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What does Congressmember Jayapal think about defunding the police?

caption: Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (7th District)  at her Seattle office, July 31, 2019.
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Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (7th District) at her Seattle office, July 31, 2019.
KUOW Photo/Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

Congressmember Pramila Jayapal may not be on the Seattle City Council, but as she tells KUOW's The Record, she is among a number of lawmakers from the Seattle area who favor diverting funding away from police departments.

She may have a different opinion over specifics, however.

“Where do we want to invest our money? Given the desperation of people right now, the number of people who are homeless, the number of people who don’t’ have any safety net at all, I think it is very important to look at this in that context," Jayapal said. "It is completely reasonable for us to shift significant resources from law enforcement and investing in people."

*A previous version of this article stated that Rep. Jayapal favored defunding the police. According to a follow up with her office, she does not favor defunding police, rather, diverting money away from police departments and using that money to invest in needed public programs. Her office argues that "defunding the police and shifting some resources to things we need to be investing in are two very different things."

Defunding police has been a major talking point amid recent civil rights protests in the Seattle area and across the nation. Supporters argue that funding for police departments should be decreased, with money reallocated for social services that prioritize housing, homelessness, mental health, and other needs.

Jayapal did not specifically address Seattle's defunding discussion. A majority of the City Council has publicly stated they favor a 50% cut to the Seattle Police Department's budget. Mayor Jenny Durkan is not in favor of a 50% cut, however.

RELATED: Mayor aims to shuffle jobs out of Seattle Police Department, shrinking its budget

Jayapal had no specific percentage to cut from police departments, rather she says that the defunding conversation should be tangible, and not pushed down the road. She would like to see cities set forth plans — perhaps in phases — and show results as money is shifted out of police departments.

She further argues, "We have to completely reimagine what community safety looks like. That starts with investing significantly in the things that take away racial injustice in our systems, racism in our systems."

Qualified immunity

The conversation around policing is larger than just the money. Jayapal is also focused on the issue of qualified immunity. She is co-sponsor of HR-7085 -- Ending Qualified Immunity Act.

Qualified immunity protects police officers (and other government officials) from prosecution, unless it can be proven that they are incompetent or knowingly violated the law.

Washingtonians are familiar with a related issue: malice. The De-escalate Washington Initiative was passed by 60% voter approval in 2018, removing the requirement to prove a police officer acted with malice while using deadly force. Instead, Washington uses a good faith test.

“Ultimately ... you have to take away the disincentives and the barriers to appropriately prosecuting officers who conduct themselves in ways that are unjust, brutal, violent," Jayapal said.

"That is a lot of what we have been doing here in Washington state, with the De-escalate Washington Initiative, taking away the requirement of proving malice. Qualified immunity is another way in which there are these barriers set up to protect police officers who do terrible things and should be prosecuted for them.”

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