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Override: Seattle City Council overcomes mayor’s veto of 2020 cuts to police budget — UPDATE

Note: Councilmember Juarez did not appear via video and spoke only during votes in Tuesday’s session

The Seattle City Council voted Tuesday to override Mayor Jenny Durkan’s veto of a 2020 budget rebalancing package that marked the immediate start of funding reductions for the police department with cuts of the salaries of 100 officers and the elimination of the Navigation Team that clears homeless encampments.

Going into the meeting, the council appeared likely to instead pass what it considered a compromise with the mayor’s office that scaled back the already modest reductions in the initial measure that council members had called a “down payment” on the way to deeper cuts to police funding. The move came as large-scale demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality dominated conversation in the city. Protest leaders have called for an at least 50% cut to the Seattle Police Department budget, which totaled $409 million in 2020. Seven of the nine council members indicated support for such a reduction.

While council members Kshama Sawant, Teresa Mosqueda, Andrew Lewis, Dan Strauss, Lisa Herbold, and Tammy Morales as well as Council President Lorena González voted to override the mayor’s veto, council members Debora Juarez and Alex Pedersen voted to sustain it.

Sawant was the only member to vote against the original bill in August, calling it an “austerity budget” and Juarez was absent.

Seven votes were needed to overcome the mayor’s vetoes.

“When I look back in this moment in time, I want to be able to tell my daughter, who I am currently holding in my arms, that I did the right thing and that I voted on the right side of history,” González said. “My vote today to override the mayor’s veto is one action to move our city toward a more just society.”

UPDATE: “At the end of the day, after previous promises of a 50 percent cut to SPD, the reductions to the SPD budget are almost exactly those proposed by the Mayor and former Chief Best, but none of the other issues Council admitted are problems have been addressed,” Kelsey Nyland, spokesperson for Durkan’s office, said in a statement after the vote. “For weeks, the Mayor has worked with Council and offered solutions in an attempt to find common ground. The Mayor thought they had built that consensus on many issues in the compromise legislation introduced yesterday. While councilmembers have publicly stated they wanted to work with Mayor Durkan to address issues in the 2020 budget, they chose a different path.”

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The original package amounted to around $3 million in cuts for the rest of 2020. It also included $17 million in community investments, with $10 million earmarked to scale up community-led public safety organizations, $4 million for youth-focused safety programs like Community Passageways, and $3 million for the participatory budgeting process. Vetoes of bills focused on these community investments were overridden unanimously.

Here are the specific cuts that legislation makes:

  • Cut 32 officers from patrol – $533,000
  • Reduced specialized units including officers assigned to mounted unit, school resource officers, homeland security, harbor patrol, SWAT team – $250,000
  • Removed officers from Navigation Team, ensuring homeless neighbors are not retraumatized by armed patrol officers – $216,000
  • Reduced staff budget through recognizing expected attrition – $500,000
  • Reduced administrative costs, including salaries, community outreach, public affairs
  • Cut $56,000 from training and travel expenses
  • Cut recruitment and retention – $800,000
  • Transferred victim advocates from SPD to Human Services Department – $377,000 impact
  • Removed two sworn officer positions from the 911 Emergency Call Center

During council deliberations, Durkan’s office put out a statement calling on council members to sustain her veto, saying “this work is too important to not do together.”

Many of these provisions would have been either eliminated or dampened in the substitute package the council passed Tuesday. Almost into October, it’s unclear if there is enough time to carry out layoffs given the mayor’s veto, extended council deliberations, and the time it would then take to negotiate with the Seattle Police Officers Guild.

The new proposal would have gotten rid of the original reduction of the police force by 100 officers, set to be carried out through layoffs and attrition by the end of this year. The Navigation Team similarly wouldn’t have been dismantled and the controversial cuts to the salaries of police commanders wouldn’t be happening. The Navigation Team, which has drawn the ire of activists, instead would have gotten an additional $500,000 to pay for mental health services and other assistance while two already-vacant positions on the team for police officers would be eliminated.

Several council members who came into Tuesday’s meeting without publicly committing to vote either way on the vetoes said the compromise with Durkan didn’t live up to the commitments they have made over the summer to reimaging public safety.

“This work is too important to stop and play political games,” Strauss said. “Overall, the compromise bill falls short of what was and is widely known to be the shared objectives of this council.”

