One year after the murder of George Floyd, are promises to defund Seattle Police being kept?
In response to city-wide protests following George Floyd’s murder, the Seattle City Council vowed to chop the city's police department budget in half.
KUOW’s Kim Malcolm spoke with Seattle Times reporter Daniel Beekman about what's changed with policing in Seattle ... and what hasn't.
Kim started the conversation by asking about what city leaders promised to do.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Daniel Beekman: The main promises that the city council members made, was supporting the idea of quickly defunding the Seattle Police Department or cutting its budget by 50% and the shifting of those funds.
The mayor said she promised to identify $100 million to quickly invest in communities of color—into Black communities in particular. And both the mayor and city council members said that they would try to get the city on a road to re-imagining public safety. Fewer calls and duties by armed sworn officers, and more work done by community members, community organizations, and unarmed responders.
Kim Malcolm: 50% ... are they anywhere close to that?
Beekman: No, they're not. In context, in recent years, the Seattle Police Department budget has grown pretty significantly every year. So, cutting or reducing the police department's budget at all is an important change. Did they cut it 50%? No, nowhere close. It’s actually more like 11 to 18%, depending on how you calculate it.
Another thing to know is, of those reductions that they did do, a large part of it was the transferring of civilian 911 call dispatchers and parking enforcement officers out of the Seattle Police Department. Those transfers are still in progress, and it's also keeping those people within the city. It's not cutting armed police officers.
I seem to recall there was one big overarching theme that we got from both the mayor and the city council: to take money from the police department and then re-invest it into community-based programs. What has actually been accomplished on that front?
There hasn't been a huge amount of money that has been taken from the police department and put into community programs. Partly because a lot of the money that was reduced, was just transferred out of the police department, but stayed at City Hall. This doesn't mean that the city isn't investing in community programs and community safety programs. There are big plans to do that.
There's about $100 million that the mayor promised that in one way, shape or form is supposed to go out to humanity programs and projects this year and possibly next.
Something that has happened, is that $4 million did go out the door of City Hall late last year to neighborhood hubs. Where community groups are sending unarmed patrols—who are trained in de-escalation techniques— to walk around neighborhoods, talk to people, and de-escalate situations. To be a sort of safety presence that's not police.
There were some pretty big promises made last year… What's the biggest thing that was promised, that has not happened yet?
Well, two things come to mind. One is that the $100 million promised by the mayor and by City Hall, hasn't gone out the door at City Hall yet. It hasn't reached the people in the community.
Another is that despite various reductions in the police department's budget, the mayor, and the city council has approved the continued hiring of police officers. This is mostly to replace the officers that have been leaving the department—in record numbers—in order to keep the numbers somewhat steady. But, if people thought that defunding the police meant a lot fewer officers or thought that's what City Hall was doing, well, there’s still hiring going on.
Daniel Beekman covers city government and local politics at The Seattle Times. His recent piece is co-written with David Guttman.