Seattle City Council Hesitates on Halving Police Department Budget

Seattle police officers carry boxes with warning stickers and a slip of paper that reads "blast balls" as police clash with protesters following a "Youth Day of Action and Solidarity with Portland" demonstration in Seattle, Washington on July 25, 2020. - Police in Seattle used flashbang grenades and pepper spray …
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The Seattle City Council, which previously signaled strong support for halving police funding, appears to be at a crossroads, with some members contending the measure would be impossible to implement this year.

The hesitation drew ire from Councilmember Kshama Sawant, of Socialist Alternative, who slammed her colleagues for backtracking.

“I’m not surprised, but it’s quite interesting to see how councilmembers are now displaying how they actually stand and I hope members of the public are watching,” Sawant, who wants to slash $85 million from the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) 2020 budget, said Monday.

Such a massive cut, critics have warned, would result in mass layoffs within the SPD. That poses a problem, as members of the department would need a three-month warning, meaning no action could realistically be taken until the very end of the year.

Sawant on Monday proposed an amendment that would strip the SPD of $34.7 million and redirect it to the Office of Housing. According to KOMO News, no councilmembers signaled support for the proposal. Many of them are looking for a more gradual approach to defunding police — one that focuses on next year’s budget proposal.

“The contrast between that package of 39 amendments [by other Councilmembers] and Councilmember Sawant’s proposal of really doing a nuclear option of 50 percent defund right now, is that we’d still need to bargain the impact of those cuts that Councilmember Sawant is proposing,” Councilmember Andrew Lewis said, according to KOMO News.

“If we were not successful [in court], we’d have to rehire all those folks, we’d have to give all of them backpay, we’d expose the City to an unfair labor practice,” he added, emphasizing the importance of going about the cuts in a slow and strategic manner.

“You know I think there’s going to be a lot of people out there who are disappointed, but I think part of our strategy of our Council has to be is you know, if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” he added.

According to the outlet:

Lewis said the Council prioritizes reforming policies over issuing cuts.

A majority of councilmembers have supported amendments that would greatly reduce or eliminate SPD’s SWAT team and trim the number of mounted officers.

On Monday, Councilmember Tammy Morales proposed an amendment that significantly reduces SPD’s Navigation team, which responds to calls involving the homeless.

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, who recently saw a large group of “aggressive” Black Lives Matter protesters flock to her private residence in Snohomish County — has warned against slashing the police budget, stating that such a move would “decimate public safety for the city of Seattle.”

A draft city council proposal, unveiled last week, details the council’s intentions of removing “certain functions from the Seattle Police Department” and providing “funding for a community-led process to inform the structure and function of a new department of community safety & violence prevention.”

The proposal explicitly refers to policing as a “racist institution” and appeals to the “harmful impacts of white supremacy culture and the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) role in perpetuating racism and violence.”

The Council is expected to vote on the police department’s budget on Wednesday.

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