City Attorney Pete Holmes, “simultaneously bringing closer together SPD’s five precincts, the City Attorney’s Office and Seattle’s diverse communities to better address local problems and concerns. Relying on input from across Seattle government, we have retained what worked and rethought the challenges ahead. Our selection process was inclusive and yielded excellent candidates from whom we’ve selected some of our most promising attorneys. They represent a direct link to me and will be instrumental in helping Seattle to move forward during the work ahead with the Department of Justice.”

The original Precinct Liaison Program was created in 1995 to give direct and proactive legal advice to police officers and to act as a legal resource for public safety problem-solving efforts in the neighborhoods. The program has since fluctuated in size as grant funding has come and gone and city budgets have tightened. Last fall the City Council approved funding for four liaisons; all previously served under Holmes; Singla in the Civil Division and Chin, Jorgensen and York in the Criminal Division.

“Our officers and the neighborhoods they serve will benefit from consulting with the precinct liaisons on a raft of significant issues, ranging from medical marijuana to nightlife to constitutional questions,” Police Chief John Diaz noted.

“The enhanced precinct liaison program will help advance smart policing,” according to Councilmember Tim Burgess, who led the City Council effort to fund the program. “These attorneys, working closely with officers out in our neighborhoods, will bring fresh thinking and innovation to preventing crime and will use both criminal and civil law to hold offenders accountable. It’s all about making Seattle safer for everyone.”

The increased demands on precinct liaisons are varied and voluminous, Holmes said. Two of them -- nightlife regulations and liquor licenses -- relate specifically to the interplay between the entertainment industry and the neighborhoods, and Holmes’ reformed program has been endorsed by industry leaders.

With more than 2,000 liquor licenses in the City up for renewal each year and dozens of new license applications, a large part of the liaison attorneys’ time will be spent identifying and monitoring establishments with public safety concerns and helping formulate the City’s position when it files an objection with the Washington State Liquor Control Board. A precinct-based attorney will be able to identify potential problems earlier and attempt to work with the licensee to correct the problems before an objection is filed.

The precinct liaisons will also play a crucial role in the City’s comprehensive strategy to promote a vibrant nightlife and ensure public safety. Another component of that strategy is the proposal to allow for extended service hours. The liaison attorneys will be essential in monitoring compliance with rules and regulations and assisting SPD and other departments in responding proactively to possible problems before they occur.

Possibly the most topical issue for the City Attorney’s Office is the transition in the medical marijuana landscape brought about by changes in state and local laws. A new regulatory process gives the City’s Code Compliance Team (CCT) the responsibility for managing complaints and concerns. The precinct liaisons will work with City agencies and the community to ensure that medical marijuana activities comply with state and local laws. The City created this interdepartmental team initially to monitor code compliance of business and properties that could negatively impact public safety. The team is already responsible for nightlife, liquor licensing, street vending and nuisance issues. The precinct liaisons have traditionally played a large role on the team by providing legal advice to departments and helping to coordinate interventions and responses.

Other major responsibilities of the precinct liaisons will be:

  • Providing real-time proactive legal advice for each precinct, which will result in better decisions by officers and ultimately reduced liability for the city and better community relations. Experience has show that officers are more willing to ask for legal advice when there is an established relationship with the liaison attorney who is also very familiar with the issues in the precinct and the concerns of officers.
  • Helping neighborhoods rid themselves of chronic nuisance properties. Two years ago the City adopted an ordinance giving the police chief the authority to declare properties to be a chronic nuisance and, if corrective action is not taken, to initiate abatement proceedings. To this end, the City Attorney advises the chief, drafts documents and correction agreements and represents the City in court. Each precinct captain is responsible for monitoring and identifying potential nuisance properties and the liaison attorneys play a critical role in this process.
  • Protecting SPD resources by working closely with other City agencies to address neighborhood problems before they become SPD criminal problems.

“I am very excited about the opportunity to work closely with the police and the community,” said East Precinct Liaison Matt York, who graduated from Willamette University School of Law. “We all share the same goals of safe communities, protecting civil rights and creating an environment for local businesses to thrive. Having worked as a prosecutor for almost 10 years with King County and the City, I have witnessed that most disagreements are about how to accomplish these goals. I look forward to working with everyone in attempting to solve the problems of Seattle and helping to provide common ground.”

New as the North Precinct Liaison will be Jana Jorgensen, who said she looks “forward to opportunities to develop new relationships, improve old ones and work for a better Seattle.” Jorgensen, who graduated from California Western School of Law, added: “The position of precinct liaison provides a unique ability for the City Attorney’s Office to take a proactive role outside the courtroom for our community. I am excited to work side by side with SPD and other city agencies to collaborate on and address community concerns. As a North Precinct resident I am excited to represent its citizens, as their concerns are mine, and look forward to doing some good in the neighborhood.”

Melissa Chin, a Seattle University School of Law graduate, will split her time between the South and Southwest precincts. “I firmly believe that a community is only as strong as those who take part in bettering it,” Chin said. “As a native Seattleite, I have every bit of passion to see this city prosper. As a proud West Seattleite, I want to ensure the community is safe and enhance the quality of life for my neighbors and myself. During my time as a criminal prosecutor, I was focusing on addressing crimes in the present tense by tackling crime on a case-by-case basis. Hopefully, my work now will focus on addressing crime in the future tense, stopping crime before it occurs by proactively addressing community concerns and contemplating systematic changes.”

Assigned to the West Precinct is Sumeer Singla, a graduate of the University of Washington Law School. “As a long-time resident of Seattle, I am humbled to work as a Precinct Liaison in the West Precinct to help improve this City,” Singla said. “I look forward to tackling the challenges in the West Precinct, from nightlife and liquor regulation to nuisance and abatement issues. My previous experience as a criminal prosecutor, civil attorney and policy analyst will enable me to address these issues.”

New CAO liaisons heading to SPD precincts
New CAO liaisons heading to SPD precincts: (from left) Sumeer Singla, Jana Jorgensen, Melissa Chin, Matt York

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