Durkan enjoying the spacious environs of North Seattle College.
Durkan enjoying the spacious environs of North Seattle College. Screengrab from Seattle Channel

True to the pro-police stance she held throughout last summer’s resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed city budget would increase the Seattle Police Department’s budget, setting her office against the advocates for Black lives who took to the street with calls to defund the Seattle Police Department by 50% “at least,” as some said, and to reallocate those funds to other safety programs.

Her budget also conflicts with a community proposal known as the Solidarity Budget, showing that the rift between the mayor and Seattle progressives holds strong during her last hurrah in office.

Last year, activists convinced the council to cut the police budget by 17% for 2021, but Durkan’s new budget would reverse some of that progress. She’s proposing to increase spending on SPD by over $2.4 million.

“I believe it is a false choice to say we must choose between investing in effective community alternatives or investing in having enough well-trained police officers,” Durkan said in her 2022 Budget address at North Seattle College on Monday evening. “We need both.”

Angélica Cházaro, a member of Decriminalize Seattle and the Solidarity Budget Coalition, argued that a city that fully invests in meeting universal basic needs – which she believes the 2022 Solidarity Budget does – is one where police would become obsolete.

“We are demanding a shift away from armed policing and towards community care,” Cházaro said after the mayor unveiled her budget. “That is not a false choice, that's just common sense.”

The total city budget is $7.1 billion. This includes about $5 billion for utilities, transportation, and other departments and leaves $1.6 billion in a general fund for the city government to play with.

The mayor gets the first crack at the city budget, and then the council has two months to tear it up as much or as little as they want before sending it off to the mayor for approval, veto, or to become law without the mayor’s signature.

According to Durkan’s 768-page budget proposal, $789 million will go to public safety. Of that, Durkan proposes 46% go to SPD’s budget and another 3% go to police relief and pensions, which is its own section for whatever reason.

In her two-prong approach, which funds police and their unarmed alternatives, Durkan’s proposal continues three Health One units, invests approximately $2 million for a new alternate response pilot of triage teams for non-criminal and non-health emergent calls, adds 24 Community Service Officers, continues investments in the King County Regional Peacekeepers Collective, and includes $10 million for community-led safety programs through the Human Service Department – the sorts of community-based alternatives the defund movement has called for.

The Solidarity Budget launched two days ahead of the mayor’s proposal in a virtual summit on Saturday, Sept. 25. This proposed alternative is endorsed by over 80 community organizations, including the Transit Rider Union, Be:Seattle, Asian Counseling and Referral Service, Northwest Community Bail Fund, and 350 Seattle. The coalition is made up of environmentalists, housing justice advocates, labor unions — you name it — but the first demand they have for Durkan and the council is a 50% cut to SPD’s budget.

According to the Solidarity Budget’s website, the coalition suggests the city cut costs with staffing by ending funding for new hires. They propose funding 750 officers. After losing 193 officers since the beginning of 2020, Durkan wants to fund 1,230 officers, a net gain of 35 officers. She’s also trying to offer signing bonuses.

“In order to ensure that the Seattle Police Department has adequate staffing and can attract candidates that can fulfill the high standard of excellence demanded of the department, the Mayor’s budget includes funds for hiring incentives,” Durkan press secretary Anthony Derrick said in an email. “...Since most police departments in our area offer hiring incentives such as this, not offering them makes us far less competitive for quality candidates when officers are deciding where they would like to work.”

As it stands, the starting wage – not the average – for a sworn SPD officer is $40.06 an hour, or $83,640 a year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), this is $4.32 more an hour than the average Seattle wage.

By contrast, the average social worker in Seattle earns $27.20 an hour, according to the (BLS), which means police start off making $12.86 more than the average social worker. After six months, this salary bumps up to $42.96 an hour, or nearly $90,000 a year.

At the summit, Cházaro reminded attendees that up to half the calls Seattle police receive can be responded to without armed, sworn officers, according to an analysis of Seattle’s 911 calls from an Oakland-based nonprofit this summer.

The Solidarity Budget aims to replace police, and that means reallocating funds to alternatives. The coalition suggests $40 million in capacity-building grants for community-based organizations to build non-police responses to crisis and harm.

When asked about salary incentives for the social workers many activists argue ought to replace armed officers, the mayor’s press secretary said no community organizations have the capacity at this time to respond to 911 calls 24/7. He said the mayor’s budget proposes a 2.4% increase to support human service workers.

Derrick also noted that the council has previously passed signing bonuses for police. This is true: In 2019, the council, the majority of whom would go on to support the defund movement at some point to some degree, passed legislation to authorize hiring bonuses of up to $15,000 to attract trained officers from other police departments and $7,500 for new recruits.

More recently, however, when SPD asked to spend its $15 million salary surplus on hiring and retention bonuses and on overtime to account for filling in the gaps following some attrition, the council opted to give no money for hiring bonuses. The council approved a bill that directed $10 million to the department but over $5 million outside the police for the Regional Peacekeepers Collective to prevent gun violence, community safety programs proposed by local nonprofits, and expanding evidence storage.

After much tension between Durkan and the council last year during the struggle to defund the police, Durkan restated her commitment to backing the blue in her parting budget.
During her address, Durkan said that she hopes the council would join her in this approach and “not buy into false choices.”

The council wavered on the issue in 2020. Over the next two months, the council will have to decide between the mayor’s $2.4 million refund, the continued calls to cut the police budget in half, or, as 2021’s budget suggested, continuing on the path toward a slower divestment from police coupled with a relatively more rapid increase in alternatives.