EPD Drones, Sponsored by Trump's DHS

Among the agenda items this week includes a measure approving tens of thousands of dollars for the cops to purchase drones.

Welcome to the first issue of Local Crank! In this weekly series, I will try to keep up with developments from Everett’s government, namely its city council. Presently, press coverage of the council’s proceedings and the mayor’s office is limited and rarely are the political consequences contextualized, so I hope to change that a little bit. Hopefully shedding some light on council’s proceedings and the mayor’s office will be able to direct energy towards causes like housing justice and defunding the police.

Thank you all for subscribing, it means a lot.

Item #11263: Motel Shelter Program

The city council will consider accepting $100,000 from the Snohomish County Department of Health and Human Services to be spent on motel vouchers. These vouchers are not distributed by any social service agency, no, it’s a program that is under the control of the Everett Police Department.

This is just one example of the many ways cities across the country overly rely on cops to help address the worsening housing crisis. Everett is no exception. In July, the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office cleared an encampment that was located on the County Campus in Everett at the behest of the county leaders. County Executive Dave Somers, who supported the sweep, claimed to be unaware of the CDC guidelines that advises municipalities to not destroy camps as it “can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers” which “increases the potential for infectious disease spread”. In a July 2nd statement to The Herald, Somers admitted that they “don’t have anything yet” for a long-term solution, but despite that said they were going to proceed with the sweep anyway.

Residents at that camp and elsewhere who were unsheltered were permitted by a landowner to stay at a different location nearby on the corner of Rucker and Pacific avenues. However, after local business owners complained the city dispatched code enforcement officers to disperse, under threat of arrest, anybody who was present there. Against the urging of the ACLU and without any objection from the mayor’s office, the city proceeded with sweeping the encampment of over one hundred unsheltered people.

As Everett continues to lack a cohesive housing strategy amid the pandemic, the Franklin administration is proposing cutting the Human Needs budget in half. This critical part of the budget provides funding to housing and shelter services, but is funded at only $3.00 per capita. In comparison, EPD’s budget is $368.20 per capita—12,173% more.

Item #11295: FY 2020 Port Security Grant

In April, the city council approved an application for a Department of Homeland Security grant to partially fund the purchase of two drones by the Everett Police Department for “port security”. On September 1st, DHS notified the city that the application had been accepted for $81,462, 75% of the program’s $108,616 cost. This means the city council will need to pass a budget amendment allocating an additional $27,154 to the cops. Recall that the council already did something like this in April to approve purchasing—up to $150,000—a new boathouse at the port for the cops.

In addition to buying the drones, the money will also be used to purchase day-and-night infrared cameras, 40 hours of training for drone pilot licensing, and extra equipment like batteries, searchlights, protective cases, and chargers.

Buried in the terms of the grant is a provision that gives DHS access to any “copy, records, accounts, and other documents and sources of information related to” the grant and to ”facilities, personnel, and other individuals and information as may be necessary”. It is unclear how much access DHS will effectively have to the data collected by these drones and the cops that operate them.

According to the grant application, EPD intends to use the drones to surveil Everett’s waters and waterfront partly out of a concern for “small boats possibly transporting nuclear material”, which aligns with the department’s existing participation with DHS’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office Maritime Project.

Among other uses, the application cites examples of when EPD responded to “threats” aboard the Mukilteo ferry or near its terminal since the Mukilteo’s cops do not have any capabilities to respond to marine-related calls. They express concern for the large amount of aerospace-related (read: Boeing) exports out of the Port of Everett as well as the influx of new residents from the planned addition of apartments near the port (which have since burned down).

The application also mentions the use of drones during events held at the port like seminars, whale watching events, nearby site tours, and the seasonal Jetty Island Ferry. With this technology, EPD says they can create 3D “diagrams of critical areas” that would be used for “response plans” during “large gatherings”.

EPD was already gifted $6 million by Trump’s Justice Department

In a stunning reversal, when the city council accepted the $6 million Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant from Trump’s Department of Justice this week, they demonstrated that they’re willing to cave to even the mildest of political pressure from the cops. Considering the incumbent councilmembers will be very vulnerable next year when Everett holds its first-ever districted elections, I think this was a factor in their sudden change of heart once pushback emerged.

A week prior to the approval, the city council declined to even consider accepting the grant at all. During the August 26th meeting, several councilmembers rose serious concerns about the financial risks involved in accepting the grant money. They also questioned the timeliness of the grant’s approval considering the nationwide Defund the Police movement. The motion did not receive a second.

Following that meeting, councilmembers Scott Murphy and Brenda Stonecipher authored an open letter that was published on August 28th. In it, they persuasively articulate their objections to accepting the grant and their frustration with the mayor’s office for dodging questions. However leading up to the next meeting on September 2nd, Chief of Police Dan Templeman spoke privately with Murphy, Stonecipher, and others to boast about the grant’s supposed “flexibility” and how the city would “not be on the hook for a single penny”.

In addition to lobbying from the police chief, the fallout from the August 26th rejection included:

  • Followed by the wide press coverage which was quickly spread on Facebook across cop-friendly groups. That content agitated other pro-cop suburbanites who subsequently flooded councilmembers’ inboxes urging them to accept the grant.

  • In an editorial, The Herald said that the city council should approve the grant and consider hiring cops from the disgraced Seattle Police Department.

  • In an open letter, Mayor Franklin said that EPD deserved the money because they are “one of the most progressive, innovative police departments in the country”.

Sure enough, the “flexibility” message from Templeman was what convinced the council. They ultimately approved the grant in a 6–1 vote, with Liz Vogeli as the lone dissenter, during a meeting where no public comments were permitted. Following the decision, the EPOA showered Mayor Franklin with praise and many conservative supporters cheered on from the sidelines.

What will this “progressive, innovative” police department do with all of this new money and equipment? Well, protestors got a taste of that on Friday, September 4th:

Item #11259: Increase bandwidth for Everett Channel Internet connection

Everett’s municipal television station, the Everett Channel, features 12-hour-a-day programming that includes city council meetings, planning commission meetings, and coverage of some local events and affairs. This week the city council will consider accepting a new agreement with Frontier (via Northwest Fiber, LLC on behalf of Ziply Fiber) to upgrade their Internet connection from an abysmal 20mbps to 100mbps.

Item #11261: Garfield Park Path Overlay and Sport Court Seal Coat

At a cost of about $96,000, the city council will consider funding the resurfacing of public basketball courts and park paths. According to the memo, what is supposed to be a periodic maintenance project has not been performed in at least fifteen years for Garfield Park.

Sadly, Mayor Franklin’s proposed cuts to the Parks Department may mean that such maintenance projects will continue to face delays and setbacks at the sacrefice of our public spaces.

As we head into a pivotal election year following an unprecedented crisis, scrutiny of our city’s leadership is more important than ever. If you’re interested in following Everett’s city leadership and politics more closely, please consider subscribing: