Seattle Mayor Harrell hints at possible drug ordinance on KIRO Newsradio

Jul 14, 2023, 6:00 PM | Updated: 6:08 pm

mayor harrell drug ordinance...

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell (Photo from KIRO 7)

(Photo from KIRO 7)

After the Seattle City Council rejected an ordinance last month that would have given City Attorney Ann Davison the authority to prosecute people for public drug use or possession, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell teased plans of putting together a workgroup to come up with a solution to Seattle’s lack of a drug ordinance Friday during an interview on KIRO Newsradio’s “The Gee & Ursula Show.” He also claimed he would likely create an executive order.

“We put together a workgroup to get a good law and a good executive order that I’m going to issue likely next week out there,” Harrell told Ursula Reutin and guest host Andrew Lanier. “It will give us the opportunity to arrest when and where it makes sense. But we always lead with a compassionate approach. The vast majority of these people are just sick and I’m creating a health response in this ordinance.”

More on Seattle’s drug ordinance: Mayor, city council respond to failed drug possession ordinance with new plan

Harrell stated treatment providers will be a part of Seattle’s dual dispatch program — a plan that dispatches mental health providers alongside police officers to certain 911 calls — when it officially launches in October in order to diversify 911 response options.

More from Gee and Ursula: More than half of workers aren’t engaged on the job, Gallup reports

“I’m confident it will pass in the next couple of weeks,” Harrell said.

Makeshift tombstone discovered in SPD precinct

Body camera footage showed a Seattle Police Department (SPD) room with an area for bicycle repair and a separate area for informal gathering in the East Precinct adorned with a replica tombstone of a man, Damarius Butts, and the date when he was killed by Seattle police alongside a Trump 2020 flag and what appeared to be a BLM sign with a red or MAGA hat on it.

“This is completely unacceptable. I don’t know how else to say that,” Harrell said. “That reflects poorly upon the department that I’m trying to create a public-trusting relationship within the community. It reflected poor judgments and a lack of sensitivity from the officers involved. We are investigating to see who put it up. How long did it remain? Who saw it? And, quite frankly, why didn’t command staff or anyone else take the initiative to make sure it was removed?”

Damarius Butts’ mother, Ann Butts, has since asked for an apology from the police department.

“I can’t express how hurtful it was to learn that SPD endorsed joking about the killing of my son by displaying a fake tombstone with his name on it,” Ann Butts said through her attorney, La Rond Baker, according to multiple outlets, including the Seattle Times. “I didn’t think SPD could take more from me. I was wrong.”

More on the recently-discovered makeshift tombstone: Footage captured within Seattle Police precinct shows ‘appalling’ tombstone for Black man killed

Damarius Butts, 19, was killed while fleeing a robbery at a downtown convenience store on April 20, 2017. In 2022, a King County jury unanimously ruled that four Seattle police officers were “justified” in the shooting of Butts.

Earlier this year, the Department of Justice announced its consent decree against the SPD is set to end. The decree was established in 2012 after an investigation found there was a pattern of using excessive force within the department.

“There are informal culture leaders in the precinct,” Harrell added. “They may not be a captain or a sergeant or a lieutenant, they’re just those personalities that set cultural norms. That’s the work we’re doing right now. The culture change that is going to be governed by a federal lawsuit or federal consent decree, that comes from within. And quite frankly, that is my job. My job is to set the norms that will be tolerated.”

Housing availability in Seattle

In the weeks leading into Seattle’s Major League Baseball All-Star Week, some residents in South Seattle noticed more and more encampments being cleared out, and RV shelters received notices to move or get towed. Some in the city saw this as an attempt by the city to clean up the city’s image ahead of an influx of visitors for the game.

More on All-Star sweeps: Seattle sweeping encampments, clearing RVs in SODO ahead of All-Star Game

Mayor Harrell disputes that, saying on KIRO Newsradio the city followed the same protocol that they always do in clearing out encampments that pose risks to public safety.

Instead, he pointed to the city’s new RV shelter parking lots recently set up by the King County Homeless Authority.

“We didn’t change or deviate from our standard protocol in terms of how we evaluate where we move RVs, how we shelter people or have to remove them from areas where they are obstructing so,” Harrell said. “So I think you recently know that the Regional Homeless Authority cited an RV lot for us to be able to have a more practical place to put our RVs. We didn’t change our strategy. That’s just full stop. So I am not going to validate some likely unsubstantiated claim that we moved from one area of the town to the other.”

The King County Regional Homeless Authority has a five-year plan to dramatically reduce unsheltered homelessness within the county, but has faced internal obstructions, including the sudden departure of its first-ever CEO Marc Dones.

More on Dones’ exit: KC Homeless Authority has salaries released after departure

“Now the devil is in the details, as I am not fully convinced when the City of Seattle is funding 70% of the organization, that I have 70% of the influence on what these investments could and should look like,” Harrell said. “What we’re doing by the way, King County Executive Dow Constantine and I are thinking about what could the new model look like. What could new policies look like? I do not have the answers, but I haven’t been totally satisfied with some of the outcomes.”

Fresh faces on Seattle City Council

Seven out of nine Seattle City Council seats are on the ballot this fall, with four incumbents not seeking re-election. That will create four open seats on a city council ballot that will have seven seats to vote on. Councilmembers Tammy Morales, Dan Strauss, and Andrew Lewis are the three incumbents seeking re-election.

“I’m just looking for a council that has each member governed by a North Star that’s consistent in terms of what they’re looking for,” Harrell said. “I know what I care about. I care about housing people. I care about effective public safety. I care about income inequality.”

Harrell was elected to the Seattle City Council in 2007 and was re-elected twice. He was also a twice-elected City Council President, becoming one of just a few to ever serve multiple terms in that position.

“You are being elected to be one of nine so care about the success of your colleague,” Harrell said. “When you are fragmented and not working like that, we all lose. People out there like you all, you just want to see us function. You don’t care if I’m getting the credit versus the council. You want functionality. What I’m looking for in a new council is people that get that they are part of a system and the system needs to work, no individual grandstanding.”

Listen to Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin weekday mornings from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Seattle Mayor Harrell hints at possible drug ordinance on KIRO Newsradio