Six Steps to Effective Police Reform

This post was first published Friday, August 14, 2020 in The Seattle Times.
 
In its reckless rush to slash the police budget, the Seattle City Council has forced out Chief Carmen Best — the city’s first Black female police chief — and created unnecessary risks to public health and safety.
 
The council’s decisions have been hasty and ill-advised — no consultation with Best, no checking-in with the federal judge overseeing the police department’s reform efforts, no discussion with the court’s monitor, no counsel from national police-reform experts, no due diligence to discover that by slashing Best’s salary they were making the head of the city’s largest department the second lowest paid department leader.
 
This is careless governance, no matter how you look at it.

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Important Steps to Police Reform

This post was first published today at Crosscut.com. It was co-authored by myself and Bernard Melekian, DPPD.
 
It took less than 9 minutes. That’s how long Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into the neck of George Floyd, killing the 46-year-old man on a Minneapolis street on May 25, and that is how long it took to erase whatever public trust and confidence had been gained in American policing over the past decade of attempted reforms.
 
It was a callous killing committed in the light of day, documented on video for all to witness.
 
Both of us have experience with policing, one as a patrol officer and detective and as an elected official in Seattle, the

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Where Are We Headed?

The challenges of policing in our country did not arise in a vacuum. They connect to a broad array of factors . . . They connect to the fact that in this country police shootings and police misconduct disproportionately affect Black people. The challenges connect, as well, to the shameful American legacy of slavery, to Jim Crow, to mass incarceration, to the “war on drugs,” to redlining, and to public schools that have and continue to fail Black children.
 
In this context, and at this time, it is important for someone in my position to say clearly — Black Lives Matter.
 
Black Lives Matter in policing.
 
Black Lives Matter in education.
 
Black Lives Matter in our economic system.
 
We must squarely face our history of racism and injustice, and, frankly, that’s something I don’t believe our country has truly done. We will know that we have when all people of color have equal opportunity, equal protection under the law, and never doubt their standing as Americans.
 
I spoke the above words in an address to the City Council on September 25, 2017, when I was serving as Seattle’s interim Mayor. Now, nearly three years later, here we are again grappling with the same challenges in policing and criminal justice.

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Do You Want Tent Encampments Almost Everywhere in Seattle?

A shorter version of this article was first published in The Seattle Times earlier this afternoon.
 
Three Seattle City Council members — Tammy Morales, Teresa Mosqueda, Kshama Sawant — want to permit tent encampments almost everywhere citywide.
 
This ill-conceived, very dangerous legislation (Council Bill 119796) would effectively allow camping across Seattle — including on sidewalks (if campers leave a 4-foot accessible pathway), planting strips, parks, open spaces and industrial lands.
 
Astonishingly, the council members even want to block police officers from removing encampments when someone calls police seeking removal of campers.
 

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Key Step to Preserve Jobs and Springboard Our Economy

A shorter version of this article was first published at Crosscut on May 18, 2020, with my co-authors Gladys Gillis, owner of Starline Luxury Coaches in Seattle and immediate past chair of the national United Motor Coach Association and Jon Scholes, president and CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association.
 
On CBS' 60 Minutes on Sunday, May 17, 2020, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell urged Congress to do much more to preserve jobs and prevent business bankruptcies. Powell also said the Federal Reserve still had lots of "ammunition" to act further, but additional Congressional action is urgently needed.
 
Last January, Seattle was smack in the middle of the first outbreak of the coronavirus. Now, nearly four months later, almost 37 million Americans across the country have lost their jobs.
The official unemployment rate for April hit 14.7%.
 
This staggering number will likely increase; some believe unemployment levels could reach 30%. That is higher than the unemployment peak of the Great Depression, in 1933, when 24.9% of American workers were without work.
 

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Pandemic exposes our neglect of children, families

This post was first published in The Seattle Times on April 24, 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic has shattered our feelings of invincibility.

It has exposed deep divides that separate us — inequities in education, economic opportunity, criminal justice and public health. This raw and searing reality is evident in the millions of low-wage workers who have lost their jobs and the disparate impact coronavirus has had on our Black and Hispanic neighbors.

It has revealed systemic failures to prepare, to be ready, even with clear warnings such a pandemic was highly likely to occur.

We shouldn’t be surprised at systemic failures. They are all around us.

Take the threat of climate change. Our response has been piecemeal and inadequate.

Take poverty. We have designed multiple programs to eliminate poverty, spent billions, yet intergenerational poverty persists, and families wanting help must navigate a confusing labyrinth that most of us would give up on very quickly.