The new bill would have committed the new interim chief, Adrian Diaz, to working with the city on a plan for out-of-order layoffs as pushed by the council. He would then have had to petition the Public Safety Civil Service Commission for permission to do so. It also requested that Durkan conduct a study of police command staff wages.

In announcing her retirement after the council passed their budget rebalancing last month, former SPD Chief Carmen Best cited the salary cuts and the layoffs that she said would have had to have hit the younger, more diverse class of officers due to seniority.

How about the community investments? The original $17 million would have turned into $2.5 million for violence-prevention programs and $1 million for participatory budgeting aimed at improving public safety.

All of these compromise provisions pointed to the council giving up more in negotiations with the mayor’s office.

The Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now coalitions that have been on the frontlines of the fight to slash the police budget said in a statement Monday that the new proposal “guts efforts to divest from policing and invest in the Black community. This is unacceptable. This is anti-Black.”

“We reject the new bill,” the statement reads. “We reject a bill that does not reduce the size of SPD, that keeps the failed Navigation Team mostly in place, along with budget lines for mounted police, police officers in school, and more.”

UPDATE: “Today, we are encouraged to see the City Council—emboldened by the support of tens of thousands of BIPOC community members—resist Mayor Durkan’s bullying tactics and anti-Black obstructionism,” a statement from the groups following the vote begins. “Specifically, City Council upheld their decision to divest from the Seattle Police Department (SPD) by 3 million dollars—less than 1% of SPD’s annual budget—and invest modestly in Black communities.” You can read the full statement here.

There was a tense exchange between Sawant and the council president near the end of the council’s deliberations as the District 3 rep accused her colleagues of breaking the law in their negotiations on the compromise bill. Sawant then said González misrepresented her concerns, but González closed debate and proceeded to the vote.

“I’m not misrepresenting anything,” González said. “I’m not going to debate with you. I’m not going to argue with you. We are moving on.”

The council will be getting little break before jumping into 2021 budget negotiations in the coming weeks. Durkan’s budget proposal for next year is set to be released next week. She has said it will include $100 million in investments in communities of color. Then the council will spend much of October and November working on and eventually passing the one-year budget.

In her statement, Durkan’s spokesperson Nyland said the mayor “remains committed to making changes in policing and investing in community.”

“Even with the City’s significant budget shortfall in 2021, Mayor Durkan will continue to engage Seattle in reimagining policing, will continue to work with Chief Diaz to restructure SPD and its budget and will propose a budget that makes a $100 million investment in BIPOC communities,” the spokesperson said.

Early on in this summer’s budget rebalancing process sparked by shortfalls stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, Durkan proposed cutting $20 million in 2020 from the police budget in the form of overtime and reductions in other expenses. While this summer’s back-and-forth has highlighted long standing tensions between City Hall and the mayor’s office, they seemed to agree that some police duties, like 911 operations and parking enforcement, should be removed from the department.

“We listened, we acted, we knew it was an important first step in a longer term and more inclusive process to come this fall,” said Mosqueda, who chair’s the council’s budget committee. “The summer budgeting process and the special summer budget is not the end-all, be-all, and this was not the place that we were going to be able to make the large systemic changes.” She noted these changes amount to less than a 1% cut to the 2020 police budget and called these reductions a “symbolic message” of future bargaining.

UPDATE 9/23/2020 8:25 AM: Tensions rose again during a small protest Tuesday night following the vote as demonstrators confronted police near the East Precinct and were met with a swift order to disperse and a large fleet of SPD cruisers sounding sirens and flashing lights. The sirens carried on for long stretches as police and the protest crowd took turns slowly moving through the streets and trying to outmaneuver each other, according to live stream feeds from the area. A reported fireworks explosion near the precinct was also reported to be an explosive crowd control device deployed by police. We’ll check in on any other SPD crowd control tactics used during the response and any arrests. There were no reported major incidents of vandalism or property damage near the precinct protest. The small crowd emptied out of the area nearly as quickly as it formed and the sirens and lights finally came to an end.

UPDATE x2: Police say protesters added to the flashing lights and blaring sirens Tuesday night as they tried to block responding patrol cars. “The protestors began to surround the officer’s vehicle, while screaming, blaring loud noise devices, and shining their strobe lights directly in the Officer’s eyes,” the SPD report on the incident reads. It does not include details of protesters lighting any fireworks and also does not document any use of explosive crowd control devices by police. We’ve asked SPD for more information.

