No, Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat, Seattle doesn’t “need therapy” to improve on public safety. What we need is a police department mature enough to follow orders from duly elected officials instead of throwing a two-year-long temper tantrum over legitimate complaints from residents about cops killing, beating, and tear-gassing people they’re supposed to protect and serve.
But as long as local mainstream media continues to reinforce a tired and factually incorrect “both sides” narrative of childish squabbling in City Hall, as Westneat did in his column over the weekend, then we won’t make the progress on public safety that everyone claims to want so badly.
In Westneat's analysis, the Council and the cops bear equal amounts of blame for failing to stand up crime-reducing programs such as Denver’s STAR, which is a non-cop crisis response unit. After all, he argues, the 2020 council hurt SPD's feelings when they suggested paying for such programs with some money from a bloated police budget. And after all, some council members continue to hurt SPD's feelings by "barely containing their contempt for the police" on the dais. Given all that, it's only natural for the cops to continue standing in the way of reforms that would help solve their purported staffing issues and improve public safety.
In reality, the blame here fully lies with the Seattle Police Department and executive branch leadership that has covered for the department’s recalcitrance.
First, some fact-checking. Westneat claims that the Council came after the cops "hard" by "cutting $54 million from their 2020 budget level (about 13%), and for a time vowing to slash far more." However, that "cut" mostly reflects the move to shift 911 call operators and parking enforcement out of SPD and into civilian control elsewhere in City government—a far cry from the 50% slash-and-burn approach activists clamored for in the streets.
And if the the current council still "barely contains their contempt for the police," then they have a funny way of showing it.
This is the same council that voted to approve former Mayor Jenny Durkan’s hiring bonuses for new officers in November 2021. Though the Council did reduce the SPD budget by $8.4 million at the end of that year, Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said at the time the City faced a $15 million budget deficit, and most of the cut to SPD came from salary savings for vacant positions that the department couldn’t fill fast enough. And last week, eight of those nine council members voted to authorize even larger hiring bonuses for new cops.
Despite backing up the Brinks truck to help the department hire more officers, SPD continues to shuffle its feet—and not without plenty of help from the Mayor's office.
For instance, Councilmember Andrew Lewis, who represents downtown, has been banging the drum for alternatives so often that it has become a drinking game in our newsroom. Back in 2021, the Council first tried to achieve Lewis's goal by funding an alternative called Triage One. Durkan publicly called for the program in July of that year, and the Council funded the program, but the Mayor's office did very little work to actually stand it up, as current Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell admitted in a public safety committee hearing this past June. However, when Lewis pressed for even a one-van pilot program built on top of whatever meager foundation the Durkan administration left behind, Harrell mimicked the cops' delay tactics and said more research and preparation was needed.
That same hearing in June revealed another example of SPD’s dawdling on alternative response programs. The Council told SPD to complete a “Risk Managed Demand” analysis of 911 call data to determine how many and which types of calls an unarmed team of mental health professionals could safely handle. Two months ago, Senior Deputy Mayor Harrell told the Council she expected that report “any day now.” As of the last public safety committee hearing on August 9, the Council was still waiting on that report.
During that hearing, the Council tried advancing another strategy to reduce the strain on our overworked and understaffed police department. They asked Interim Chief Adrian Diaz about the possibility of shifting traffic direction at large sporting events from cops to civilian Parking Enforcement Officers. Instead of embracing this show of concern for his officers’ well-being, Diaz responded with vague hand-waving about Department of Homeland Security regulations that, it turns out, don’t actually conflict with the Council’s policy proposal.
I’d ask SPD for comment on all of this, but they’ve decided to close their Public Affairs Office for this entire week. If I had to bet, I'd bet that they'd blame staffing issues on their inability to complete their homework on time. But you don't need more cops to research DHS regulations, answer the public's questions, or listen to 911 call recordings and code them.
So, no, this is not a case where the Council and SPD need to “go off on a retreat with a mediator” to hash out their differences. This is a case where we all need to operate from a shared reality. SPD failed to retain enough officers over the last two years. Leadership hasn't directed enough of the officers they do have to perform the department's core responsibilities, such as investigating sexual assaults. And yet, rather than work with the Council where it can to solves these problems, the reporting all points to the cops putting politics over public safety.