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caption: A protesters raises their hands in the air while standing at a police line outside of the East Precinct building after the Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone was cleared by Seattle Police Department officers early Wednesday morning, July 1, 2020, at the intersection of 12th Avenue and in East Pike Street in Seattle.
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A protesters raises their hands in the air while standing at a police line outside of the East Precinct building after the Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone was cleared by Seattle Police Department officers early Wednesday morning, July 1, 2020, at the intersection of 12th Avenue and in East Pike Street in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

'Defund SPD' now supported by Seattle council majority, but not the mayor

Calls to slash Seattle's police budget are growing louder in the city, and now a majority of City Council members are voicing support for a 50% cut.

As of Thursday, seven of nine council members say they would support a proposal to defund SPD by 50% this year. That's a veto-proof majority, meaning that Mayor Jenny Durkan could not override the council's decision with a simple mayoral veto.

Mayor Durkan, however, is standing firmly against those plans. She will hold a news conference Monday about the police department's budget.

Durkan and Chief of Police Carmen Best say they are opposed to the City Council's effort to cut the police department budget by half, saying the city council has not assessed impacts on service.

The Seattle Police Department responds to an average 609 calls from the public each day. Department staff told the city council on Wednesday that the majority of that time (about 70%) is spent on urgent calls, such as crimes in progress. They argue that the SPD need to keep its full budget to maintain public safety.

But organizers with Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now say community groups could do much of that work, and that it's time for the SPD to shrink in size. They are advising the City Council as it deliberates the 2021 budget.

Jackie Vaughn is an organizer with the Decriminalize Seattle coalition and gave a presentation to the council on Wednesday about the need to change policing.

"We need people and responders who have not been trained or indoctrinated by police," Vaughn said. "With these funds we would repurpose SPD dollars to violence prevention and restorative justice organizations so that we can reduce the future amount of 911 calls."

Decriminalize Seattle is asking the city council to reallocate policing funds to community-led safety systems, replace the current 911-operations with a civilian-led system, invest in housing for all, and more.

Councilmembers Lorena González (council president), Teresa Mosqueda (budget chair), Kshama Sawant and Tammy Morales have said they will vote to slash SPD's funding and use those funds to scale up community-led organizations.

Then, on Thursday, three more council members joined the call. Lisa Herbold, Dan Strauss and Andrew Lewis appeared in a news conference with Decriminalize Seattle and allied organizations and gave their endorsement of the plan.

The other two council members

Councilmember Alex Pedersen doesn't entirely favor a 50% cut to SPD

Councilmember Alex Pedersen doesn't entirely favor a 50% cut to SPD

Two city council members have not publicly endorsed a 50% cut: Debora Juarez and Alex Pedersen. However, they too have said policing needs systematic change. Juarez has said she'll support defunding and that it's a decision that exists on a spectrum.

"This spectrum asks us to find a balance between maintaining public safety and repurposing parts of the SPD budget into investments in Black & Brown communities," Juarez said on Twitter.

Mayor Durkan, meanwhile, has committed to putting more city dollars into local organizations that service Black and Brown community members. She has also proposed a 5% cut to SPD funding, in a package that makes numerous budget cuts due to the coronavirus pandemic. She remains opposed to larger law enforcement cuts, however.

Angelica Chazaro is an organizer and also a UW law professor. In the council's budget committee Wednesday, she made the case that police simply cannot be trained out of using violence against people of color.

"Over 60 years before SPD killed Charleena Lyles, a 1955 mayor's advisory committee on police practice found that the city's police officers demonstrated patterns against Black Seattleites, and offered sensitivity training.

"So we've been here before", Chazaro said. "Seattle has been down the reform and training road and that road has not produced the results that Black communities deserve."

Decriminalize Seattle proposes that the city scale up community programs that already do violence prevention. They want SPD's budget cut in half to raise the needed money, starting with a gradual reduction in staffing this year.

The City Council will continue debating the SPD budget this month. Their next budget meeting is Wednesday July 15.

This post has been updated as of July 13th, 7:50 a.m.