UPDATE x3: This video shows a person who appears to be an SPD bicycle officer throwing the item that exploded. Protesters and residents in the area reported that it appeared to have been a pepper bomb that spread a cloud of capsaicin irritant.

According to the report, the crowd was given the dispersal order after continuing to surround police vehicles and, police say, attempting to create crude tire spikes with sharpened cans. “While the protest group was advancing towards the police vehicle north of the group, members of the crowd began laying down sharp metal objects in the road behind them, in an attempt to hinder, delay, or damage police vehicles that were following the group,” the reporting officer writes. “Two of these items were recovered, they were identified as pieces of metal cans that had been cut, and contorted into sharp edges that protruded from the ground.”

Police say they were forced to use their lights and sirens as protesters surrounded vehicles, blared loud sounds, flashed lights, and reportedly snuffed out their cigarettes on the hoods of police vehicles. “As the majority of the police vehicles reversed away from the encroaching protest group, one of the police vehicles had become encircled,” the report reads. “Protest members surrounded the driver’s side window, hood, passenger side window, and rear trunk of the vehicle. At this point the officer was unable to continue to reverse safely due to the protestor’s direct actions. The officer continued to display their emergency lights, while activating their siren.”

Police say the situation settled following the order to disperse when “officers disengaged by turning off their emergency lights and creating space from the group.”

“The group then continued to march in the street across several blocks surrounding the East Precinct area, until they stopped inside of Cal Anderson park, changed out of their all black attire, and seemingly disbanded their protest,” the report concludes.

Meanwhile, a fire that burned through the Starbucks in the 2300 block of Eastlake Ave E was ruled accidental overnight. Seattle Fire responded to the building fire around 12:45 AM and found flames shooting from the roof, according to dispatch radio updates. SPD closed Eastlake Ave E during the response and Seattle Fire was investigating to determine a cause. The global chain has seen its Capitol Hill and downtown locations repeatedly targeted as activists have criticized the Seattle-based company’s support of the Seattle Police Foundation. It took SFD about 20 minutes to bring the early Wednesday fire under control. Investigators determined a water heater unit inside the single-story building ignited nearby combustibles, starting the fire.

UPDATE 9/23/2020 3:35 PM: SPD has issued a statement on Tuesday’s vote saying Chief Adrian Diaz inteds “to keep the Department as whole as possible.”

Early yesterday evening, Seattle City Council Members voted to override the Mayor’s veto of their 2020 Budget Rebalancing legislation.

The Seattle Police Department is still determining the implications of this action and the appropriate response. However, it is the SPD’s intent to keep the Department as whole as possible. In 2020, and as we move into 2021 budget discussions, our primary commitment is to build trust and maintain public safety.

Chief Diaz is working closely with the Mayor’s office to assess next steps.

The SPD is aware these decisions can create long lasting impacts, and remains committed to equitably serving all of Seattle.

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16 thoughts on “Override: Seattle City Council overcomes mayor’s veto of 2020 cuts to police budget — UPDATE” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. Let’s see…We want our police better trained to enable de-escalation, so the Council Cuts the officer training budget. We want way more community outreach, so they cut that budget too. We want more racial representation on our police force, so they cut the most diverse part of the force first and keep all the old white officers with the worst records of racism and violence. And I was just traumatized by a very mentally deranged guy camping on Miller Playfield, but the council cuts the police who might “retraumatize” the homeless. WTF?

    • Actually, what we want are people who are properly and specifically trained to de-escalate crises, trained to do community outreach, and trained to help those struggling with homelessness find safe and supportive housing. What we don’t want are armed police officers who are trained to use physical, violent force to be trying (and failing) to do those jobs, especially when they frequently show racial bias in their tactics, and show blatant disregard for the health and safety of the neighborhoods they are meant to serve (i.e. tear gassing a residential neighborhood multiple time even after being ordered to stop doing that by courts and the City Council).

      The guy who traumatized you has probably been traumatized many times over from police and a gutted social services system. So, let’s end the cycles of trauma, and focus on building the community we actually want to live in without relying on police violence to achieve it.

