UPDATE 8/6/2020 8:30 AM: The City Council’s budget committee Wednesday set the groundwork for a near halving of what Seattle spends on policing with a plan for layoffs, cuts, and new approaches to be implemented in the coming weeks and months.
“We’ve outlined and identified possible transfers, cuts and reductions in the fall budget to get to a 43% cut to SPD,” public safety and human services chair Tammy Morales said following Wednesday’s budget committee votes. “We look forward to working with community in the upcoming weeks to get us to the guiding principle of defunding SPD by 50% and reinvesting in community.”
As the council committee deliberated Wednesday, thousands marched from the King County youth jail and justice facility on 12th Ave to City Hall in a show of support for the defunding effort. Organizers of the Every Day March vowed Wednesday to continue their efforts to protest and rally in the streets.
With the time needed to meet requirements around most of the planned layoffs, actual savings to the city this year will be minimal. But other pushes forward to reducing the city’s dependence on police will move more quickly. The plan calls for moving around $14 million in early funding to begin building the network of city and nonprofit resources required to move forward on social and community programs hoped to provide non-police solutions.
The amendments to the city’s budget plans must now be approved by the full council on Monday in a process the council says will continue in the fall.
Today’s proposed amendments begin to repair the harm done to black & brown communities by reducing the size and scope of what SPD does while also making a down payment on investments in BIPOC community health & safety models.
We continue to create a roadmap to 50% in the Fall pic.twitter.com/LMCIwmiwMn
— Tammy J. Morales (@CMTammyMorales) August 5, 2020
Several thousand march to defund SPD pic.twitter.com/kfrLvGp6ul
— Alex Garland (@AGarlandPhoto) August 5, 2020
Planned cuts and layoffs include 85 out of the more than 1,000 sworn officers and SPD employees including reductions in teams including the mounted unit, SWAT, harbor unit, school resource officers, and a reduction in its public affairs unit. Most of the cuts involve reductions of a small number of positions. In the harbor unit, for example, the number of officers will drop from 30 to 28.
A larger cut will remove the city’s Navigation Team with the elimination of 14 police officer positions and the funding redirected to homelessness outreach.
Along the way, the council committee also agreed to cap the pay of SPD command staff — including Chief Carmen Best.
As expected, Sawant’s bid to fully meet Black Lives Matter demands with an immediate $54 million cut to the departments and a massive round of layoffs found no support Wednesday. The Socialist city council member was the only seat on the committee to back the proposal.
You can read more about the individual amendments at Seattle City Council Insight.
ORIGINAL REPORT: It was late May, the weekend after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, when Seattle City Council member Teresa Mosqueda realized the budget committee she chairs would have to deal with a lot more than COVID-19-induced financial shortfalls this summer.
Thousands turned out in downtown streets before moving to Capitol Hill the next week for demonstrations against police brutality and systemic racism that often saw tensions flare up between protesters and police.
“The massive amount of social uprising that manifested in people coming to the streets of all walks of life; children and elders; folks with disabilities; folks’ first time coming to the streets to protest the injustice of seeing George Floyd murdered on camera after years of people being murdered on camera,” Mosqueda told CHS last week. “It was a realization that we had an opportunity.”
That political process born out of the activism, rallies, and protests will come to a head this week as Wednesday the budget committee will pound its way through dozens of proposed line item cuts and changes to the Seattle Police Department that need to be in place by next Monday, August 10th’s final vote on rebalancing the city’s 2020 budget.
The activism is also not complete. Wednesday, thousands are being called upon to march from the 12th Ave youth jail to city hall for the #defundSPD cause.
💥On the day of the historic vote to Defund SPD, you are needed in the streets now, more than ever.💥
📢This Wednesday, Aug. 5th 12PM Take to the Streets, Defund the Police March & Rally📢
⚡️From the youth jail 2 city hall⚡️
✨Presented by @decrimseattle & @kingcountyequitynow ✨ pic.twitter.com/Ql5hPl8XT4
— Nikkita Oliver (@NikkitaOliver) August 5, 2020
That next week back in May, Mosqueda spearheaded an “inquest” from the council into SPD’s budget, a move that has launched two months of discoveries surrounding the department’s finances and differing arguments over how much can be cut in the final months of 2020.
Protesters have for weeks demanded a reduction of at least 50% from SPD’s budget, a call that has received support from a majority of the council. While this is the immediate issue at hand, the local protest movement, which has garnered national attention and continues with marches across the city every day, has kicked off a broader discussion in Seattle around the reimagining of public safety that will likely continue for years.
“For a lot of people it’s personal,” said LéTania Severe, of King County Equity Now, one of the leading coalitions pushing the council to cut the police budget. “This is kind of life or death for me.”
But Mosqueda and some of her council colleagues have had to throw cold water on the idea that a blunt slicing of the police budget is possible this year, instead pushing for funding for a community-led budgeting process that will set the council up for more substantial cuts in 2021.
Introduced Friday, a council resolution concedes just as much, saying it is “unable to immediately effect all the changes demanded by the community,” while also laying out a timeline for a “new civilian-led department that will take a holistic approach to public safety” by the fourth quarter of 2021.
Mosqueda, along with council members Tammy Morales and Lisa Herbold and council president Lorena González, is advocating for a package that could cut the SPD’s 1,300+ strong force by dozens of officers, with targeted layoffs and cuts ranging from the department’s mounted unit to the Navigation Team that removes homeless encampments.
