Seattle, Pay Attention to Pierce County! A Conversation with Pierce County Council Chair Derek Young
Release Date: 07/13/2021
Hacks & Wonks
Today Marco Lowe, Professor at Seattle U's Institute for Public Service, joins Crystal to discuss the extension of the eviction moratorium, the departure of Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff, City Council candidate Sara Nelson fudging the truth regarding laying off her workers, the increasing impact of climate disasters, and developments in the carpenters’ union strike.info_outline Chat with Hugo Garcia, Burien City Council Candidate
Hacks & Wonks
Today on the show Hugo Garcia, City Council candidate for the city of Burien, joins Crystal to discuss the planning for growth and justice in a rapidly changing city, how to create more housing and ensure residents are able to afford to live in a city, and the vital importance of parks and public spaces.info_outline Week in Review: September 17, 2021
Hacks & Wonks
Erica C. Barnett, editor of Publicola, joins Crystal to discuss King County's new vaccine requirements, the city attorney's efforts to hurry through his last priorities, political polling, misogynistic attacks on the carpenters' union leader, rerouting crisis calls away from the police, and wariness around quarantine shelters by houseless folks.info_outline McGinn Continued
Hacks & Wonks
On Friday, Crystal and Executive Director of America Walks (and former Seattle mayor), Mike McGinn, talked for so long that it made for a two-part show! They get into the SPD's calls being mostly non-criminal, the surge in gun violence, the lack of investigation into Mayor Durkan's alleged illegal deletion of text messages, and the need for the law to be applied equally.info_outline Week in Review: September 10, 2021
Hacks & Wonks
Executive Director of America Walks and former mayor of Seattle, Mike McGinn joins Crystal to discuss new Covid-19 vaccine mandates, planned walkouts by some workers in Seattle fizzling, rising gun violence and the conspicuous lack of analysis by the media and the mayor’s office, the knee-jerk desire for police presence when crime rises (in spite of it being ineffective), and the integration of Compassion Seattle into a certain mayoral campaign now that it’s off the November ballot.info_outline A Chat with Senator Karen Keiser
Hacks & Wonks
This week Crystal is joined by Senator Karen Keiser, Washington State Senate President Pro Tempore and one of the busiest women in the state legislature. Highlights include a dozen public safety bills, protection of essential workers, attempts to fix our tax code, passage of the Working Families Tax Credit, supporting childcare workers, and more.info_outline Week in Review: September 3, 2021
Hacks & Wonks
Today Crystal is joined by a new co-host, Rich Smith, Associate Editor of The Stranger! They discuss plans to tackle homelessness, a racist email from Bellevue School Board candidate Faye Yang, the need to center accessibility in transportation planning, and an alliance of landlords and renters threatening to sue to speed the distribution of rental relief.info_outline Consultant Roundtable Part 2
Hacks & Wonks
This week on the show we have the second half of the Consultant Roundtable, featuring Consultants Riall Johnson of Prism Consulting, Michael Charles of Upper Left Strategies, and Heather Weiner discussing the results of the primary elections, and what we can expect from the general election in November.info_outline Week in Review: August 27, 2021
Hacks & Wonks
Today on the show Marco Lowe, Professor at Seattle University’s Institute for Public Service, joins Crystal to get in to kids returning to school this fall without having had a Covid vaccine, the slow pace of rental aid distribution, the arrival of Afghan refugees in our state (and how you can help welcome them!), and the tragic rise in gun violence in our area.info_outline Consultant Roundtable: Part 1
Hacks & Wonks
Consultants Riall Johnson, Michael Charles, and Heather Weiner join Crystal to discuss the results of the primary elections this month, and what we can expect from the rest of election season. They discuss the mayoral primary results, Charter Amendment 29 / Compassion Seattle, and the results for City Council Pos. 9.info_outline
This week Pierce County Council Chair Derek Young joins Crystal on the show to discuss what’s up in Pierce County. They discuss the vast differences in funding available for transit and other public projects in King and Pierce counties, how Pierce County and Tacoma are absorbing the population overflow of those who can’t find affordable homes in King County, how the Pierce County Council is approaching investigations into police misconduct, and how one governs as a Democrat in a county where there is a substantial Republican presence.