      • DD – You’re an idiot. If you all haven’t learned from watching the crime rates soar through the roof in NY, MN, right after they voted to defund police and you didn’t learn from the absolute lawlessness that overtook the CHAZ/CHOP area where “community policing” ended up with several rapes, robberies, and a murder, it’s going to be hilarious to see you all say, “Why aren’t the cops doing their job?” Ummmm… you defunded them. The blood, destruction, and mayhem that is going to ensue is on your hands.

    • The only problem is that police training never involves de-escalation, so your entire premise is flawed.

      If police didn’t exacerbate the already existing tension in every one of those circumstances you listed above, then we probably wouldn’t be having a conversation about defunding them, now would we??

      Alternatively, you could ask Palestinians about how the IDF “de-escalates” situations and see how that has been working out. The only reason I say this is because the entire US police force is trained with IDF standards and practices. Kettle and Corral baby.

    • Best could’ve laid off the worst offending officers with records of racism and violence first. It was her choice not to do that and instead pedal the the false SPOG driven narrative that she was forced to lay off the most diverse cops first. The lies never stop from SPOG.

      • I don’t think the layoffs issue could be handled as simply as you describe. Civil service laws and negotiated contraçts dictate many things, including procedures for laying off officers. Generally speaking senior personnel remain while less senior personnel go away. There are probably ways around this, but they are not simple and all would be fought by the union (we like unions, don’t we?) which values seniority anf job retention quite highly.

  2. This commands the city to give lots of $$ to “community groups.” They are going to borrow $14 million to start. What are these groups and what are they doing with the money?

    • Bingo. We need more transparency. Even before this an enormous amount of money was going to the activist community with no real accountability. I also question the pledge to direct 100 million to black and brown community in particular. I have seen nothing to suggest the black and brown community were getting less than their fair share to begin with. Quite the opposite. The fact no one is willing to question this is disturbing. Whether you agree with these groups and funding them or not, the lack of giving space for dissenting opinions is troubling. My own opinion is these people are pretty much extortionists who use any opportunity to get taxpayer funds for themselves. And for the most part they are not respectful to people outside of their ideology.

  3. I honestly can’t tell what the police even do in this city beyond pulling triggers and mocking citizens and raking in money. They had 10 years to meet the feds guidelines for the decree and never did.. It’s ridiculous that we would ever fund some service that just openly mocked people and wasn’t accountable to anyone while also being a menace to society. This whole situation with citizens having to demand the city take hold of this situation is obviously not ideal as the mechanisms for these changes through official channels had been eroded purposely by the police and their guild. A popular uprising is very crude and we should work toward better ways of addressing issues… and when it’s not possible we better fucking hope we have a city full of these brave people that have fought with furious activism to get the change we need when the system wasn’t capable of doing it.

    • I always assumed the comments with the rotating carousel of novelty names correlating to the subject of the post (e.g. “ByeByeSPD”) are coming from Kshama’s two council staff who are assigned to shotgun out praise for the Heavenly Matron in the absence of any constituent services work.

      I’ve written a quick script in Python to identify common grammar devices and buzzwords (e.g. “popular uprising”) in comments to test my theory but I need about another week’s worth of data before anything definitive will emerge.

  4. Yes, I totally agree with the posters above. I’m a capitol hill resident and I’d LOVE to have a real community police force that is focused on protecting us, but that’s not what we have. I’d much rather take my chances and try something new than live in a police state. I can’t believe the behavior I’ve seen from the SPD here. They openly loathe us in this community. Why are we paying their salaries? I don’t trust them to protect me at all. I am terrified of them, in fact. And I am extra terrified on behalf of the people who can’t easily “blend in” with the privileged in this town and are subject to regular harassment from them. I would much rather the adults who are in charge of this situation and who are experts in this space take accountability and admit that we have a REAL problem with unprofessional officers terrorizing the people they’re supposed to serve, but they won’t and so I guess we, the people who aren’t experts and don’t pretend to be, stand up and say we’re not going to tolerate it anymore, let alone PAY FOR IT with our property taxes. Come the hell on. We know we aren’t community leadership experts. But we are experts in our own lives and we know when we are being taken for a ride and abused!

  5. Is the Navigation Team going to be completely disbanded? Or just the SPD component? If the former, then there will be no outreach services to the camps and no attempt to get the homeless into better housing, or to access addiction/mental health services. Bad decision!

    If the latter, then this will set up an unsafe situation, because homeless people can sometimes act crazy and aggressive towards authority.

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