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caption: Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, along with Police Chief Carmen Best, announce their proposal to reorganize the police department, reducing its size and funding, July 13, 2020.
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Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, along with Police Chief Carmen Best, announce their proposal to reorganize the police department, reducing its size and funding, July 13, 2020.
Credit: Seattle Channel

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

Transferring a share of duties out of the Seattle Police Department is among a range of changes to local policing, proposed by the mayor and police chief Monday.

Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best say, however, that they will oppose any reductions proposed by the Seattle City Council that would "compromise SPD’s ability to provide service and safety to the residents and businesses of Seattle."

The proposed changes to the police department largely have to do with civilian roles. They will be removed from under SPD's purview, and placed under other city departments, bringing their funding with them.

"The challenges and systemic problems that community has rightfully asked us to solve are difficult and deeply entrenched in American society and government," Durkan said during a press briefing Monday.

"We believe we can lead the nation as we have done before. But I must be clear, we will not support any effort to abolish the police department or cuts that will compromise the Chief and SPD's ability to serve the people of Seattle."

Mayor Durkan and Police Chief Best have proposed preliminary cuts of $76 million to the Seattle Police Department's (SPD) budget for 2021. The majority of that, roughly $56 million, would come from transferring several duties, including the city's 911 call center, out of the police department and to civilian, non-law enforcement oversight.

Duties to be transferred include:

  • The Office of Police Accountability, which is already an independent office, will now be funded outside of SPD's budget.
  • The 911 Call Center which takes calls for SPD and the fire department. It currently has 12 officers and 140 civilian employees who will be transferred out of the department.
  • Parking enforcement will be moved to the Seattle Department of Transportation. The enforcement division has 120 employees.
  • The Office of Emergency Management has 11 employees. It will be transferred away from SPD, but it is unknown if it will become its own department or will be placed under another part of the city. It could also be added with other city agencies to address other community needs, such as housing.

“The Seattle Police Department has been very clear – we are committed to a community-led re-envisioning of what community safety should be,” said Chief of Police Carmen Best. “I know, and the officers know, that there are numerous functions and types of calls that do not need a police officer to do them. Officers are called to these events because they can be both predictably and randomly dangerous and because, too often, other systems have failed."

The city is also halting plans to grow its police force in 2021 and will not fill 40 civilian job vacancies. The city also plans to look into officer overtime and staffing for special events, such as sports games. Special event overtime will be reduced by 30,000 hours with a saving of roughly $2.7 million, according to a statement.

Decriminalize Seattle responds

In a statement, Decriminalize Seattle and Seattle Equity Now responded to the proposal. They say that Durkan's comments on Monday "relied on fear-mongering and outdated talking points," and do not address their demands.

The groups have listed four demands: a civilian-controlled 911 system; using community-based responses to crises; funding research that will lead to "life beyond policing"; and investing in housing.

The statement argues that the mayor is distracting from their plans to change Seattle policing.

For years, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) community members and organizations have been working to push community-led alternatives to the life-threatening status quo. Now is not the time to distract from the urgent and clear demands from community. Even as the Mayor and the Chief of Police scramble to derail progress with their divisive rhetoric, we will continue to invest the time and energy in defense of Black lives to implement this four-point plan. We call on elected officials to do more than just listen to our BIPOC community. They must back our vision with action, investments, and support.

Divide between Mayor and Council

Durkan said Monday she knows the city must act with urgency, but that they can’t simply cut functions from SPD or cut officers overnight.

She said if the city wants to send the right help, which may not be a police officer, they must build that capacity in every area of the city with the right people and the right training.

Durkan and Best characterized their plan as a thoughtful approach to ensure lasting change.

At the same time, Durkan slammed the approach taken by Seattle’s City Council. Last week, a majority of city council members voiced their support for demands by community advocates who want to see SPD defunded by 50%.

The proposal laid out by the groups Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now, also calls on funds to be reallocated into community-based programs and ramping up things like violence prevention and restorative justice initiatives.

The plan Durkan and Best laid out Monday would reduce SPD’s budget by just under 20% in 2021. The current budget exceeds $400 million.

Durkan called the council’s commitment to the defunding plan irresponsible and said blunt cuts won’t work.

“You can’t govern by Twitter or bumper sticker,” Durkan said. “Community safety is too important not to have a thoughtful approach.”

Some council members pushed back during their morning meeting Monday, saying they’re not considering blunt cuts.

“We are looking at scalpel-like approaches to be able to scale down what we use law enforcement to respond to, and what we can scale up in terms of community-based investments that we know are a public health approach that will actually be more effective at addressing some of those issues we’re currently asking law enforcement to respond to," Council President M. Lorena Gonzalez said.

Other changes to SPD

According to a statement from the Mayor's Office, it is analyzing changes to the following aspects of policing, which it hopes to move forward with community involvement:

  • Functions of current work at SPD shifted to a public health or harm reduction models.
  • All specialized functions of the department to determine what should be civilianized, transferred out of SPD, maintained, right-sized, or eliminated.
  • 800,000 calls from the community to 911 and dispatches to 400,000 unique events to determine if new emergency responses are necessary.
  • Appropriate staffing models to provide sufficient services across the city, 24/7.
  • Booking and arrests data to determine if citations are more appropriate response.
  • Transitioning low priority calls to online reporting.
  • Expected 2021 retirements and attrition to better determine staffing models.
  • SPD’s response to other agencies, including King County Metro and Seattle Public Schools, unless there is a scene of violence, a serious assault, or a substantial theft or property destruction.
  • Optimization of SPD’s fleet, facilities, and information technology projects to be consistent with the new approach to public safety.
  • Current overtime practices, including necessary staffing throughout the year required to maintain public safety and the presence of SPD at reimbursable special events and sporting events.
  • Expansion of current City programs, like SPD’s Community Service Officers, Health One, mental health workers embedded with SPD, and a dedicated nurse 911 line for shelters, or new resources like additional counselors or behavioral health specialists.