Seattle City Council Approves Plan to Defund Police Department, Slashes Jobs & Salaries

Police
(Photo: Elaine Thompson | AP)

The Seattle City Council voted Monday to move forward with a controversial proposal that would begin the process of defunding the police department.

The 7-1 vote comes despite objections from the city’s police chief, mayor and the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild.

The plan would ultimately slash funding to the department but not the 50% some had sought. Seattle currently has around 1,400 police officers, and the current plan would see about 100 cut. It was also cut the police department’s $400 million budget by about $3 million, according to KOMO.

Councilmember Kshama Sawant was the sole “no” vote because she felt the proposals didn’t go far enough, while Debora Juarez abstained, according to MyNorthWest.com.

The council reviewed a final set of amendments Monday before the vote, which included reducing the police department by up to 100 officers through layoffs and attrition as well as cutting the $285,000 annual salary of the Police Chief Carmen Best and other top officers. Best is the city’s first Black police chief and the pay cut would put her salary well below her predecessor.

The council’s plan also removes officers from a team that dismantles homeless camps.

“While we can’t do everything in this summer rebalancing package, we have set the path forward for tremendous work in front of us as a council and as a city,” Councilwoman Teresa Mosqueda said.

The move to defund the city’s Navigation Team, and redirect the money to homeless outreach services such as REACH will “dramatically restrict the city’s ability to address unauthorized encampments,” Jason Johnson, Interim Director of Seattle’s Human Services Department, wrote in a letter to the council last week.

Some council members have said the initial cuts are a first step to more sweeping reductions and a rethinking of law enforcement in Seattle.

“It’s important to show community members that we hear them, that we’re working towards the same goal,” Councilwoman Teresa Mosqueda said last week.

Mayor Jenny Durkan and Best have urged the council to slow down its discussions about police budgets, saying the issue can be taken up in earnest when the 2021 city budget is considered. They also argued any layoffs would disproportionately target newer officers, often hired from minority communities, and would inevitably lead to lawsuits.

Durkan has already targeted about $20 million in savings from the police budget this year, largely because of spending pressure due to reduced revenues because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last month, the mayor sketched out a plan to reduce the police budget by about $75 million next year by transferring parking enforcement officers, the 911 call center and other areas out of the department.

As U.S. attorney in Seattle, Durkan previously pushed a Justice Department investigation that found officers too quick to use force, leading to a 2012 consent decree with the federal government. Reviews by an independent monitor have determined that the changes under the consent decree have led to a drop in how often police use force. But critics have said the department’s actions during recent protests show not enough progress has been made.

Reducing funding for police departments has been championed by protesters in Seattle and other cities around the country following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In that case, a White police officer knelt on the back of Floyd’s neck for several minutes until he died. Floyd was Black.

Protests, some of which started peacefully but turned violent, were reported across the country, including in Portland and St. Louis.

On Sunday night, vandals in Seattle targeted several stores in the city’s First Hill neighborhood, breaking glass doors at a Chase Bank and Key Bank branch. Vandals also took aim at a boarded-up Starbucks and several other businesses in the area, local media reported.

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