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
“‘Home in Tacoma’ Advances with Recommendation to Eliminate Single-Family Zoning” by Stephen Fesler: https://www.theurbanist.org/2021/05/26/home-in-tacoma-advances-with-recommendation-to-eliminate-single-family-zoning/
“Zoomers Flock to Tacoma over Pricey Seattle” by Brandon Zuo: https://www.theurbanist.org/2021/03/17/zoomers-flock-to-tacoma-over-pricey-seattle/
“Tacoma on the Move: Pierce Transit’s Vision for a Growing City” by Rubén Casas: https://www.theurbanist.org/2018/09/17/tacoma-on-the-move-pierce-transits-vision-for-a-growing-city/
“Two Tacoma officers involved in Manuel Ellis’ death named in excessive force claim” by Allison Needles: https://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/article252735288.html
“Newspaper carrier who was confronted by Sheriff Troyer files $5 million legal claim against Pierce County” by Jim Brunner: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/newspaper-carrier-who-was-confronted-by-sheriff-ed-troyer-files-5-million-legal-claim-against-pierce-county/
“State attorney general launches criminal investigation into Pierce Sheriff Ed Troyer” by Will James: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/newspaper-carrier-who-was-confronted-by-sheriff-ed-troyer-files-5-million-legal-claim-against-pierce-county/
“Report: Tacoma could diver many emergency calls to civilians” from The Associated Press: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/report-tacoma-could-divert-many-emergency-calls-to-civilians/
Crystal Fincher: [00:00:00] Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm your host, Crystal Fincher. On this show we talk to political hacks and policy wonks to gather insight into local politics and policy through the lens of those doing the work and provide behind-the-scenes perspectives on politics in our state. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at OfficialHacksAndWonks.com and in our episode notes.
So today I am thrilled to welcome to the show Pierce County Councilmember Derek Young. Thanks for joining us.
Derek Young: [00:00:58] Thank you for having me.
Crystal Fincher: [00:01:00] Well, I really was excited to have you on the show because you are on the Pierce County Council, you're a former Gig Harbor City Councilman. You're really vocal on Twitter, you're really visible in advocating for what Pierce County needs. Most of the audience for this show is in Seattle - familiar with Seattle and King County issues and probably less familiar with Pierce County issues.
One of the biggest differences is - in Seattle, as we're talking about all of these campaigns right now, really it's what kind of Democrat are you? Are you a moderate Democrat or a progressive Democrat? Different story in Pierce County. There are actually Republicans. Republicans that support Trump. Republican Republicans. And governing is much different. A lot of the rhetoric is much different. So, what is it like, especially in the context of comparing and contrasting it with Seattle, serving on the Pierce County Council and what are your priorities that you're dealing with?
Derek Young: [00:02:07] Well, first of all, thanks. I feel like this is the part where I say, "First time, long time." I appreciate you bringing me on because, yeah, listening to you - being in the shadow of King County politics I think is a little weird for us because we're obviously a very urban county near by, and we're very affected by what happens in Seattle and King County. And so, for example, you're obviously talking a lot about housing, transportation, growth politics in Seattle. That lands really hard on Tacoma-Pierce County. And so we very often are dealing with the repercussions of decisions that are made outside of our capacity. And so that centers a lot of what we deal with here, and that's kind of on a bipartisan basis. We have to figure out how to absorb the housing that isn't built in King County.
It turns out jobs - you can have all this growth, but housing is where jobs go at night. And so that means you have to build the housing here. So, we're picking up the slack. We have to provide the transportation, and we don't have a regional transportation system contrary to popular belief. We have a very localized and regressive transportation system that hurts people, frankly, in South Sound. So, we have to figure out how to work through all of that while we watch all of these incredible light rail stations and BRT intersections get built while we still wait to be connected to that.
