Today, Mayor Jenny Durkan stood alongside Seattle Police Department Chief Carmen Best and proposed ~*reimagining*~ $76 million worth of services handled by the SPD, which amounts to 20 percent of the department's budget.
Durkan said she would achieve these cuts by reallocating to civilian control civilian services within SPD, such as the 911 dispatch center, parking enforcement, the Office of Emergency Management, and the Office of Police Accountability. That would account for $56 million in cuts to SPD's budget on top of the $20 million Durkan proposed last month.
The mayor's move would satisfy only one part of a four-part proposal from Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now to defund the police department, but the Seattle City Council wants to go further to meet those demands.
Last week, seven of the nine council members voiced their support for cutting the SPD budget by 50 percent, another demand from activists and protesters. Best called this idea "reckless," and Durkan called it "irresponsible."
According to Durkan's narrative, the council has blindly called for 50 percent cuts "because someone put it on a placard." Durkan argued that the council was making "blunt cuts," and said they didn't have a plan going forward. She also claimed they hadn't asked SPD Chief Carmen Best to weigh in on analysis of the SPD budget, and that they hadn't really done any analysis on the SPD budget.
Best said a 50 percent reduction to the budget would increase emergency call response times and lead to layoffs. She added that officers of color would account for most of those layoffs, since the department has pushed to hire more diversely in recent years, and the newest hires would be first on the chopping block.
"You can’t govern by Twitter or bumper stickers," Durkan said. "I think Seattle expects more of its government."
Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, Tammy Morales, Lisa Herbold, Andrew Lewis, Dan Strauss, Kshama Sawant, and Council President Lorena Gonzalez have all voiced their support for decreasing SPD's budget by 50 percent.
In the council's briefing this morning, Gonzalez called Durkan's words "spin."
"The council is not looking at blunt cuts," Gonzalez said. "We are looking at scalpel-like approaches to be able to scale down what we use law enforcement to respond to."
The council has been meeting for hours each week for a month to tackle readjusting the city's budget in light of COVID-19 shortfalls (which amount to around $400 million) and the new calls to defund the police.
Contrary to the way Durkan has made this process sound, council members are meeting each week with representatives from SPD to dive into nuanced parts of the department's budget. Last week SPD policy lead Dr. Christopher Fisher and SPD Budget analyst Angela Socci led the council through 911 call data. More meetings are already on the calendar, and a vote on the budget proposal won't happen until August.
"We are in the very beginning stages of developing proposals," Herbold said, "I’m not sure how it is that the chief is prognosticating on the content of budget cut proposals that haven’t been developed yet."
According to Lewis, Durkan's announcement today is in line with the current discussions the council is having right now.
Lewis is introducing a budget proviso that would assign non-police responders to the bulk of 911 calls, similar to the Cahoots program pioneered in Eugene, Oregon. Over half of calls in Seattle are non-criminal in nature, the council learned last week. For example, "traffic-parking" is among the top 15 call types for SPD. Under Durkan's new proposal, the SPD's parking enforcement unit would be transferred to the Seattle Department of Transportation.
The idea that the council is moving forward with a plan that will cut services and emergency response is incorrect, according to Lewis, whose proviso is working to do the opposite.
Sawant called Best's and Durkan's comments "political gaslighting" and a "specter of lost services."
And if layoffs ever do become part of these cuts, Herbold said officers of color wouldn't have to be the first to go. According to the Public Safety Civil Service Commission, Herbold found, Best could request that layoffs be "out of order," and she wouldn't "have to fire the newest hired first." All she'd have to do is ask.
"It's in the chief’s hands" what priorities she sets if layoffs are necessary, Herbold said.
The budget process continues this week for the council with another meeting on Wednesday starting at 10 a.m. and another at 2 p.m. Durkan has made it clear that she will veto any budget that defunds SPD by 50 percent. However, the council currently has a veto-proof majority in support of that idea. It only takes six votes to override a mayoral veto. Meanwhile, Durkan may face a recall petition on the November ballot.