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City Council hears proposals for Seattle Police changes, strong public support for #defundSPD during budget deliberations

With reporting by Lena Friedman — CHS Intern

The Seattle City Council continued its inquest into the Seattle Police Department budget Wednesday with organizers outlining suggested cuts and changes that could include overhauling the way the department handles 911 emergency calls and how money should be reinvested into the Black community.

Nearly 45,000 people have signed a petition in line with demands from protesters of systemic racism and police brutality, which include defunding the SPD by 50%, redirecting money into community solutions, and freeing protesters arrested during demonstrations, according to a presentation from Decriminalize Seattle. Four council members, including Kshama Sawant, have indicated support for cutting the SPD budget in half and others have said they support some reductions.

“We’re talking about dramatically changing what it means to create a public safety network,” Teresa Mosqueda, who chairs the council’s budget committee and has said she supports a 50% redirection of the SPD budget, said Wednesday. “We know that this world we are currently working within is not actually creating the health and safety that’s been promised.”

Wednesday, Mosqueda and her council counterparts heard strong support for the defunding efforts during public comment on the deliberations. Massively reducing spending on policing has been at the center of demands during weeks of protests and demonstrations around Seattle in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.

The debate over how exactly to #defundSPD will come to a head as the council reshapes the mayor office proposal for changes to the city’s budget in the face of the expected COVID-19 economic crisis. The council is scheduled to hold a final vote on the rebalance on July 20th.

Angélica Cházaro, a law professor at the University of Washington and organizer with Decriminalize Seattle, said cuts to the SPD could come from various aspects of the department, including cutting its training budget, freezing hiring, and reducing patrol staff, among ten specific cuts that could be made.

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“The time for reforms is passed,” Cházaro told the council Wednesday. “It’s clear to us now that more training, more accountability measures are not going to cut it. We need to move away from an armed response to social problems. We can’t train our way out of the problem of police violence.”

Cházaro laid out four ways the money from SPD should be spent: replace 911 operations with a civilian-led system, increase restorative justice solutions spearheaded by the community, invest in housing, and fund a community-led process to “create a roadmap to life without policing.”

Violent crimes have made up just over 1% of all calls for SPD service this year, according to an analysis by The New York Times. Over 15% have been made up by traffic accidents and enforcement.

While less than half of all 911 calls last year were categorized as non-criminal, 60% of service hours were spent on criminal calls, according to an SPD presentation.

Decriminalize Seattle called for 911 calls to be referred to responders that aren’t police, such as community-based workers that can provide mental health support and other services. Council member Andrew Lewis, who represents Queen Anne, South Lake Union, and the downtown corridor, announced plans Monday to introduce legislation that would fund a first responder program for issues of mental health and substance addiction based on a Eugene, Oregon, initiative with money redirected from the police department.

The outreach teams under the plan would be comprised of an unarmed medic and mental health worker who can aid individuals in distress and connect them to services.

“We need people and responders who have not been trained or indoctrinated by police,” said Jackie Vaughn, the executive director of Surge Reproductive Justice and a Decriminalize Seattle organizer. “We need community-based organizations that care for community in a way that addresses the root causes of situations.”

Mayor Jenny Durkan is proposing $20 million in midyear cuts to the SPD budget, which amounts to about 5% of the department’s $409 million budget, or 10% for the rest of the year since $195 million has already been spent. City budget director Ben Noble has said this is the largest budget cut of any city department, which is consistent with it being the largest department in the general fund.

Additional options for reductions to the 2021 SPD budget are being developed and the current budget proposal includes redirecting $4 million initially meant for a second North Precinct. The proposed cuts are only $4 million higher than the initial internal proposal Durkan made.

Much of these cuts were due more to unexpected budget shortfalls stemming from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, not the frequent demonstrations in the city against police brutality against Black people and systemic racism.

An analysis from The Seattle Times found that the department’s budget had grown by 36% over the last five years, increasing by more than $100 million.

The city has asked SPD to prepare models for what budget cuts up to 50% next year could mean for community engagement. A 20% cut would equal a reduction of 406 full-time equivalents; 30% would equal 616; and 50% would equal 1,036, according to SPD’s executive director of budget and finance Angela Socci.

“We’re certainly considering all options at this point,” Socci said in a council hearing last month.

Personnel expenditures represent nearly 75% of the SPD’s budget and the 2020 adopted budget for the department allows for 2,187.35 full-time equivalents.

Nearly 1,300 SPD employees were deployed in connection to demonstrations between May 29 and June 9 for a total of 72,619 overtime hours at a cost of $6.3 million, according to a presentation to the council last month.

In the public testimony sandwiching Wednesday’s Seattle City Council budget deliberations, more than 100 callers voiced overwhelming support for a 50% defunding of the Seattle Police Department to invest in community health and safety initiatives.