On the more partisan side though, we, as you said, have Republicans here. And for big chunks of the county that tends to be the way they vote. We have a Republican County Executive and so just like King County, they're separately elected and run countywide. And then we have a 7-member Council. Before I ran against and defeated an incumbent, the Republicans actually had a 5-2 supermajority. That tells you a little bit of the makeup there. We recently took the majority, so we now have a 4-3 majority on that.
But, as I regularly point out to people, my district, which covers the west side of the Sound that's in Pierce County - Gig Harbor where I'm from, as well as parts of North End and West End Tacoma - it hadn't been held by a Democrat since 1980. So, there are some changes that are happening in that direction, but the east side of the county, I think, reflects a lot of the national trends that you've seen towards the party in that end.
So, the way that plays out is - in the social services that counties are supposed to provide, very often on behalf of the state but often we should be doing our own local thing. So, we just recently passed the behavioral health tax - we're one of the last counties to do that. We really have a Public Health Department which - I chair the Board of Health - that has been underfunded for years and we're trying to make some changes there. Obviously the pandemic brought that out a little more. We're getting into children's services for the first time which is something I'm super excited about because who doesn't love kids? Trying to make sure that they have the tools they need, but also we know it has downstream effects. So, there's a bunch of things that are happening more on the social side.
And then finally environmental. Pierce County is - and the reason I ran in 1997 for City Council was growth management. And we were the poster child for sprawl and we're still dealing with the ramifications of those decisions made, frankly, back in the early 90s. And trying to deal with that, and environmental consequences, and those issues. So, we got a lot going on, but the good news is that the Council's personality has changed, I think, for the better. We were pretty dysfunctional there for a few years and so even some of my Republican colleagues who I disagree with, we're getting along great. And that's pretty productive.
Crystal Fincher: [00:06:35] That is productive. I remember some of those extremely dysfunctional times and it is good to be able to move forward on a number of these issues. I do think the pandemic made plain how much of a need there was and helped to bring some people along.
You brought up a great point early on just about you being affected by what King County does. Talking about transportation, we're in a conversation now about Sound Transit and delaying, continuing to delay, a lot of what was scheduled to be built in Pierce County. And people are paying for it now. They may not see the benefits of that for another decade or two. What is funding transit like? What is that conversation like? And I guess in looking at working with King County and working around King County, what would you ask of King County and what are you forced to do with these delays in a regional system?
Derek Young: [00:07:40] It's a great question and gets to, I think, some of where I disagree with some of my colleagues in King County. But I have to back up a little bit to explain this. One of the tragedies of the last 20 years in the Legislature, where I've worked representing cities and counties down there for a number of years - either my own, our association, or even as a contract lobbyist at one point. And we have not only the most regressive tax code in the country, which I think most people know, but what many of your listeners may not be aware of is that it's the localization that really lands hard on communities that don't have the same level of wealth as some of the cities in King County.
So, let's take local transit for example. It used to be that about a third of the funding for local transit came from the state, which is the way most states do things. It's the logical thing to do. In Washington, basically the Initiative 695 and the Legislature's response to that, basically eliminated that. There's very little state funding. Most of it's either federal passthrough or regional passthrough from the Feds. So, what that meant was they gave us something called local option. "Local options" are the two words that I want to hear the least from the Legislature ever because what that means is the way you can serve your community is what you can raise locally. So, if you're a poorer county, like Pierce County, I can only raise for every one-tenth of 1% sales tax, about 60 cents on the dollar what King County can. So, I have higher need but less money to do it with. Does that sound progressive to you? Does that sound like something that - the tax code that you would want as a liberal Democrat? No, of course not. But it's just fine for a lot of King County Democrats because they're piling up so much wealth there that they get to buy a lot of stuff. I always picture when I go through my budget - King County must be diving into piles of gold like Scrooge McDuck because they forget more money than I can try to scrape together to put a sensible system.