Take public health. The pandemic has exposed huge gaps, and we remain way behind every other industrialized country in access to health care.

Take tax policy. We have failed to modernize Washington state’s tax structure. The result is the most regressive, inadequate, and unfair system in the country, where our poorest families pay a far higher percentage — nearly 18% — of their household income in taxes than do our wealthiest families, who only pay about 3%.

But nowhere are our systemic failures more damaging and longer lasting than in the education of our children, where inequity rages on. Until we solve our well-documented education inequities, we will continue to perpetuate a society where many Americans are kept out, pushed aside, held back.

The good news is that a very good solution, a proven solution, is ours for the taking.

We know from nearly 50 years of academic research that high-quality early learning opportunities in child care and preschool for 3– and 4-year-old children can change a child’s life outcomes — better education attainment, better health, higher earning power as an adult, less criminal justice system involvement. Yet, in Washington state we only invest about 1% of our state budget in early learning and child access to preschool services, placing us near the bottom among all states.

Researchers at the University of Chicago have documented that ensuring high-quality early learning is the most important and best investment we can make for our children and our society. Last year, these same researchers documented that these investments can eliminate intergenerational poverty.

Yet, we don’t make the level of investment that’s required.

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed our failures and drawn attention to who is harmed the most — low-income families and people of color. The same is true in education. We can change this reality by making sure every child has the strong and fair start they need and deserve, beginning in the all-important first five years of life.

As we prepare for recovery from this pandemic, let’s also resolve to erase education inequity and intergenerational poverty by adopting three proven solutions:

First, a strong system of high-quality child care for infants and toddlers, so no parent is held back from working or continuing their education.

About 30% of working parents in our state report they have quit a job or school because they couldn’t find or afford child care. As an interdependent society — something the pandemic has vividly reinforced — we should subsidize quality child care and make it affordable so working families don’t pay more than 7% of their household income on child care.

Businesses need this, too, to ensure a reliable and capable workforce.

Second, universal, yet voluntary, high-quality preschool for our 3– and 4-year-olds, free for everyone, just like our K-12 system. As the research shows, investing early in our children will reap huge benefits for all of us. Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Oklahoma, Vermont, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C., recognize these benefits and provide universal preschool.

We must also compensate the educators and staff providing child care and preschool commensurate with the vitally important child outcomes they are working to achieve.

Third, strong supports for young families with children who need an extra hand, like the national Nurse Family Partnership or Seattle’s Parent-Child Home Program. These research-based family support programs improve pregnancy outcomes, improve child and parent health, and begin to expose young children to a broad vocabulary and a love of reading.

With these three solutions, we follow the evidence of what works best. The cost should be viewed as an investment in the common good.

This work is urgent. Almost one-half of Washington’s 5-year-old children enter their kindergarten classroom already behind on six age-specific measures of preparedness to learn — social-emotional, physical, cognitive, language, literacy and mathematics. For children of color, it is closer to 60% who start behind.

 

Children who start behind very often remain behind, and we see the results later in high school dropout rates, criminal justice involvement and the inability to remain employed as adults.

Many of these outcomes can be traced to a child’s first five years, when 90% of brain development occurs.

These efforts will require a significant investment of public dollars, but the cost of the status quo is far greater. We could raise the necessary dollars — about $1 billion per year — by adopting a new progressive, dedicated tax that would help turn our upside-down tax structure right side up. One option is a capital-gains tax, as 41 other states have, on profits from the sale of corporate stocks, bonds and other financial assets. There may well be other revenue options to consider.

What we do today for our children isn’t working. As we prepare to rebuild from this pandemic, let’s seize the opportunity to build a strong, fully integrated and effective early-learning system so Washington becomes the best place in America to raise a family, to prepare our future work force and to erase the systemic failures that have created a scourge of inequity.


Bill Gates Warned Us. Will We Finally Heed His Advice

While we are hunkered down at home, I’ve been thinking about why our country wasn’t at all prepared for this respiratory pandemic that is sweeping the globe.
 
Not being prepared is going to cost us a lot in human and economic costs. We've already seen how very painful and disruptive the coronavirus is going to be; it will be even more so if we minimize the counsel of scientists and public health experts.
 
Last night, I watched Bill Gates as he was interviewed by Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN. I learned that Gates warned us five years ago, in April 2015, that the United States—frankly, the whole world—was not prepared at all for a respiratory virus like we are experiencing today.
 
Here’s Bill Gates issuing his warning back in 2015 and his 5-step solution. The video runs just over 8 minutes. It's worth the time, for certain.

