‘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%

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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. Continue reading

Demonstrators take their message to Chief Best’s home as Seattle City Council looks at smaller 2020 cuts to start process of #defundSPD

A demonstrator from a march this summer that targeted Mayor Durkan’s home

As the Seattle City Council sifts through dozens of piecemeal #defundSPD proposals this week, District 3’s Kshama Sawant has been dealt several early blows in the debate while an activist strategy of targeting the homes of public officials caused a stir Saturday as demonstrators tried to bring their message to SPD Chief Carmen Best’s neighborhood in a “quaint residential community in unincorporated Snohomish County.”

Here’s how the Lynnwood Times described the Saturday night scene:

A crowd of about 200 persons, mostly white men and women in their twenties, were dressed in black with masks and black hoods and carried signs that read “Black Lives Matter.” Black Lives Matter protestors shouted profanity and insults at neighbors, took license plate information on vehicles, took pictures of homes, and asked little kids who lived in the neighborhood what schools they attended.

The arrival of Black Lives Matter on Best’s rural Snohomish County home turf comes as the summer’s debate over how much and how quickly to defund the Seattle Police Department is coming to a head. Continue reading

Durkan, Best counter with 2021 #defundSPD proposal — UPDATE

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.” Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Proposal for November sales-tax renewal vote includes plan for smaller Seattle transit district spend, with focus on ‘working people and communities of color’

(Image: SounderBruce via Wikimedia Commons)

Seattle’s budget crunching from the COVID-19 economic crisis will include asking voters to spend less on bus service in the city.

Mayor Jenny Durkan this week released her proposal for a new six-year Seattle Transportation Benefit District package to replace the project and spending plan approved by voters in 2014.

The 2020 version of the package will be a downgrade in total service but will focus the city’s transit spending, Durkan says, on serving communities of color. Continue reading

Seattle City Council debates tax on big business to bridge COVID-19 budget gap as #defundSPD waits in wings

The push for Black Lives Matters and #defundSPD goals beyond 12th and Pine moved back into the Seattle City Council’s chambers Wednesday with the political battles to reshape the city’s budget in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis moved to the next stage overshadowed by SPD’s morning clearance of the protest zone around the East Precinct,

The #defundSPD budget fight is set to shape up as the council’s budget committee digs in on Mayor Jenny Durkan proposal to make $20 million in midyear cuts to the Seattle Police Department budget — about 5% of the department’s $409 million budget.

This week’s debate will be centered on filling the expected massive hit to tax revenues brought about by the COVID-19 crisis as the council works to shape Teresa Mosqueda’s plan for a tax on big businesses to help Seattle overcome its forecasted budget shortfalls due to COVID-19 and to fund affordable housing, equitable development, and economic support for small businesses. The session will include discussion of more than 20 proposed amendments to the proposal. Continue reading

Slow recovery ($300M) or rapid recovery ($210M), Seattle preparing for COVID-19 to rip big hole in city budget

With forecasts including Depression Era-level unemployment, the City of Seattle is preparing for a potential 20% blow to its budget for vital services as it plans its recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. Mayor Jenny Durkan said it too soon to know if the city employee workforce will need to be reduced and also said she doesn’t think a payroll tax on big business can save the city.

“There are no mechanisms or tricks to magically have money to address that budget shortfall,” she said of the proposed tax.

“The City of Seattle’s Budget Office today announced two economic scenarios for a rapid recovery scenario and a slow recovery scenario,” a statement from Durkan’s office on the budget update reads. “Both scenarios highlight significant job loss, high unemployment and impacts to the City budget which range from $210 million to $300 million.”

The scenarios will be presented to the Seattle City Council Wednesday. The full presentation on the situation is embedded below. Continue reading

With cuts beginning, officials sorting out COVID-19 budget damage from Seattle City Hall to Olympia

A view of Seattle during the COVID-19 crisis

Doesn’t look so bad from up here (Image: CHS)

As COVID-19 rages on both locally and nationally, one big question that looms over governments at all levels is what this means for budgets and the services they fund.

With weakening revenue forecasts and increasing unexpected expenditures, Seattle and the state are scrambling to rejigger budget estimates as they constantly evolve in a rapidly changing situation as a virus with over 7,500 cases as of Saturday rages on in Washington.

Seattle City Council member Teresa Mosqueda, who chairs the council’s Finance and Housing Committee, has been holding weekly check-ins with the City Budget Office to assess the impact this could have.

The 40% of the general fund made up by sales and business and occupation taxes is going to get hit pretty hard with less activity in the city, CBO director Ben Noble said. The B&O tax is paid quarterly and the sales tax comes on a six-week lag, meaning it can take time to fully understand the shortfalls that could result from such a devastating pandemic.

“We’re kind of blind to the impact in the moment and we don’t know how long this is gonna last,” Noble said. “There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty.”

The federal relief bill might give the city some “flexible money,” according to Noble, but not much. Continue reading

Council set to add homelessness and ‘restorative justice’ spending to Seattle’s 2020 budget

The final major action of the current version of the Seattle City Council will apparently be the addition of a progressive encasement to the city’s $6.5 billion 2020 budget including increased spending for restorative justice programs and more money for shelter and homelessness services in the city.

Monday, the council is set to approve a final version of the city’s 2020 budget after weeks of proposals and debates to transform Mayor Jenny Durkan’s $6.5 billion package and its core of public safety-focused spending and smaller sale social line item tied to “one-time” revenue infusions from events like the Mercer Megablock sale and public benefits cash received in exchange for public right of way used in the expansion of the downtown convention center.

Led by budget chair Sally Bagshaw, the council’s changes to the budget package left Durkan’s core fully intact but redirected many elements on the surface of the massive spending package in more progressive directions like funding to open three additional tiny home villages, $1.5 million for a new youth homeless shelter, $1.8 million for a health clinic to be embedded in a shelter, and $1.28 million for mobile bathroom facilities to serve the homeless population.

An addition of $150,000 proposed by Lorena González for a Capitol Hill “Public Life” study that could someday lead to the creation of a pedestrian and bike only Pike/Pine superblock also made the cut.

But the biggest winner in the 2020 budget, Crosscut reports, is the city’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, with the effort focused on pushing low level offenders into services, not jail, coming through the council’s budget process with $3.5 million in 2020 funding, a 50% expansion Durkan’s administration did not include in its budget proposal.

For advocates of restorative justice, the addition of $300,000 in one-time funding for youth diversion and education programs championed by the council’s members including District 3 representative Kshama Sawant will also be a small victory. Continue reading

Sawant makes one last 2020 budget push to cut encampment sweeps team

The City Council’s final batch of proposed additions, cuts, and changes to the Seattle budget are on the table and District 3’s newly victorious incumbent Kshama Sawant is behind several of the options up for final debate.

Seattle City Council insight reports that most of the more than 40 items introduced Wednesday involve restrictions on the the use of already-budgeted funds, “provisos that prevent the expenditure of certain funds until some condition is met,” or statements of legislative intent. Continue reading