So, the second part is that because we have poor service, people don't value that transit as much. So, we've had trouble passing the last three-tenths authorization. So, that means we have two-thirds of what most other counties have and it only raises about 60% what King County can. So, our system is really starving and it barely provides basic services.
So, I'm a regular transit rider. My bus comes once an hour. If you had a bus in King County that went once an hour, there'd be riots. So, that's the kind of problems that we have. But you would think a regional system - that wouldn't impact. This is where a perversely named sub-area equity law in state law comes into effect. This was the idea of Rob McKenna back when he was on the King County Council - concerned that, basically the suburbs, were going to subsidize Seattle. Obviously since that time - this is back in the old days when Seattle hadn't had this explosion of growth - the reverse has happened in fact.
So, what that means is that we can only spend for regional transit what we can raise locally. That's why you haven't seen the connection through South Sound, and I include in that South King County - honorary South Sound membership in South King County.
Crystal Fincher: [00:11:02] Thank you.
Derek Young: [00:11:03] It hasn't gone through that zone or into Pierce County where we have our own. So, we've really struggled to connect to the system that - as people that are in the service industries and lower-wage tech workers get pushed further and further away from where their jobs are, they've been pushed away from where transportation can connect them effectively. It's really a terrible system. If you were to sit down and design this as a regional system, people would think you were nuts. But this is what we have. And each year I kind of scream at the top of my lungs to fix it.
The problem that this really gets put into hyperdrive is when we get some federal funding, which we've had recently, we distribute it based on what King County calls fair, and that means we're going to base it on service hours. Well, if I'm starting out with a tenth of the service hours that you can provide there, that means you're taking up almost all of the money in these other places where you've already concentrated all this wealth. So, we got basically 10% of the federal funding for our transit system and for our Sound Transit projects that King County did. If you don't think that's just morally abhorrent and outrageous, I don't know what to do. That to me is wrong and we have to fix it. But we've gone through two cycles now at Puget Sound Regional Council where that's exactly what's happened.
Crystal Fincher: [00:12:30] So, how does it get fixed? What needs to happen to fix it?
Derek Young: [00:12:34] The first thing is it's got to start with state legislation. And here's the part where I hate to put this on raw parochialism, but because our Party that is in control of both chambers is concentrated so much in King County, there hasn't been a lot of movement and a lot of support for changing that setup.
The second thing that I do appreciate and I want to call her out because she's been a great leader to try to fix this overall tax structure problem, and that's Representative Noel Frame. I don't think at first she was thinking as much about the local impacts of the tax structure problems that we have, but she's been super open to it since we started talking and realized how this is hurting people, not just in Pierce County by the way - that this is happening in a number of different places, where it doesn't make sense to base all of our services on what you can raise locally.
We actually just fixed this basically with schools. That's essentially what we had done with our school systems where we said, "We're going to rely on your local levies to determine what kids deserve." We didn't think that was right with schools. We shouldn't think that's right with basic social services like behavioral health, funding for early childhood, or transit, or any of these programs.
Crystal Fincher: [00:13:53] Well, I hope it is something that is taken up in the Legislature and that is going to be fixed because it is fundamentally unfair. And it ultimately inhibits and drives down support for regional solutions for a variety of things overall. And drives up the, I guess, I don't want to call it jealousy because it's not jealousy, but just some of looking at Seattle and going, "Man, you guys get everything and we're sitting out here outside in the rain with no cover and no one seems to be noticing." You talked-
Derek Young: [00:14:28] I'll give you one example that really highlights this. There is one BRT highway intersection in Kirkland that is going to cost upwards of $135 million. That is more than the entire Bus Rapid Transit line that is being built - covers, I think, a dozen miles - in Pierce County. One intersection that's going to serve a few hundred people versus ours that's going to serve thousands. And our funding was in jeopardy until the federal government stepped up. That's how outrageous this disparity is.
And so, yeah, I'm hoping we can get some common sense to this. But it is sort of frustrating to watch. And that's why when ST3 came up for the repeal - for the nearest brick to pick up and throw through that window, if they're not getting the services that they think they're paying for. And then they look up north and don't realize they're not actually funding those systems, but I guess that's what you're saying is - it isn't jealousy, it's that I'm getting hurt and we should stop that.