Public commenters focused heavily on defunding the police department as the city council discussed potential SPD budget cuts and the mayor’s proposed 2020 rebalancing package. A number of residents thanked the council for Monday’s approval of the Jumpstart tax on big businesses and identified police brutality as a public health issue, calling on the importance of increased community health workers and mental health counselors.

“Police violence is a health inequity — we need to get the police off the streets unless they’re absolutely needed so they can do no harm and replace them with skilled and trained community members,” Jim Krieger, a public health professor at the University of Washington, said.

Many residents spoke in support of a joint proposal created by coalitions Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now, calling for the police budget to be cut in half and for those funds to be redirected in the following ways:

    • Replace current 911 operations with civilian-controlled system
    • Scale up community-led solutions
    • Invest in housing for all
    • Fund a community-led process to create a roadmap to life without policing

“This should include the creation of individual housing units as well as tiny house villages and public housing and emergency rental assistance,” Real Change organizer Evelyn Chow said, referencing objective number three. “Black Lives Matter must mean investing in the wellbeing of Black folks and their right to housing.”

Among the city’s midyear budget proposals under city council review, Mayor Jenny Durkan proposed a $20 million police budget cut for the remainder of the year — 5% of SPD’s $409 million adopted budget. Durkan has also agreed to invest $100 million into BIPOC communities for the 2021 budget and asked SPD to propose a model of what a 50% budget reduction would look like.

Only a few voices objected to police budget cuts and defunding the police, with one person citing deaths in the Capitol Hill protest zone as heightening the need for police.

“The call to defund police is profoundly unjust,” District 5 resident Beth said. “The SPD is already underfunded and defunding the police has the most impact on minority communities and the vulnerable. In the police-free CHOP zone, two Black teens were killed in five plus shootings, one deaf woman was sexually assaulted and there’s probably more.”

Many speakers participated on behalf of council member Kshama Sawant and Socialist Alternative with the following demands:

*Defund Seattle Police by at least 50%, and use those funds to support community programs, especially for youth of color

*Build 1,000 homes in the Central District for working-class African American people

*Fund the Green New Deal!

*Stop austerity, no budget cuts to roads, parks, libraries, or other public services

*Fund renter rights and Eviction Defense

*Stop the Sweeps of Homeless Encampments, Fund Tiny House Villages

“As the protests continue, it is becoming clearer and clearer that the police do not keep our communities safe, so we must build new programs that work for everybody, especially for the Black, Brown and Indigenous people that are often targets of police brutality,” Capitol Hill resident Kate Simpson said.

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15 thoughts on “City Council hears proposals for Seattle Police changes, strong public support for #defundSPD during budget deliberations” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. 1000 homes in the central district for African Americans? Any reason why other racial groups who suffer from poverty should be left out. Why is it an African American family that moved to Seattle three weeks ago qualifies while an Asian or white family who’s been there for four generations doesn’t?

    “Scale up community-led solutions”
    Community-led? you mean the activist community? Who is this community who makes the decisions? Apparently they are not inclusive. this is a shakedown. From the same groups who continue to live off taxpayers and show an enormous lack of ethics.

  2. LOL, you can always count on SHARE/WHEEL to get theirs. There is literally no problem that they think couldn’t be solved with money (to them) for sanctioned encampments and tiny house villages.

    On a more serious note, cutting the training budget seems like a horrible idea.

    I fear this is going to end just like deinstitutionalization. Money will be cut, the theorized community supports will never materialize, the most vulnerable will be hurt the most, and the rich will hire private security and put up fences.

    • Bingo. The smarter idea would be to invest in these institutions that are supposed to rise up to take the work off the police department’s plate. Then as they take over the work, you can reduce the police because the data should show underutilization of resources.

      Instead, they’ll cut the police budget and these other agencies will either never get started or will have little efficacy in achieving their stated goals. If there’s one thing that SHARE/WHEEL and LIHI have shown us, it’s that success metrics aren’t something this city cares about when it comes to social programs.

  3. This level of funding cuts to public safety could have such a profound impact on the city, I’d love for it to go to a full public vote, so everyone can weigh in versus just those who have time to attend these types of meetings.

  4. Is moving 911 operators into civilian oversight really a net positive? I doubt they relay calls to police just because they are part of the department and by moving them to a different dept within the city gov or setting up a new structure entirely aren’t you going to end up increasing costs for 911? You will need to create a new administration and probably new support services/infrastructure. That will just reduce the amount of overall funds available for safety programs. I don’t see how doing that makes the program any better or improves safely. It just seems like it is a ploy to reduce the police budget by accounting tricks. I guess if the cost of 911 goes up the council can always just introduce a new property tax levy to pay for it. Looking forward to that

  5. The City basically has two call centers for E911 – the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) is at SPD. The secondary one is at SFD, though I do not know if it’s designated the secondary PSAP (it may be NORCOM). That’s why when you call 911 and need medical or fire, SPD xfers you over to SFD and then they handle it.

