Mayor Jenny Durkan and Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best say they have a plan to “transfer current law enforcement functions out of the Seattle Police Department” and make “preliminary reductions to the 2021 budget” as most members of the Seattle City Council have now said they will support #defundSPD initiatives as they set cuts to the city’s spending plan in the face of the COVDI-19 economic crisis.
Durkan and Best said they would unveil the plan at a Monday morning news conference.
UPDATE 10:25 AM: In the session with media, Durkan said she is focusing on a plan for $76 million in cuts to SPD in 2021 — about a third of the #defundSPD 50% goal. Durkan said the plan will call for $56 million of that cut coming from moving the 911 call center out of SPD as well as moving parking enforcement to the Seattle Department of Transportation. The city’s Office of Emergency Management and the Office of Police Accountability, the department’s oversight body, would also be moved to civilian control as part of the $56 million transfer.
Calling the demand for a 50% cut “arbitrary,” Durkan said she does not intend to meet the calls for a massive cut to SPD starting immediately.
Durkan announced Monday she has allocated $500,000 in the 2020 rebalanced budget for community engagement on the SPD budget and citywide work “to reimagine community safety.”
“The programs take time,” Durkan said.
If the council votes to approve a major, immediate slash of SPD’s budget, Durkan said she will fight it.
“I will veto it,” the mayor said. “We want to work with council for a responsible process to do this.”
As part of a potential reorganization of SPD’s budget, Mayor Durkan and Chief Best are proposing an initial set of SPD civilian functions that will be transferred out of the department. These transfers result in a $55.7 million reduction to the SPD budget in 2021, however, they do not reduce the City’s overall General Fund budget and some elements will be subject to collective bargaining.
- Management of the Seattle Police Department 911 Call Center, which is already staffed primarily by civilians, will be transferred out of the department. The Call Center currently takes 911 calls for both SPD and the Seattle Fire Department (SFD) and is composed of 140 civilian employees and 12 sworn officers. All 140 civilian employees will be transferred out of the department, and this will result in $34.2 million transferred out of the SPD budget.
- The civilian parking enforcement division will be transferred out of SPD and moved into the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). The parking enforcement division is composed of 120 civilian employees, and this will result in $13.7 million transferred out of the SPD budget.
- The Office of Emergency Management (OEM) – which prepares for, responds to, and staffs the City’s Emergency Operations Center when a major event occurs – will be transferred out of the police department. This includes 11 civilian employees and $3.3 million transferred out of the SPD budget. The Mayor and SPD will assess if OEM and the 911 call center should remain as standalone departments, be located in other departments, or be combined with a future organization focused on public health and harm reduction responses.
- The Office of Police Accountability (OPA) will be transferred out of SPD. The OPA was already an independent office, but its budget was housed in SPD. This will result in $4.5 million transferred out of the SPD budget.
The Durkan administration has previously identified around $20.5 million in potential cuts:
- SPD will not pursue its plan to expand the police force in 2021, and this should result in at least $13.7 million in savings. The Chief will ensure appropriate staff levels to ensure a 24/7 response across all precincts and shifts. Following further analysis of specialty units between now and September, SPD projects another $10 million in budget savings is possible through a reduction of sworn personnel or transfers to civilian service delivery outside of SPD. Immediate transfer of work currently performed by sworn officers would be subject to collective bargaining and cuts to current personnel would lead to layoffs of newer and more diverse recruits and patrol officers with recent emergency response experience.
- SPD will not fill 40 open civilian staff vacancies, which will result in $4.1 million in savings.
- As SPD further analyzes overtime and reimbursable staffing for special events and sporting events (i.e. Homeland Security), SPD will reduce special events overtime by at least 30,000 hours, which will result in at least $2.7 million in savings.
The mayor’s plans falls far short of #defundSPD calls that would be at the scale of more than $200 million and would radically reshape the police force.
In addition to pushing one front in the battle over Seattle Police spending ahead to next year’s budget, the 2021 move is also a salvo against possible cuts to the department’s 2020 funding after weeks of controversy over the Durkan administration and Best’s department’s handling of Black Lives Matter protests in the city following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.
The focus on 2021 also comes as Durkan has been heavily criticized for her proposed $20 million cut the city’s remaining police 2020 budget — a 5% reduction.
The mayor says the proposals she and Best are presenting stem from talks she began in June after meeting with protesters, activists, and community groups to explore race and social justice reform in policing and equity programs in Seattle.
“With this work in progress and community engagement ongoing, Mayor Durkan and Chief Best will discuss their opposition to City Council’s efforts to defund SPD by 50 percent this year without an alternative plan,” the announcement reads.