Crystal Fincher: [00:15:37] We're also dealing with, as you said, King County's failure to manage sprawl - people being people being priced out of Seattle and King County - moving further away, being forced out of the City, and forced further away from the City in search of more affordable housing, both rentals and owned homes. And so now we're also continuing to see headlines in Pierce County that housing prices continue to rise. Are you looking at the same kind of housing cost increases that King County has been experiencing? And how do you prevent that from happening?
Derek Young: [00:16:17] Yeah, in answer to your question, we have. At one point, Spanaway, which is in unincorporated Pierce County outside Tacoma, was the hottest housing market in the entire country. That's not a normal thing. That's pretty far out. And it tells you the kinds of pressures that are being put on the system here.
We have absorbed more than our share of the population growth. In fact, if it had not been for the fact that Pierce County had - A) coming out of the Great Recession, a large housing glut - meaning when I first joined the Council in 2015, our big problem that we were dealing with was abandoned homes, which sounds crazy now but we had a lot of them. So, that basically absorbed some of the pressure and then we've grown a lot. So, we've added a ton of new housing.
Tacoma right now is looking at a plan called Home in Tacoma which is going to basically transform a lot of their single family homes zoning into more accessible, and it's based on where transit support is. And so it'll cover most of the city. That's the kind of thing that we need our major metropolitan cities doing in general. It's our regional growth plans.
Seattle just announced that they're going to change the name of their single family zoning. They're changing the name. Now, I understand why they're saying it's exclusionary rhetoric - that's great. But when I first saw the headline I was like, "Oh my God, this is what we need. They're going to get rid of their single family zoning." They're changing the term, but it'll continue to do the exact same thing.
Crystal Fincher: [00:17:53] Okay. I saw you post on this. I will say, in fairness, I saw the announcement by Council President Lorena González, who's also running for mayor. And actually one of the things we've talked about on Hacks & Wonks before is - there does seem to be universal agreement among mayoral candidates, and there will be a new mayor in Seattle, that the need to actually end exclusionary zoning is there. They have different plans to approach it. So, yes, changing the name. But I will say that they are not talking about simply stopping at a name change. They are actually talking about changing the policies.
Derek Young: [00:18:33] And when they do I will be there to applaud them. In fact, one of the things I miss most about regional government was when we lost Mike O'Brien. Mike was a great partner negotiating our regional strategy and what basically - which was aimed at Seattle, forcing it to accept more housing. And I watched even a couple meetings where he was at where he was getting the - strong feedback might be the way to put it. It was tragic because he's such a nice guy that -and decided not to run again. But we need that leadership on the Seattle Council. I don't get a say in those elections, but I joked for a while - now that I know that residency is maybe not a requirement, maybe I should run for Seattle mayor so I can blow up their zoning code.
Crystal Fincher: [00:19:26] Well, I am rooting for the blowing up of the zoning code, and I am actually with you in terms of - dealing with rhetoric is entirely insufficient. It is actually changing of the policy that is going to be impactful for people on the ground.
Derek Young: [00:19:41] And by the way, I should say it's a good idea to change that. I understand why the name is - it's always good to police our language a bit and realize where that came from. I just wouldn't send out a press release over it. Just do it.
Crystal Fincher: [00:19:55] I get it. We have had a number of interesting press releases lately. In terms of dealing with exclusionary zoning in Pierce County, where are you on that?
Derek Young: [00:20:06] So, we are following basically what we believe to be smart growth practices. And so most recently we had what's called our Centers and Corridors proposal. It was in our last Comm[unity] Plan update and Development Reg changes. So, where we have access to high capacity transit, and this is a term that we have in our regional plans going through Puget Sound Regional Council - that means frequent high capacity, something more than a regular bus route. It's got to be either Bus Rapid Transit or light rail. And along those corridors, so basically within half a mile, we're allowing very large scale development. Originally it was going to be unlimited and just let the market decide. But Tacoma and us had a disagreement. Tacoma wanted to make sure that their downtown was protected and they were going to have more growth concentrated. It makes sense. The line starts there, so it's a good idea.