During last night’s CNN interview, Gates acknowledged that none of his 2015 recommendations have been fully implemented.
 
Why is this? Why is it so difficult for us to implement systems that will protect us?
 
In Gates’ analysis, the closest system to the public health response capability he has advocated is the military—they train, stage war games, have reserves that can be quickly mobilized, use technology wisely, and are constantly assessing system weaknesses and threats to our national security. Gates would like our public health system to do the same.
 
I guess we shouldn't be surprised at system failures. They are all around us, especially in government systems (or lack of them). Take the threat of climate change. Our response has been piecemeal, scattered, and inadequate. Take poverty. We have designed multiple programs to eliminate poverty, and spent billions, yet intergenerational poverty persists and families wanting help must navigate a confusing system labyrinth that most of us would give up on very quickly. Take education. We have failed to prepare many of our children for today's global economy, especially black and brown children, and education inequality rages on. Take criminal justice. We have been very slow to adopt reforms that could bring less crime and less punishment. Take homelessness. We have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in our region in recent years to solve the crisis of unsheltered people and yet haven't seemed to have made a dent.
 
On top of these failures—and, I'm sure, there are many others—we have allowed what I call a "peanut butter philosophy of politics" to reign supreme, causing great harm to the common good. This "peanut butter" style of governing spreads resources too thin, placing emphasis on keeping everyone happy and diluting any opposition to a given approach or program. So, rather than investing deeply to achieve significant change, we spread our investments—like thinly spreading peanut butter—across multiple programs and organizations, lessening the overall impact. Instead, we should carefully follow the science of what works, invest deeply in those proven approaches, and achieve much greater impact.
 
Here's an example. We know from nearly 50 years of academic research that high-quality preschool for three- and four-year old children can change a child's life outcomes—better education attainment, better health, higher earning power when entering the adult workforce, less criminal justice system involvement. We all would welcome these positive outcomes. Yet, in Washington state we invest only about 1 percent of our state budget in early learning programs. Washington ranks in the lower third of states in access to quality early learning programs. (Former State Representative Ruth Kagi and I wrote about the all important birth-to-five years in this piece in the Puget Sound Business Journal.)
 
Researchers at the University of Chicago, and others, have documented that investing in high-quality early learning efforts is the most important and best investment we can make for our children. Last year, these same researchers documented that these investments can eliminate intergenerational poverty. Who wouldn't want these outcomes? And, yet, we don't make the level of investment that's needed. That's because competing demands obscure our focus on achieving the greatest impact, so we invest thinly—spreading the peanut butter—and allow inequity to march on.
 
The challenge of spreading the peanut butter isn't about right and wrong, good ideas or bad. It's about the rigor of investing to achieve the greatest return, being keenly focused on the desired outcomes, and having the ability to say "no" to other good but less effective ideas. It's about elected leaders leading and insisting on accountability.
 
Bill Gates recognized a problem many years ago that we are now living through. He suggested practical steps to get ready. We didn't act as we should have. Let's not do the same with the other pressing social and political problems staring us in the face, especially those where we know what to do but can't seem to act effectively.

Downtown Seattle is Booming, but . . .

Seattle’s downtown is booming.

There are now 328,000 jobs located downtown, a 52% increase since 2010. Nearly 90,000 people now live downtown, including almost 5,000 children. In the decade ending in 2019, 286 new buildings were constructed, 4,050 new hotel rooms were added, 17.5 million new square feet of office space was built, and 27,209 new residential units opened for occupancy.

Since 2010, the number of restaurant jobs downtown increased by 47% and restaurant sales nearly doubled. Each year, 15 million people visit the Pike Place Market; four million enter museums; three million attend sporting events.

These statistics are included in the Downtown Seattle Association’s annual State of Downtown Economic Report presented last week to a cheering crowd of city leaders.

Clearly, downtown Seattle is thriving and driving the overall vitality of the city. And citywide there is reason to cheer, too. Just think about what we have going for us—the nation’s cleanest water, a carbon free electric grid that produces some of the lowest cost electricity in the country, the largest public transportation expansion underway anywhere in the nation, a quilt of wonderful neighborhoods, and a physical environment that offers sea and fresh water on our doorstep and mountain vistas less than an hour away.

All good news, for sure.

Now, here’s the bad news.

Many Seattleites are being left behind and may never participate in a meaningful way in our booming economy. There are many reasons for this stark reality, including families trying to raise young children and having to pay exorbitant childcare costs on top of steep housing prices. One of the most significant contributors, however, is our failure for decades to provide all of our children with the strong and fair start they need and certainly deserve in the first five years of life. This failure perhaps more than anything else has blocked their ability to thrive and achieve their full potential.

