Seattle City Council Plans To Slash Police Budget In Half

Seattle City Council Plans To Slash Police Budget In Half

The majority of the Seattle City Council say they agree with a proposal to defund the Seattle Police Department by 50 percent and reallocate the funds to other areas in the community. 

“Decriminalize Seattle” and “King County Equity Now” are two new coalitions that have emerged during the recent Black Lives Matter riots calling for the defunding of police departments in Seattle.

In a presentation to the Seattle City Council’s budget committee on Wednesday, the coalition demanded the Police Department’s 2021 budget be reduced by 50 percent from the status quo (its 2020 annual budget is $409 million). Additionally, they are asking that the remaining 2020 budget be cut by 50 percent this summer.

“Decriminalize Seattle” and “King County Equity Now” introduced a four-point proposal for defunding the police department: 

  1. Remove Seattle’s 911 dispatchers from police control
  2. Scale up community-based solutions to public safety
  3. Fund a community-led process to “imagine life beyond policing.”
  4. Invest in affordable housing

Decriminalize Seattle representative, Jackie Vaughn, declared the aim of his organization is to not only “defunding the Seattle Police Department,” but also “building a world where we trust and believe in community to provide the safety that we need.” 

In a letter, Senior Deputy Mayor Mike Fong begged council members to approach “re-envisioning policing” in a more “thoughtful” way.

Fong explained that the cuts would force the city to “abolish the department”. 

“Some of the proposals we have heard that Council (sic) may be considering related to the current 2020 budget rebalancing effort would immediately cut as much as 25% ($100 million) or 50% ($200 million) from SPD’s budget. These blunt efforts would not serve our communities or lead to the thoughtful change needed. SPD has already spent half of its $400 million annual budget by now, so a $200 million cut (or 50% of SPD’s budget) would leave the department with zero budget remaining for 2020 and require the City to abolish the department. $100 million reduction (or 25% of SPD’s budget) would mean immediate layoffs of up to 1,000 personnel leaving Chief Best and the Seattle Police Department unable to conduct basic functions.

Seven out of nine council members are ready to vote for the reduction of police funds, even though Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan suggested in a statement from her office that she is wary of big changes. Although Durkan has been in support of reducing police funds, she appears to desire a slower approach. 

In an email about the four-point proposal, Durkan spokeswoman Kelsey Nyland said, “Our office doesn’t object to any of these ideas – they are all undeniably critical to building a more just and equitable city. But each … is much more nuanced than it initially might seem, and if we don’t factor that into our discussions … then we’ll never be able to build actionable and lasting solutions.”

Durkan’s hesitation may have been influenced by a protest that was led outside her home by socialist Councilwoman Kshama Sawant. Durkan wrote to the leader of the Seattle City Council, Lorena Gonzalez, calling for Sawant to be investigated, for “recklessly undermin[ing] the safety of others”. 

It’s worth noting, her concern for her own personal safety came only after Durkan fully endorsed and embraced the Capital Hill Organized Protest, CHOP, calling it a “block party”. When asked what she expected in the coming months from CHOP, she responded that it may be a “summer of love.” Things changed after two men died in the cop-free autonomous zone in the once vibrant neighborhood. 

Six votes are needed to pass budget-related legislation and to override a mayoral veto. 

During a remote news conference, City Council members, Tammy Morales, Kshama Sawant, Teresa Mosqueda, and M. Lorena González, joined coalition representatives and supporters who are pledging to advance the proposal.

Council Member Lisa Herbold told The Seattle Times she is committed to supporting the cuts this summer and in 2021. 

Member Dan Strauss said on Twitter he is in “100% agreement” with the four-point proposal.

Another member, Andrew Lewis, chimed in, “To be clear, I am 100% in favor of the (Decriminalize Seattle) demands, including the goal of a 50% cut of SPD’s budget.”

Despite pleas from Mayor Durkan and Senior Deputy Mayor Mike Fong, the Seattle City Council appears set on implementing the four-point plan which will effectively cut the Seattle Police Department budget and terminate the force altogether.

Evita Duffy is an intern at The Federalist and a junior at the University of Chicago, where she studies American History. She loves the Midwest, lumberjack sports, writing, & her family. Follow her on Twitter at @evitaduffy_1 or contact her at [email protected]
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