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Musings on digital media, urbanization and politics from Seattle, Wash.

Seattle backs cops—teachers, not so much


Photo by MChe Lee on Unsplash

September 7, 2022

Defund teachers. Defund students. Defund schools. Defund parks while you’re at it. Defund crosswalks. Defund lifeguards, too. Defund public restrooms.

Sounds insane.

But when cities fund one specific effort, one tool or method to the point it accounts for about half of your budget, it has that effect. That’s especially true when throwing more money at said tactic isn’t proven to be great at accomplishing its stated goal.

Seattle teachers are on strike this week. School has been cancelled a second day as labor negotiations continue.

It’s noteworthy on its own because, hey, teachers are striking. This group of people we trust with our children, with the next generation of our own communities—the next generation of our city and world—are saying “Hey, so, the conditions under which we are being asked to perform this important task. Please improve them.”

And we haven’t. To the point that, as mentioned, we have this work stoppage.

The strike is also noteworthy as it stands in contrast to recent labor discourse regarding the Seattle Police Department—that was noted by resident right-wing provocateur Brandi Kruse, with many folks very much humoring her request. Twitter user @spekulation put it aptly.

Here in Seattle, for example, even simple traffic stops are way down from pre-pandemic levels, despite traffic being back up. It was revealed earlier this year that Seattle PD stopped investigating new sexual assaults while throwing entourages of officers at sweeping homeless encampments.

Over a 20-year sample from 1990 to 2019, crime is down, police budgets are way up but the rate at which the department solves crimes is down precipitously. Even more, continued from research by Bryan Kirschner, “In 1990, each crime handled cost us $3,286 and each crime solved $15,923. In 2019, the corresponding numbers were at least…$8,278 and $93,791, respectively .” (Figures adjusted for inflation.)

We spend more money to solve less crime. Despite there being less crime to to solve in the first place.

It’s particularly salient then when you take a look at Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell’s stance on the two labor spats, which I was inclined to do as two of Seattle’s more progressive councilmembers, Kshama Sawant and Teresa Mosqueda, joined teachers on the picket lines.

Here’s Harrell on the strike, the only quote I could find being this short prepared statement:

“We encourage teachers and the school district to urgently reach a just and fair resolution that centers our students and prioritizes their education and future.”

The most recent development in Seattle PD labor discourse came as the city approved a plan to offer five-figure bonuses to new hires, a method with questionable effectiveness.

Here’s what Harrell said when proposing the plan. Yes, proposing—this was his. The mayor made sure to step in and take direct action with SPD. And here are his words when he announced the effort that would eventually be approved by the council.

“We know that financial incentives are critical,” he said at a press conference at police headquarters Wednesday. “That’s why this plan offers incentives up to $30,000 for lateral transfers and $7,500 for new recruits, ensuring that Seattle is fully competitive with our neighboring jurisdictions.”

Huh. How about that.

If you ever need a good anecdote for how this all works—for how this country is the way it is, spending way more on police but ending up less safe, there you go. In deep blue Seattle, we throw our full weight behind the police.

We throw platitudes at teachers.

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