SEATTLE – A majority of Seattle City Council members say they agree with a high-level proposal by advocates to defund the police department by 50% and reallocate the dollars to other community needs.
Council members Lisa Herbold, Dan Strauss and Andrew Lewis added support Thursday to a road map set out by Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now.
They joined colleagues Tammy Morales, Kshama Sawant, Teresa Mosqueda and M. Lorena González, who previously backed the push to reduce the police department’s annual budget by 50% and promised quick action, while Mayor Jenny Durkan has asked the council to slow down.
That means seven of nine council members are on board with the idea, though they have yet to say how they intend to make the cuts; six votes are needed to pass budget-related legislation and to override a mayoral veto. Durkan has not backed a 50% reduction.
Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now are new coalitions that have emerged during the recent Black Lives Matter protests and that count a number of community organizations led by Black people as endorsers.
In a presentation to the council’s budget committee Wednesday, they said the police department’s 2021 budget should be reduced by 50% from the status quo (its budget is $409 million this year). They also said the department’s remaining 2020 budget should be cut by 50% this summer.
Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now laid out a four-point proposal for defunding the police department:
• Remove Seattle’s 911 dispatchers from police control.
• Scale up community-based solutions to public safety.
• Fund a community-led process to “imagine life beyond policing.”
• Invest in affordable housing.
The aim is “defunding the Seattle Police Department and building a world where we trust and believe in community to provide the safety that we need,” Decriminalize Seattle’s Jackie Vaughn said at a news conference Thursday.
Morales, Sawant, Mosqueda and González joined coalition representatives and supporters for the remote news conference, pledging to advance the proposal.
Herbold told The Seattle Times she also has committed to the demands, including cuts this summer and a 50% reduction to the police department’s budget. Strauss is in “100% agreement” with the four-point proposal and believes the council must “define how 50% cuts occur,” he wrote on Twitter.
Council member Andrew Lewis added on Twitter: “To be clear, I am 100% in favor of the (Decriminalize Seattle) demands, including the goal of a 50% cut of SPD’s budget.”
The council is considering changes to the city’s 2020 budget, which has been ripped apart by the coronavirus health and economic crisis.
Durkan last month proposed about $20 million in police department cuts as part of a broader plan to close a $378 million budget hole. Most of those cuts were identified in response to the pandemic, before the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police sparked protests across the country against violence by officers and against institutional racism in law enforcement.
The council has the power to alter Durkan’s 2020 rebalancing package but must do so soon, in the coming weeks. This fall, the mayor and council will hash out 2021’s budget.
In an email about the four-point proposal by Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now, Durkan spokeswoman Kelsey Nyland said, “Our office doesn’t object to any of these ideas – they are all undeniably critical to building a more just and equitable city. But each … is much more nuanced than it initially might seem, and if we don’t factor that into our discussions … then we’ll never be able to build actionable and lasting solutions.”
In a letter Wednesday, Senior Deputy Mayor Mike Fong warned the council that major and immediate police department cuts could require large numbers of officers to be laid off, arguing the city isn’t ready for that scenario.
At Thursday’s news conference, defunding advocates said community organizations and practitioners – with adequate resources – can protect Seattle residents better than the police department in many instances.
The speakers represented the organizations Creative Justice, Trans Women of Color Solidarity Network, Africatown Community Land Trust, East African Community Services, Black Trans Task Force, Greenlight Project, Wa Na Wari, and WA-BLOC.
“We are at a very significant moment,” said Nikkita Oliver, whose nonprofit Creative Justice uses art to empower court-involved young people and resolve their cases. “Seeing the discussion of defunding the police become more than just a chant in the streets.”
K. Wyking Garrett, whose Africatown organization works to combat displacement by acquiring land and developing housing in the Central District, said militarized police responses don’t solve problems.
“Police don’t stop crime, they respond to crime,” he said. “What really prevents crime is access to resources.”
Jaelynn Scott from the Black Trans Task Force said Black trans community needs “should be front and center” as Seattle works on community-based strategies to keep people safe.
Mosqueda said she will be “following the lead of Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now” in budget talks. “History has taught us change only comes from those living on the margins rising up,” she said.
González apologized for supporting police budget increases in past years, saying she no longer believes the department can be wholly reformed.
“I am sorry for those votes,” she said.
In his letter Wednesday, Fong said any “blunt efforts” to drastically slash the police department’s 2020 budget “would not serve our communities.” They instead would leave the police department “unable to conduct basic functions,” he said, asking the council to work with the Durkan administration over a longer period to make systemic changes.
The 911 dispatchers in the police department already are civilian employees, rather than sworn officers, Nyland said in her email. Removing them from the police department would reduce the department’s budget but wouldn’t save much money for community programs, the spokeswoman noted.
The mayor and council already have directed some public safety investments to community-led solutions, Nyland said, citing funds added this year to expand a program that diverts young adults from the criminal justice system, among other moves.
Police Department budget cuts alone “wouldn’t make a significant dent in our housing crisis,” Nyland said. She said Durkan has proposed spending $500,000 later this year on community outreach for input on the 2021 budget.
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