Last week, CHS reported on seven of the nine council members stepping forward to say they would support the long-term goal of a 50% cut to the SPD budget — one of the main planks of the protest groups, activistis, and community groups who have aligned around CHOP and a series of demonstrations across the city.
Also last week, the council’s budget committee heard proposals from coalition groups King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle outlining major changes to SPD including moving 911 dispatching to civilian control.
The summer’s rebalancing process due to a predicted rapid deterioration in city revenue due to the COVID-19 crisis now seems ready to stretch into August.
Monday morning, District 3 representative Kshama Sawant who has been calling for the most aggressive SPD cuts on the council, said she is prepared to call for the full 50% cut to SPD’s remaining 2020 budget — $85 million — when the council votes on the rebalancing in August.
“In the autumn budget vote, Seattle City Council will vote on the budget for next year,” Sawant writes. “People’s Budget will then bring the legislation to defund all of next year’s police budget by at least half, around $200 million, going by their budget for this year.”
Sawant currently stands alone. Others on the council including budget chair Teresa Mosqueda have said they support the #defundSPD movement’s goals but have not yet publicly backed specific plans.
Despite the uncertainty, heading into the weekend, Chief Best posted a video message expressing her concerns about the “possibilities” of a 50% cut.
“I do not believe we should ask the people of Seattle to test out a theory that crime goes away if police go away,” Best said.
Advocates for the cuts have been clear the goal isn’t to leave a void of social services in the city.
“We’re talking about dramatically changing what it means to create a public safety network,” budget chair Mosqueda said last week. “We know that this world we are currently working within is not actually creating the health and safety that’s been promised.”
Monday morning, Durkan and Best attacked the council’s process saying the council has done “almost no analysis on SPD’s budget” and “haven’t even talked to the chief of police.”
The mayor said her talks since June have included several members of the Seattle faith-based communities including “Black ministers,” groups like Not This Time and Africatown, and “established, Black-led organizations” as well as “protesters who showed up at the door” but the mayor did not identify any specific groups endorsing her 2021 proposals.
UPDATE 3:45 PM: The mayor’s office has released a schedule and roster of community discussions related to Durkan’s 2021 SPD reduction plan. While the record includes many sessions in June, it shows only one July meeting — that session was with Ollie Garrett, a commissioner on the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board
#UPDATE – I asked @MayorJenny who she has been meeting with in the Black Community in her efforts to Reimagine Seattle. Her office responded with this list of people and organizations. According to her office all meetings were official and available through freedom of info. pic.twitter.com/DRPAOjKUlq
— Omari Salisbury (@Omarisal) July 13, 2020
She said the “coming weeks” will bring further discussion:
In the coming weeks, the Mayor and Chief will begin to engage the community on its priorities for SPD and what changes community envisions for policing. Ahead of engagement, the Seattle Police Department is currently analyzing and evaluating:
- Functions of current work at SPD shifted to a public health or harm reduction models;
- All specialized functions of the department to determine what should be civilianized, transferred out of SPD, maintained, right-sized, or eliminated;
- 800,000 calls from the community to 911 and dispatches to 400,000 unique events to determine if new emergency responses are necessary;
- Appropriate staffing models to provide sufficient services across the city, 24/7;
- Booking and arrests data to determine if citations are more appropriate response;
- Transitioning low priority calls to online reporting;
- Expected 2021 retirements and attrition to better determine staffing models;
- SPD’s response to other agencies, including King County Metro and Seattle Public Schools, unless there is a scene of violence, a serious assault, or a substantial theft or property destruction;
- Optimization of SPD’s fleet, facilities, and information technology projects to be consistent with the new approach to public safety;
- Current overtime practices, including necessary staffing throughout the year required to maintain public safety and the presence of SPD at reimbursable special events and sporting events; and
- Expansion of current City programs, like SPD’s Community Service Officers, Health One, mental health workers embedded with SPD, and a dedicated nurse 911 line for shelters, or new resources like additional counselors or behavioral health specialists.
Durkan and Best’s response to the protests has received strong criticism from Black Lives Matter activists and community groups as well as supporters of police and so-called public safety spending who called for the CHOP occupied protest camp to be cleared and for Seattle City Hall to allow police to use more aggressive crowd control tactics on demonstrators. Friday, a King County Superior Court judge certified a recall petition against the mayor. Anti-Durkan organizers now have 180 day to gather around 56,000 signatures to force a special vote on recall. If removed, Durkan would be replaced by council president Lorena Gonzalez until a special election can be held to select a new mayor.
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