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‘It was a realization that we had an opportunity’ — After months of protest, Seattle’s moment to defund its police force is here — UPDATE: 43%

A massive march continued the call to defund Seattle Police Wednesday

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.

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.

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:

Meanwhile, the march was headed to City Hall:

UPDATE x2: Sawant’s bid for an immediate 50% cut has failed:


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43 thoughts on “‘It was a realization that we had an opportunity’ — After months of protest, Seattle’s moment to defund its police force is here — UPDATE: 43%

    • I think I see where the $100 million figure comes from… it’s about what the city spends in pre-k and community college scholarships….. yeah, let’s just forget the billion spent each year on the 12 years in between….

  1. Great sign, except it’s wrong! That’s not the schools budget (SPS, a separate legal entity), that the City of Seattle’s school levy, which goes to mainly south end schools.

    So if you’re going to “educate” us, don’t look so stupid.

    • …that the City of Seattle’s school levy, which goes to mainly south end schools.

      Can you provide some more information on this statement?

      A quick perusal of the Building Excellence V Capital Levy shows capital projects are spread out pretty evenly across the City.

      The Educational Programs and Operations Levy fund gaps in needed operating funding. The SPS budget doesn’t show a bias towards South Seattle school.

      In the end, the fact that our school budget is $1 billion and our police funding is $400 million should still raise some eyebrows.

  2. So we’ve moved on from blaming Amazon for all our social ills to blaming the police department. Last week on 12th ave, Starbucks, Rein Hause, and juvi were damaged. Add those places to the enemies list. We elected Marxists to city government, so this is what picking winners and losers looks like.

  3. Regarding the photo above, the Seattle Public School’s annual budget is well over one billion dollars, with the local contribution as of 2018 amounting to about $180,000,000. The local public schools have a much larger budget than SPD, but receive the majority of their money from the State. And Seattle Public Schools budget has increased dramatically in the last five years, demonstrating a renewed commitment to public education. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, but it does complicate the message that photo is trying to convey. If someone with a more nuanced understanding of the numbers wants to point out where I am wrong about them, please do.

  4. The Council needs to show their commitment to the community and work to reshape the SPD. Let’s also be clear: the Council has always had oversight and budget control over the SPD. They have shown little will to accept accountability.

  5. Glad the Council is cutting the harbor patrol. The taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing the safety of kayakers who aren’t smart enough to take swimming lessons and find their boat overturned in Lake Union.

    • Right now we have homeless, mental health and drug addiction crises, not an overturned kayaker crisis. Shifting money from the latter to the former seems like a no brainer.

      • You mean the department of the SPD that comes and tells the homeless to move before the police come and force them to move? Gosh, they were so critical to solving the homeless crisis.

        The City is set to use that funding for community programs that focus on actually getting people out of homelessness, rather than playing the never ending game of encampment dislodging.

  6. Given that unemployment is over 10% perhaps we should be thinking of cutting spending to reduce property tax so that home owners can afford to live in their homes. We could also throw the money at affordable internet so that our kids can learn.

      • And then you need to find a house somewhere else within reach of your job etc… that costs – oh, yeah, probably a lot more than your ‘profits’….

        IMHO one of biggest things we could do for poor people is to make it very difficult to lose your house solely due to rising taxes… it could do a lot – it would help families build generational wealth, it would help families with kids stay in improving neighborhoods – in their schools and with their amenities, it would help create neighborhoods with a diversity of incomes.

        People with fixed or low incomes should be able to get reduced property taxes (right now they are basically deferred) if their neighborhood gentrifies. Young progressives really seem to hate this idea – because yeah – it means fewer houses being sold to be knocked down to make ‘cheap'[er] apartments for them to rent in the once inexpensive and now hip areas. Throw a few low income units in a few of them and they think that it’s great… meh, a lot of poorer people – all they’ve got to pass on is their home, if they get taxed out of it, there goes any opportunity to pass anything on to the next generation. Lets work on keeping people here. We know that poor kids do better when they don’t live in poor neighborhoods, but what do we do – our darnedest to make sure they all have to move out. It’s all backwards..

    • Well, at least King County has a program for seniors whereby their property taxes are significantly reduced. There is a maximum income to qualify, but that has been increased recently, so more people qualify.

