Seattle City Council Moves Toward Slashing Police Funding

Seattle council members are moving toward defunding the Seattle Police Department, an effort that could lead to the creation of a new civilian-led public safety agency.

The City Council’s busy week included several meeting and hearings dealing with defunding proposals.

On Friday, council members introduced amendments to the current budget that would affect the police department, including reducing funding to reducing its homeland security, public affairs, and school resource officer units; transferring some positions to different agencies; and slashing funds and redirecting them to other efforts, like “community-led research.”

A new council proposal would shift much of what the Seattle Police Department (SPD) currently does to a new civilian-led Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention, including 911 operations.

Council members hope to create the new department by the fourth quarter of next year, according to a resolution that hasn’t yet been voted on. The department “will take a holistic approach to public safety,” it said.

Draft Resolution Public Safety Department Reorganization (PDF)
Draft Resolution Public Safety Department Reorganization (Text)

A majority of the council supports defunding the police department by 50 percent, which is opposed by Mayor Jenny Durkan, SPD leadership, and the Seattle Police Officers Guild, a police union.

A petition the guild started this week to oppose defunding the police has already garnered 85,000 votes.

“The defunding of the SPD would mean that up to 800 officers would be fired. That’s over half of all sworn officers. It would also mean immensely longer 911 response times and of course, higher crime rates,” the guild says on the petition website.

In a recent appearance on Fox News’s “America’s Newsroom,” guild President Mike Solan said defunding the police would have bleak effects. “Seattle will be a lawless wasteland,” he said.

Sparked by the killing of George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis while in police custody, Seattle City Council efforts to defund the police started in June.

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Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant speaks to demonstrators outside the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct in Seattle, Wash., on June 8, 2020. (David Ryder/Getty Images)

The new amendments and resolution will lead to a new system “that will serve the public safety of our city and our community better than an armed law enforcement response to all manner of social issues that don’t merit an armed law enforcement response, but are certainly receiving one, and that status quo is unacceptable,” Council President M. Lorena González said during Friday’s virtual meeting.

The council is not completely in sync.

Council member Debora Juarez opposed the speed at which the defunding proposals are moving forward.

“Some of our colleagues have said we are going to cut the SPD budget by 50 percent. No city has done that. And if they did do it, and even if they got up to 16 percent, they didn’t do it in 6 weeks,” she said.

During the discussion, council members said they believe New York City’s approval of defunding 16 percent of the NYPD’s budget is so far the highest amount in the nation.

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Demonstrators use shields while blocking an intersection near the Seattle Police East Precinct during protests in Seattle on July 26, 2020. (David Ryder/Getty Images)

Council member Kshama Sawant late Thursday revealed amendments that would cut the police department’s budget by half, an idea that’s received public support from seven of the nine council members.

“However, we predictably see that when it comes time for the actual concrete budget amendments, the majority of the council members do nothing even close to defunding the police by 50 percent,” Sawant told colleagues.

All council members are Democrats except for Sawant, a socialist.

King County Equity Now, a coalition pushing for deep funding cuts, said the amendments are “undoubtedly a step forward.”

“But they fall well short of the community’s demand to maximize public safety by reallocating 50 percent of SPD’s budget into pro-BIPOC community initiatives,” the group said in a statement.

BIPOC stands for black, indigenous, and people of color.

Comments were mixed during a public hearing.

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Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best addresses the press as city crews dismantle the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) area after multiple shootings, in Seattle on July 1, 2020. (David Ryder/Getty Images)

“The police do not keep us safe. They protect systems of white supremacy. Our police violently respond when the crime that’s occurring has ended or has proceeded. Every day, we see the misuse of this violence and experience see the massive damage it has had on our black and indigenous family,” one man said.

A woman calling in said defunding the police is “a radical experiment that will hurt the vulnerable the most” and criticized council members for allegedly calling for police to provide security to them while removing security for the public.

“Why have you not denounced the arson and violence against SPD officers, your own employees? That’s unconscionable. You should be protecting your own employees when they’re injured on the job by violent attackers,” she added. Fifty-nine officers were injured during rioting last month.

Over 300 people signed up to tell the council where they stand on the defunding proposal, prompting lawmakers to extend what was slated to be a one-day hearing to Aug. 10 for another round of feedback.

The proposals will be discussed again twice next week, with some slated for a vote on Aug. 5. After hearing from the public on Aug. 10, council members are scheduled to vote on the revised 2020 budget.


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