And then we'll also add more as we add more high capacity transit. That's trying to pull back from the outlying areas where there's more sprawl and really try to build healthy, sustainable communities that are walkable, have good access to public transportation, and don't require you to drive everywhere. This is trying to turn the corner on an auto-centric model that we have in Pierce County that forces everyone, including people who really can't afford it, to buy a car.
Crystal Fincher: [00:21:35] In terms of high capacity transit routes, lots of broad agreement across the state. In terms of single family or neighborhood residential, where does zoning stand on that in more developed cities that are not predominantly rural in Pierce County?
Derek Young: [00:21:56] Yeah, so, there's still quite a bit. And that's why I kind of called out Tacoma's work to try to - they're going to basically try to pass this this year. That's the recommendation from their planning commission. I think they're close. The pushback began. I kept telling people to wait for it. That's why we all, the Executive and the Council, unanimously sent a letter basically applauding their work because we're like, "We need you to do this so that we don't keep pushing more growth out in the outlying areas."
But, yeah, we need - I guess the way I would put it is the urban core. And that's the places where we do have that infrastructure. So Lakewood, University Place, Puyallup, Tacoma, and urban and incorporated Pierce County - those are the areas where you find that. And we're trying to concentrate as much growth there as possible. That means rezoning, in some cases, the single family zones. We already had quite - our moderate density housing already allowed for a lot of that flexibility. I think we need to go further in some of the cities. So, we need our city partners in Lakewood, Puyallup, UP, frankly, to step up along with Tacoma. I think we're getting there. Everyone seems to be - unlike my frustration in King County where some of the cities just ignore their population distribution, ours at least seem to say, "Okay, we'll plan for that." Now, this isn't Sim City. You can plan for it, the market has to come to it.
The second thing is that we're just now getting into serious - we have some money to start doing some major investments in public housing, which is something we really haven't done. The degree to which, and this is a compliment for King County, since I've said a few negative things. You all have invested a lot in public housing and are poised to make some bigger ones. We're just dipping our toes into it right now. So, we're working on those plans and we'll start our own developments. We'll start building much more public housing than what we have right now.
Crystal Fincher: [00:24:00] Well, and that's really exciting to see. And it is encouraging to hear you talk about - hey, cities, even cities with Republican leadership in Pierce County, are planning to absorb growth and are planning to meet those goals. And that there does seem to be some unanimity and agreement on - hey, we do need to absorb density. May not be agreement everywhere, but hey, if we're along a transit line we need to support the density on that route. That seems like a positive thing that should not be odd for every community to be advocating for and expecting.
In terms of the conversation around public safety, policing, we have certainly talked a lot in King County, throughout Washington. Pierce County is no different - whether we're talking about Manny Ellis or talking about Sheriff Troyer and his, as I will put it, setting up a Black man newspaper deliverer to potentially be killed - by saying his life was actively being threatened and seemingly not being honest about that. Where does, I guess specifically in those two cases, the Council stand and where are things moving, with the understanding that you may be limited in what you can talk about because you're on the Council and actively dealing with that? But overall, do you think policing is where it should be? And the conversation around public safety is where it should be? And how should it be different?
Derek Young: [00:25:34] Yeah. I'm glad you asked because I'll go to the part that will be difficult for me to elaborate too much on, and that's the current investigation into Sheriff Troyer. We did two things. First of all, I was heartbroken when I heard that story because all I could think was - how would I have felt if I saw this swarm of officers showing up to what they believed to be an officer in danger? And then I also can't put myself in the shoes of a Black man. And so I would have been nervous enough. I can only imagine what he was experiencing there.
So, we said - right away, my thought was let's use our public - an elected sheriff is only accountable to the people. The problem is that the people don't have investigatory powers. So, we, as the branch that most closely represents them, do have that. We have subpoena power. We do have the ability to compel testimony. So, let's basically hire someone who will conduct an independent investigation, find out what really happened, get into the details beyond maybe what the newspapers were able to uncover, interview folks. And then basically issue that decision and say, "Here's what I have found." We'll make it public. This is unusual for government. Typically when you know you're going to be sued, you don't do discovery for the other side. But I felt the public's interest was in this case not just financial. It was to get to the bottom of the matter and we'll deal with that. So, as we expected, we did have a claim filed and we expect a lawsuit.
So, that got paused because then we found out that the Attorney General was launching a criminal investigation. And when I say paused, it didn't mean that he stopped doing work. It's that it - basically the gentleman that we hired is a former US Attorney, so he has prosecutorial background both at the local level and federal level. He basically said, "Hey, it's going to be hard for me to interview witnesses while this is criminal, or interview Sheriff Troyer himself. So, let's wait for that to wrap up for those. I'll pause." But he's continuing to do some work. We expect that to wrap up in the next couple weeks - both the criminal investigation and the civil one. That's about what I have now and that's not just because I'm being cagey. I actually don't know many details because we're trying to keep this very independent. And that's to avoid that partisan problem.
The second thing I'll say is that - on the Manny Ellis case, this is one where all I can say to the Ellis family is - his death was a tragedy and shouldn't have happened. It's also clear that Pierce County badly bungled the investigation, starting with the death inquest and the medical examiner's office. Even the way they communicated with the family was a shame. And then the way it got turned over to the prosecutor's office where we discovered there was a deputy on the scene. So, we had - the investigation was conducted by an involved party. That's when we all said, "This is why we've been begging you to set up a state agency. You can't have local agencies investigating each other." There's too much - if there isn't actual conflict, there's an appearance of conflict. And we have to rebuild trust in law enforcement. We have to remove both. So, I'm glad the State Legislature authorized that, but it was too late for this case, so the AG took over and obviously made their criminal decisions on that case. And I don't think it's actually concluded. Those were the charging decisions that were ready.
So, I'll just say, from Pierce County's perspective, we have to fix what was broken within our departments. I will say this is something where the Executive and I agree 100% - where he's trying to make sure their processes are fixed. We have created a Justice Review committee that is looking through every of our procedures throughout the criminal justice system - starting with law enforcement, going through the judicial system, prosecution decisions - and we're beginning to make some of those decisions.
I will say the Sheriff's department, surprisingly to me at least, had already adopted a lot of the best practices that you hear, in terms of we basically don't use any no-knock warrants. The place where we did see a need for change was vascular restraints. The Legislature took that. So, we're looking at other places where we need to make some changes. The biggest one though is - the intersection of people in crisis, dealing with having other needs, ending up in contact with law enforcement - is a big problem in Pierce County because we've lacked those social services. So, we've been trying to push more into diversion, avoiding contact with law enforcement.
And frankly our law enforcement's always asked for that. They will tell you, "You ask us to do too much. We're not experts in dealing with people in crisis. So, let us deal with the security of an emergent dangerous situation, responding to a crime. Don't ask us to show up when someone is apparently just in crisis on the street corner, at a bus stop, or whatever. That's a place where someone trained with that can show up and help them and probably be more successful."
Crystal Fincher: [00:31:18] Yeah, I think that's an excellent point that gets lost in a lot of these conversations - in that police themselves, for a long time - I think some of it has quieted down a little bit for fear in this entire conversation. But man, for decades they've been saying, "This is something that we could do without doing. This is actually - we don't have the tools to address mental health crises, some issues of addiction, some issues around homelessness. There are actual issues here that we can't solve. Sometimes we have nothing to do at the scene." And their addition to it only makes it worse and more complicated, and complicates the job that they're trying to do.
