Story at a glance
- The Seattle City Council approved a proposal to cut funding to the city’s police department, prompting layoffs and reduced pay.
- The city mayor and police chief are opposed to the council’s plan, saying it was made too quickly.
Seattle has become the latest city to take steps towards reducing funding for its police department, following calls for greater police oversight and reallocation of department funding in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.
The Seattle Times reports that the City Council voted 9-0 unanimously to lay off about 100 officers as proposals to cut police-command pay and to prevent the clearing of homeless encampments are also advancing in the local legislature. Final votes on those measures will occur next week.
These amendments together are expected to save about $3 million this year, assuming the layoffs won’t happen until November. To start funding nonpolice efforts amounting to $17 million, council members intend mostly to borrow money instead of redirecting police funding. The Seattle Police Department’s annual budget is almost $410 million.
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However, the council rejected a motion to defund the Police Department’s budget by 50 percent and reinvest the money, a move central to the Black Lives Matter ethos.
“We’re not going to be bullied into doing nothing,” Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda told reporters. “It’s important to show community members that we hear them, that we’re working towards the same goal and not just saying no,” despite city officials like Mayor Jenny Dukan (D) and Police Chief Carmen Best opposing cuts to police department funding.
In a statement issued on the day of the vote, Dukan expressed disappointment at the council’s decision to reduce police department funding, which included cutting Best’s salary, removing officers from the force and scaling back efforts to break up homeless encampments following “only a few hours of discussion.”
“Chief Best and Mayor Durkan have laid out our vision on rethinking community safety, reducing SPD’s budget and investing in community,” Office of the Mayor spokesperson Kelsey Nyland said. “The mayor and chief believe that we can and must transform the Seattle Police Department, but unattainable and unworkable ideas are the wrong approach.”
One argument Dukan and Best made was that additional budget cuts would result in new and more diverse recruits losing their jobs.
The Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) expressed similar sentiments, stating in a news release that it pledged “to awaken the ignored majority of Seattle citizens and to rebuke the reckless, radical concept of defunding,” with the union president fearing that the city council’s plans could make the city a “lawless wasteland.”
Conversely, the Seattle public has joined the national calls for reallocating some of the department’s funding. A march to City Hall garnered about 1,000 participants on Wednesday, demanding that state funding be reinvested in Black communities and organizations, as well as improved public safety.
“The community needs resources. We need funding that we actually control,” Elijah L. Lewis, a member of the activist group King County Equality Now, said Wednesday.
In a joint press conference, Dukan and Best asked that council members pause additional police department budget cuts until the 2021 budget discussions in September.
“I would just urge the council again, take some time,” Durkan concluded.
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