    Ideally the City would consolidate both into one Emergency Services Department. Collapse the personnel from both SPD and SFD into one group, unify the call taking and radio dispatchers, as well as dispatch software and equipment expenses. Ideally they would also put it at a primary location not co-located with either SPD of SFD buildings right downtown (hello, earthquakes).

    This kind of consolidation has been done in many other places, especially around here (SNOCOM, NORCOM, etc). It could be done, but it’ll be expensive at first, but the long term gains might be greater – eliminate some duplication of efforts. E911 services are usually helped to be paid for by surcharges on phone bills (check out your cell phone bill line items). Plus, you’ll also get that the dispatchers and call takers wouldn’t be beholden to any one department, since SPD having the PSAP is now the concern flavor of the week for the protestors.

  6. “cuts to the SPD could come from various aspects of the department, including cutting its training budget, freezing hiring, and reducing patrol staff”

    They want police to be better schooled in deescalation and a host of other community centered policing skills, and reinforce and update those skills regularly, yet they want to cut training? And reducing patrol staff? So adding to the already abysmal response times, especially in north Seattle that has a huge precinct area and too few police, where one can wait 3 days for someone to show up to take a report, they now want to have even fewer patrol staff which means fewer officers to back up an officer who gets in trouble and needs assistance? This has the potential to lead to MORE shootings if officers are left out there hanging without sufficient back up. Just as we saw nights last winter where the police could only respond to priority one calls because they were so short staffed, that will only get worse. The anarchist contingent is decidedly male and man it shows as it’s a very privileged viewpoint that we can just do without police. In my lifetime I have been mugged downtown (suffered a broken tooth and a fractured face), and attacked twice by crazy, methed out homeless people downtown. I don’t want “restorative” justice. I don’t want to sit in a circle and listen to my victimizer, facilitated by an Andre Taylor, talk about his bad childhood. I want him arrested and put in jail. Victims are completely left out of all of these discussion as is any concept of what police actually do. Sending a social worker to wrestle a man with excited delirium, thinking that he just needs a chat about drug treatment which he does not want and you can’t force, the whole concept is ridiculous. I think most people have no idea that every day the police put excited delirium drug users on stretchers, to HMC…and then have to come back to HMC and take them to jail because – shocker – once at HMC they assault staff. Why? Because once they come down they’re pissed off, angry addicts. Who don’t want treatment. Just as many homeless folks who are put in local SHA housing lose it almost immediately because of their drug related behavior (violence, stealing, acting crazy). The whole “defund” movement is SPD paying for the crimes of other police departments while the socialist city counsel froths at the mouth over the opportunity to fund a bunch of untrained, unskilled, unproven “community members” in dubious alternatives to the justice system. Lastly, while the public screams “let them out!” if anyone bothered to check, nearly every protester was released within hours except the felony looters, who were released within days. The only people who stayed in jail were those with unrelated warrants. And the BLM Freedom Fund bailed those people out, along with one prolific drive by shooter. I sure feel safer now with him on the street.

  7. “Angélica Cházaro, a law professor at the University of Washington and organizer with Decriminalize Seattle, said cuts to the SPD could come from various aspects of the department, including cutting its training budget, freezing hiring, and reducing patrol staff, among ten specific cuts that could be made.”

    These ideas are nuts. SPD needs MORE training, not less. And certainly not fewer police officers. The basic problem is not the number of officers, it’s that there are some bad apples, and they need to be identified and fired.

    I do support the idea of a professional team which would respond to acute mental health situations and take the burden off the police. But this would cost alot of money and would depend on not cutting the overall SPD budget. Also, it would be a major challenge for 911 staff to be able to tell over the phone if referral to this team would be more appropriate than dispatching SPD. What might seem like a non-criminal situation over the phone could quickly turn into a violent one.

  8. Looking forward to the expulsion of the Council members next couple election cycles. A vocal minority is steering them towards the ends of their political careers. Most of the City prefers police…just we would like *better* police. Whacking the training and staffing budget is unlikely to help.

    • Our chance to clean up the council was last November. But Amazon’s ham-fisted attempt to influence the election played right into the hands of the fringe people.

      Going to district representation has been an absolute disaster for Seattle.

  9. “Many groups in Seattle are already doing work to keep us safe without relying on police, including both violence interruption and violence prevention.”

    Okay – so where were these “violence-prevention/interruption groups” when Black lives were being violently gunned down at the CHOP?

  10. Presence of police is what helps one feel somewhat safe in the city that has been slowly deteriorating and becoming crime and homelessness infested. The local government appeases to those who don’t want to become productive members of society. Police is not the problem, city council is. Defund city council!

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