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Push to stop police hiring in 2021 rejected by Seattle City Council

UPDATED: Fri., Nov. 20, 2020

By Daniel Beekman Seattle Times

SEATTLE – The Seattle City Council on Thursday rejected a proposal intended to stop the Police Department from hiring more than 100 officers next year, siding with Mayor Jenny Durkan and others who have said new recruits are needed.

The measure was promoted by a “Solidarity Budget” coalition of many local organizations, including the King County Equity Now group that emerged as a leading voice during the summer’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

Using the tagline “No New Cops,” they described a freeze on officer hiring as a necessary response to the protests against police killings and discrimination. When demonstrations were roiling Seattle in July, most council members agreed the Police Department should be “defunded” by 50%, with the money diverted to other needs.

But Council President M. Lorena González and Councilmember Lisa Herbold objected to a hiring freeze Thursday, arguing it would shrink the force too quickly when combined with accelerating attrition. They pointed to other transfers and cuts that will reduce the police department’s budget by up to 17%, describing those as significant and sensible.

Only Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Tammy Morales voted to remove the department’s $9 million recruitment allotment, request the hiring freeze and redirect the funds to “community-led” alternatives, so the proposal failed 7-2. A $4.5 million reduction aimed at hiring was also rejected, more narrowly. It was backed by Morales and Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda.

Meanwhile, a $151 million blunt cut that Sawant said would meet the 50% defunding demand also died, with no support from her colleagues.

The action came during a committee meeting, as council members advanced changes to a 2021 budget plan that Durkan submitted. Dozens of such changes will be packaged together for final votes Monday at a full council meeting, capping months of heated deliberations.

The council could, in theory, revisit the police hiring question Monday.

Even without a hiring freeze, Seattle’s politicians are poised to make major shifts in addressing public safety. They’re going to transfer 911 call takers, parking enforcement officers and mental-health workers out of the Police Department.

They’re also going to defund vacant officer positions, while allocating tens of millions of dollars to community solutions, and they’re going to try to lay off officers with misconduct records. The police department’s hefty budget, after growing steadily for years, will drop.

The protests have changed the conversation at City Hall.

“I believe this budget is offering a new paradigm,” Mosqueda said Thursday.

Yet many people who spoke during public comment sessions Wednesday and Thursday urged more.

“The current police system is not effective in maintaining, supporting, encouraging, building community safety,” Kaileah Baldwin said.

Under current projections, the city would hire 114 officers in 2021 while losing an estimated 89. It would end up with 1,311 fully trained officers, up from 1,295 this year. Under a hiring freeze, Seattle would end up with 1,260.

Introducing her proposal with Morales, Sawant recalled the tear gas deployed repeatedly by officers during protests in June. Defunding vacant positions “can’t be the stopping point for us as a council,” Morales said.

González and Herbold echoed a case made by Durkan over the summer, saying City Hall must scale up alternatives before taking many officers off the street. They also expressed concern about cuts to investigative units, given that interim Chief Adrian Diaz has promised to prioritize patrol staffing. Though the council allocates money to the police department, the chief can decide where exactly to spend it.

“To be successful in the long term … shifting to community safety and away from traditional policing, we have to move methodically,” Herbold said.

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