    • For perspective: It’s ONE trucking company in IL and the interview is on Fox News. And an internal truck drivers poll voicing concerns about cities with ‘defunded OR disbanded police departments’. In my opinion it does not really apply to the rather modest SPD personnel cuts planned for Seattle! So I will gladly take the fund shifting from SPD to other city services that do not make teargassing residents a priority ;).

    • Total rubbish. I’ve worked in the industry and said drivers would be quickly replaced since capitalist companies are super into making money and not waves. And there are scores of drivers looking for work, especially given our recent strides in automating everything.

      If a bunch of Amazon Prime Now drivers decided they wouldn’t deliver to the 1% surely you’d expect them to get canned. Why is this any different?

  7. If this proposal is passed, the city council, King County Equity Now, and Decriminalize Seattle are going to need to immediately step from the role of activism to actually working to ensure that crime stops. That is going to be a heavy lift for them, but they will need to take responsibility for any increases in all types of crime. They will need to stop the slogans and actually implement programs that provide statistical data of the how they are reducing crime. I hope they are successful, because there is a lot at stake. If they fail, they need to own the problem.

    • Crime is from social inequality. Give people basic income to live on and they won’t steal packages or join gangs to make money. Pretty simple stuff really. Defund aggressors like the cops. Defund Amazon. Defund corporate CEOs.

      • That’s the problem — people assume they know where crime originates, but they have no idea. They also don’t care about crime that is committed by their own constituents against others.

        Look at billionaire criminal Trump for an example that shows you it isn’t just about social inequality.

        Other reasons crime happens:
        -Addiction & Drugs
        -Poor role models (lack of good male role models, especially for POC)
        -Kids learn that conflict resolution = fighting (which is taught and reinforced by the very communities that are supposedly against it)
        -Dogma (Radicalized, “Ends justify the means,” “It’s just property.”)
        -Rage (Must be dealt with from within)
        -Inferiority complex
        -Greed
        -Narcissism
        -“Us vs. Them” mentality
        -Illegal weapons
        etc etc

        THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS THAT ALL ACTIVIST GROUPS WHICH RECEIVE MONEY FROM TAXPAYERS MUST BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE TO FAIR STANDARDS.

        They don’t deserve any free money just because they marched for many days. They truly need to make the community better and prove it.

      • You are living in a dream world…. most criminals are absolutely not Jean Valjean stealing a loaf of bread…… they are people who want things – the latest shoes, or that special coolest brand of jacket, a fancy car, and can’t even conceptualize being able to afford them with any job they might work, they are people who need their next fix or next bottle (or are free drugs and booze part of your basic income…), they are people who are simply off their heads and don’t even know what they are doing…., they are people who have conflicts with others and have no idea how to solve them without violence. A basic income wouldn’t do anything to solve any of that.

  8. This is a big mistake, but I am resigned to the fact that it’s happening. Going forward, it’s critical that the money saved and diverted will be spent wisely and effectively. Seattle doesn’t have a great track record in spending on the homeless issue…we have been throwing increasing amounts of money at it for years, and yet the problem is getting worse.

    As an example, the elimination of the Navigation Team (which we will regret):

    “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.”

    How will the redirected funds actually be spent, and by whom? Will there still be a re-named team that will focus on getting the homeless into treatment facilities for their addictions, and into more humane housing? And who will clean up the huge amounts of trash accumulating in the camps?

    • SPD shouldn’t be cleaning up trash anyway; that’s not really what they’re hired for, is it? And the social services agency they used to be partnered with, REACH is still around around and might be able to make a transition back especially if some of the Nav Team money ends up with them. And there are other groups ready to jump in as well.

  9. I thought the point was to use the money to fund social programs to try and help African Americans to commit less crimes? If they just move the services to different departments then then the funds aren’t going to those programs.

      • Sounds you’re not aware of or are not following the approach of the BLM folks, and ignorant ad hominem remarks seem to be the norm now unfortunately.

        The rationale for defunding the police is to spend more on social programs to stop crime before it happens, that’s the crystal goal argued. Keeping people out of the justice system further reduces the chances of recidivism, and no one wants to live in a stressful dangerous neighborhood. So just providing the same service in a different department, but not providing the social benefit isn’t the goal and doesn’t address the issues.

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