Seattle Council approves cuts to police department
The Seattle City Council voted in favor of measures aimed at cutting funding from the city’s police department at its Monday meeting.
The cuts are part of a mid-year budget. They passed in a 7-1 vote by the Council Monday afternoon. The re-work of the the 2020 budget was necessitated by the economic fallout from the pandemic.
Following weeks of protests against police brutality and systemic racism, the cuts to the Seattle Police Department (SPD) were by far the most closely watched and debated portion of the re-balancing effort. The Council approved cuts to police staffing and command staff pay. It also nixed the city's Navigation Team.
The measures approved by the Council Monday fall far short of the demands of protesters and community members who have pushed to defund SPD's remaining 2020 budget by 50%. Activists want that money to be reinvested in community-based public safety solutions.
The bill passed Monday also includes roughly $17 million in funding for investment in, and scale-up of, community-led public safety organizations.
Several council members said Monday that they see this as a first step in making bigger changes.
Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said the Black Lives Matter movement is not new, but what's new is the way in which the council is responding to their calls for action.
"This is our beginning," Mosqueda said. "This is our effort to show that we're taking first and important steps to right historic wrongs, to begin building that trust back with community, and to make it clear that today is only the first step in that process."
She said the package voted on Monday is one step in a larger plan that encompasses the 2021 budget, to be considered by Council in the coming weeks.
Reduction of 100 police officers
The cuts approved by Council include a reduction of about 100 jobs through layoffs or attrition. That's out of roughly 1,400 sworn positions at SPD.
Council members have indicated that they want Police Chief Carmen Best to prioritize officers with multiple, sustained complaints against them for layoffs.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, Chief Best, and the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) have all expressed concerns about layoffs within the department.
In a letter sent to council members over the weekend, Durkan again raised concerns about potential labor and litigation issues. There's disagreement over how feasible 'out of order' layoffs - layoffs that do not impact most recent hires first - in the department are.
"While the Chief nor I are disputing the need to reduce specialty units or a future attempt of out of order layoffs, we are disputing the continued assumption – against the advice of all outside parties - that this process can be completed in less than three months from now," Durkan's weekend letter states.
A letter from the SPOG also states they believe this is an issue that must be bargained.
Command staff salaries slashed
Along with a reduction of the force, the Council's bill slashes the salaries of roughly a dozen of SPD’s command staff. This includes the pay for Chief Carmen Best.
However, amendments made Monday mean Best's 2020 salary will see a less aggressive cut than previously proposed. Council members voted to bring her salary down to roughly $275,000 from just under $300,000.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has previously commented that the Council’s proposals go too far.
Her concern, and specifically related to the issue of command staff pay, was reiterated in a statement from her office Monday afternoon.
"Mayor Durkan continues to have concerns with the City Council’s approach to cut Chief Best and her leadership team’s salaries," the statement said in part.
Navigation Team dismantled
The mayor's office statement also raised concerns about the council's decision to eliminate the city's Navigation Team as part of the mid-year budget package.
The team was initially implemented under Mayor Ed Murray. It was designed to be a hybrid of police officers and outreach workers trained to conduct outreach to, and removal of, encampments.
However, the program has been controversial and, in recent months, has come under scrutiny from some of the very outreach workers who were contracted by the city to work on the team.
Chloe Gale is co-director of REACH and worked on the Navigation Team. She told KUOW’s Paige Browning that she supports the dismantling of the program at this point.
“We're really supportive of this decision,” Gale said. “I know it's been a hard one to make and it's been a long time coming. Over the last four years, we've really seen the Nav Team move in the direction of more enforcement response, more rapid response, more responses to obstructions and hazards that have fewer opportunities for people to move forward in a positive way, and more increase in the law enforcement side.”
However, members of neighborhood groups and business associations sent a letter to the council Monday opposing the move. The letter states that eliminating the team "will have severe negative impacts on parks, neighborhoods, businesses and the unsheltered population."
Sawant was the lone 'no' vote
A call to defund the Seattle Police Department has been a common demand among protesters against racial injustice in recent weeks. Many call for a cut of 50% to the department, shifting those funds to other services for the community. A majority of the Council has publicly stated they would support a 50% cut.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant, the lone no-vote on the bill Monday, decried the lack of follow through from her colleagues on this issue.
"This budget fails to address the systemic racism of policing, trimming only $3 million from the bloated department’s remaining 2020 budget of $170 million just weeks after 6 of the 8 other council members publicly declared they would support defunding SPD," Sawant said in a statement.
She also said the overall package passed Monday fails working people. It includes cuts to parks, transportation and other departments.
Due to the pandemic, Seattle is facing a huge deficit in 2020. Updated forecasts show an even more dire picture of the shortfall than originally anticipated. The city is now facing a nearly $340 million problem this year.