So, in the conversation around looking at some of these responses - looking at overall staffing tied to 911 calls overall and maybe not tailoring that to the types of calls, do you think that there should be more movement in terms of tailoring the actual size of the force? Not focusing so much on patrol, as in investigation and targeted actions, and using some of the money that is now funding this entire infrastructure of response to things that they have said before they don't want to respond to - could be better spent on social services?
Derek Young: [00:32:41] This is where I kind of get off the bus in terms of the overall movement here because not every - no two departments are created equal. This is the way I'll put it. Basically Pierce County has about a third of the number of deputies that SPD, Seattle Police, has for officers and they cover a much larger territory. So, they've been well understaffed for a long time, and last summer I had joked a number of times that we already defunded the Sheriff's department, we just forgot to do the second part where you actually try to build up the services that would replace that need. And so I don't think we can look at every department as being the same.
In my district, where we have a rural detachment, basically 60,000 people on two peninsulas are covered by two deputies as minimum staffing. They're both 30 minutes-plus away from help if something bad happens. We can't reduce that. It would be dangerous not only for the deputies but for people in calls they're responding to because if they feel alone, which they very much are, you can run into problems.
We had a deputy killed in exactly that situation in the mountain detachment not long ago. We think the reason he broke protocol and didn't wait for backup to go into a home where there was a home invasion is because he was familiar with it, knew the help was 20 minutes away, and there were children present. Or would have thought there might be. So, he entered the home heroically and ended up losing his life.
And so we really don't have the capacity to make further reductions. But what we can do is add to that. Again, getting back to behavioral health tax, trying to add treatment. We're trying to build up co-responders, have alternatives. We have both an emergency response and a proactive response. It's important to go out in mobile teams and meet people where they are and begin to transition them to more traditional services. In many cases we've seen some success where someone has been living in unacceptably inhumane conditions for a long period of time, and we've been able to get them help and to a situation where they have stable housing and get their needs met, their medical conditions met. So, this is going to take some time. It's going to be complicated. It's going to be expensive. But I think what ultimately you will see in most departments is that you will save money by treating - basically going upstream, treating the problem not the symptoms. That's where we've been stuck for too long.
And I hate to say this - I don't want to say that anything in the last year we should be glad for. But the one thing about the pandemic and the resources we're seeing from the federal government, is for the first time we can make that initial investment that we haven't been able to afford before, and then show that there's savings there that we can then pay for the ongoing expense. That's always been a difficulty. I have known for years that instead of jailing people, permanent supportive housing is cheaper and in many cases would solve the problem that was going on there. But we've never been able to afford to take that money and invest it in something else. It's too complicated to get set up. So, now we have that opportunity. This is like an intervention in our system to reset things and hopefully make some improvements.
So, I know this isn't going to go nearly as fast as a lot of people want to see. And believe me, I would love to move faster. But I think things are moving. And the good news is, even in places like Pierce County that are politically mixed, we are seeing a lot of bipartisan work on this. And so I'm actually really proud of us on a couple of those issues. My colleagues that I may disagree with on occasion, we're finding places to work together on this.
Crystal Fincher: [00:36:45] Well, I certainly appreciate the time that you've taken with us today to speak about this, to help educate people about Pierce County and what it is like to govern there, the issues facing Pierce County and the state, and what we can do in terms of advocating and maybe nudging all of our legislators to say, "Hey, you know how we are letting other transit, housing, funding languish in the rest of the state? Let's not do that. We'll actually all end up better if we do that." Helping to equip us to have those conversations. So, thank you very much. Appreciate it.
Derek Young: [00:37:18] Thank you, and you're always welcome down in Pierce County.
Crystal Fincher: [00:37:21] Well, I'm there often. So, here we go. Thanks. Talk to you soon.
Thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks. Our chief audio engineer at KVRU is Maurice Jones, Jr. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii, spelled F-I-N-C-H-F-R-I-I, and now you can follow Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Just type in "Hacks & Wonks" into the search bar, be sure to subscribe to get our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. You can also get a full text transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced during the show at OfficialHacksAndWonks.com and in the podcast episode notes. Thanks for tuning in. Talk to you next time.