Consider this fact. At the beginning of each new school year, kindergarten teachers assess the readiness of their students to learn. It’s called the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills (WaKIDS); it measures a child’s age specific social-emotional, physical, language, cognitive, literacy, and math capabilities. This assessment is key to understanding where kids are in their development and helps guide teachers in their work with individual students.

Tragically, In Seattle, the WaKIDS assessment shows that one third of our children enter kindergarten without the skills and abilities they should have; they are already behind.  And it’s worse for children of color, one half of whom are behind just as they are starting their K-12 journey. Children who start behind, often remain behind.

The inequity in access to high-quality early learning opportunities experienced by so many of our neighbors has been building for decades.  For many working parents, high-quality early learning options are simply not accessible, and even for those who are doing well, the costs are significant, often prohibitive.  While the rest of us enjoy the economic good times, we are ignoring an injustice that shatters a child’s confidence which predictably for some leads to huge negative consequences—dropping out of school, criminal behavior, inability to find meaningful employment, social disconnection—consequences which ultimately affect us all.

We can change this by making sure every child regardless of their neighborhood, the color of their skin, or their family’s economic status has a strong and fair start.

Nearly 50 years of academic research shows that kids who have a high-quality early learning experience in the first five years of life will achieve higher educational attainment, have better health, higher earning power as adults, and less involvement in the criminal justice system. The most recent studies also show that these kids can successfully break the bonds of intergenerational poverty.

A child’s brain is ninety percent formed by the time they reach five. Important social skills—playing well with others, following directions, verbally processing feelings—and cognitive abilities stimulated by exposure to a broad vocabulary and group project play increase dramatically in these early years. These crucial skills are much harder to acquire later without this early foundation.

And yet, not all children in Seattle, or across our state for that matter, are receiving the opportunity for a strong start. Our systems of childcare and preschool are fragmented, too expensive for many working parents, and not designed to achieve the best outcomes. As a result, as the evidence shows, many of our children fall behind before they even get started.

We can fix this decades-long failure if we apply the science of early learning. The return on investing in high quality early learning programs is strong, certainly worth every dollar. It’s the best investment we could possibly make for our children’s sake, and for the rest of us, too.

So, let’s create a universal yet voluntary early learning system that spans the all-important prenatal to kindergarten years with high-quality child care services for infants and toddlers, high-quality preschool for our three- and four-year old kids, and tailored supports for families facing challenges.

We need a high-quality child care system that helps working families afford care if they earn 85 percent or less of the statewide median household income (about $63,000), so they don’t pay more than seven percent of their income for childcare. Families making more should pay on a sliding scale tied to their income. And, as other cities and states do, we need free, high-quality universal preschool for our three- and four-year olds so they are ready for kindergarten. This will bring our communities together, level the playing field for all of our children, allow parents to work and pursue additional education, further strengthening our workforce today as well as the pipeline of talent for tomorrow.

Successfully implementing an effective early learning system is the most effective strategy we can employ to erase the inequity so many are still experiencing despite these economic boom times. 


Washington Legislature: Help Workers Start Saving for Retirement

This post, co-written with Stephanie Bowman, first appeared in The Seattle Times on February 11, 2020.

For the third time in recent years, the Washington Legislature is poised to finally do something about the massive retirement crisis looming in our state, where more than 1 million workers — 38% of all workers — have no access to employer-sponsored savings plans.

By adopting the Secure Choice Retirement Savings Act (HB 2516), the Legislature will be following the lead of Oregon, California and Illinois, and soon Maryland and Connecticut. These other states have created government facilitated, privately administered worker-owned retirement saving plans requiring employers who do not already offer a plan to enroll their workers in the state’s plan. These plans are easy for employees to sign up for, and — most important — go with the employee when they leave the company, a critical feature for younger employees who change jobs every few years.

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Five things we should do to protect the public from chronic crime and persistent offenders in downtown

This post was first published earlier today at Crosscut.com.

I've been thinking a lot about the violence last week in the core of downtown. I have felt anger, frustration and grief, topped off with irritation at the responses I’ve heard or read.

These responses ranged from excuses for why the shootings occurred to calls for a swift police “crackdown.” Scapegoating the poor, the homeless or the addicted will not move the needle on this issue; neither will an increase in police presence by itself.

Thankfully there is a third way, predicated on the science of policing, facts and an approach focused on specific solutions and truly helping people.

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