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'Defund the police' is back in the spotlight as Seattle council races heat up

caption: Campaign mailer sent out by the Dan Strauss campaign in the 2023 Seattle City Council primary
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Campaign mailer sent out by the Dan Strauss campaign in the 2023 Seattle City Council primary

Dan Strauss and Andrew Lewis are distancing themselves from earlier calls by Seattle City councilmembers to defund the police. Both are running for reelection.

Lewis represents Council District 7, which includes parts of downtown Seattle and nearby neighborhoods. He said he regrets promising back in 2020 to slash the budget of the Seattle Police Department by 50%. But Lewis stands by his support for some of the goals of the defund movement.

“I think the whole focus on funding is a mistake. What we need to be doing is figure out what the mission of SPD is going to be,” he told KUOW.

To be clear, the council never voted to cut the police budget by 50%. But Lewis said defund rhetoric provoked a backlash by police advocates. And he said that backlash has, in turn, made police reforms, including alternatives to policing, harder to achieve, politically.

This week, in a new campaign mailer, Councilmember Dan Strauss also said defund was a mistake. Asked to clarify, Strauss told KUOW only that he considers public safety "an important issue in this election," and that he wants to make his position known.

Back in 2020, Strauss expressed support for exploring 50% cuts. Since then, he's said that didn't mean support for defunding.

Strauss represents Council District 6, which includes Ballard and other northwest Seattle neighborhoods.

Councilmember Tammy Morales is the only other incumbent running for reelection in this year's council race. Morales said she has no regrets over her support for the defund movement.

She told KUOW her focus continues to be on programs meant to address the root causes of crime as well as alternatives to policing.

"If we reallocate existing city resources to those programs, then that is a goal,” Morales said. And if that money needs to come from the police budget, she's OK with that.

Morales represents Council District 2, which includes neighborhoods like Beacon Hill, Columbia City and the Chinatown-International District.

Ballots for the primary election for City Council were mailed out this week and must be postmarked or placed in drop boxes by Aug. 1.

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