Police Chief Carmen Best has argued that the public should not be forced to “test out a theory that crime goes away if police go away,” but Mosqueda pushed back, saying this “first step” will help “set us up for this successful model that everyone knows will work in improving public safety and community resilience.”
The plan Mayor Jenny Durkan has proposed does not call for any immediate layoffs, instead it cuts $20 million from this year’s budget while moving 911 operations and parking enforcement out of the department. Durkan, who has allied herself with Best in standing against a vast defunding of the police, has also announced a proposal to reduce the police budget by $76 million in 2021.
“The chief and I share the goal of much of Seattle: we want to lead the nation in reimagine policing,” Durkan said in a Wednesday afternoon press conference. “We know that we can do that and still protect public safety and have a system in place where people get the help they need 24/7 in every part of the city.”
“We think the council is looking in the right places but in the wrong year.”
The SPD budget this year is $409 million, with personnel expenditures making up nearly 75% of that. The 2020 adopted budget for the department allows for 2,187.35 full-time equivalents. Council staff estimate that the proposed cuts carried over to 2021 would reduce the department’s budget by over $169 million, or over 40%.
The council cannot require Best to deploy department employees in a certain way, so the council members are instead looking to limit the funding for certain units, such as harbor patrol, that would be spent on salary and request Best reduce their size. For example, the four council members want to save over $33,000 this year by decreasing the SWAT team from 29 employees to 27 with layoffs occurring on Nov. 1. The council legislation concedes, however, that “labor issues may ultimately prevent layoffs from occurring on November 1, 2020.”
Layoffs are likely to be the subject of bargaining with the Seattle Police Officers Guild that could take months, muddying the waters for how much the council could cut into SPD’s finances before the 2021 budget cycle, which is set to begin in September.
“We have an opportunity to respond right now in the 2020 rebalancing package and are trying to do so with very few resources, especially in the SPD bucket,” Mosqueda said. “But the call for us to act in this summer budget is as urgent as us acting on the other public health crisis that is COVID.”
If forced to make layoffs, Best, a vocal opponent of the 50% defunding demand while indicating support for working to restructure local policing, has said that union rules would mean the younger and more diverse class of officers would be those left without a job. Some council members are pushing Best to get an exception on this rule from the city’s Public Safety and Civil Service Commission, while the legality of such a measure has been called into question.
The council members are also looking to move the department’s 10 victim advocates to the city’s Human Services Department as part of a broader effort to move the public health side of the current police system out of the department.
One of King County Equity Now’s top goals is to lead a participatory budgeting process in the coming months to develop a plan for money spent on the criminal justice system in the city.
“The types of questions that are going to come out of this community-led research process, the kinds of solutions, the kinds of creativity and brilliance that’s really going to drive the vision can only happen with a community-led process,” the organization’s Shaun Glaze said.
Along those lines, perhaps the financial centerpiece of the package beyond the $3 million that could from late year layoffs and other cuts, is $17 million from emergency funds and other sources for research on public safety led by community groups. Despite this, King County Equity now and Decriminalize Seattle said on social media that, while the amendments are a step forward, they “fall well short of the Community’s demands to reallocate 50% of SPD’s budget into pro-BIPOC community initiatives.”
On top of the Mosqueda-González-Morales-Herbold package, District 3 council member Kshama Sawant has laid out a proposal of her own that would look to make more substantial cuts to the SPD immediately through patrol reductions across the board that Mosqueda said was laden with labor violations. The Sawant plan would have required layoff notices to have already been delivered to police personnel, Sawant’s council colleagues maintain.
While other council members appeared receptive to many of the items in the Mosqueda-González-Morales-Herbold plan, the council still has yet to confirm which way they’re going, with votes set for the SPD amendments on Wednesday before the complete budget rebalancing package is confirmed next Monday.
What everyone seems to already agree on, however, is the importance of the months-long protests in holding officials accountable and pushing for change.
“It is a call for action,” Mosqueda said. “It’s an important reminder that we have to have both pressure from the outside and council and electeds that are willing to step up and push for the status quo to be changed.”
UPDATE 1:45 PM: As its session working through the proposed amendments continues, the committee has approved a base package of cuts including cutbacks to the SPD mounted unit, SWAT, harbor unit, school resource officers, and a reduction in its public affairs unit:
New: Council budget committee has unanimously passed the consent package of Seattle Police Department budget amendments, which includes a few dozen layoffs but minus the 32 included in amendment 16. Committee on recess until 2 p.m. #seattleprotest pic.twitter.com/vmGSuRPW8q
— Jake Goldstein-Street (@GoldsteinStreet) August 5, 2020
Meanwhile, the march was headed to City Hall:
— Alex Garland (@AGarlandPhoto) August 5, 2020
UPDATE x2: Sawant’s bid for an immediate 50% cut has failed:
Sawant proposal to immediately cut $54 million from the Seattle PD budget through layoffs fails with the D3 council member as the only yes vote. Council President González abstained and the rest of the council voted against. #seattleprotest pic.twitter.com/URx1zOxRRY
— Jake Goldstein-Street (@GoldsteinStreet) August 5, 2020
HELP KEEP CHS 'PAY WHAT YOU CAN' FOR EVERYONE -- SUBSCRIBE TODAY! Support local journalism dedicated to your neighborhood. SUBSCRIBE HERE. Join to become a subscriber at $1/$5/$10 a month to help CHS provide community news with NO PAYWALL. You can also sign up for a one-time annual payment.