Seattle City Council Approves Nearly $4 Million in Cuts to Police Department

August 10, 2020 Updated: August 11, 2020

The Seattle City Council on Monday approved nearly $4 million in cuts to the city’s police department, a precursor to plans for larger cuts in next year’s budget.

“Reducing the budget of the Seattle Police Department is a response to the calls for advocating for racial justice and investments in BIPOC communities,” Council President M. Lorena Gonzalez, a Democrat, said in a statement after the vote.

BIPOC stands for black, indigenous, and people of color.

Cuts to the police include terminating 32 patrol officers and slashing the number of some specialized units like mounted officers and school resource officers.

Seattle has approximately 1,400 police officers and a yearly police budget of approximately $400 million.

Council members also approved the elimination of the “Navigation Team,” which responds to homelessness issues, and voted to move victim advocates from within the police department to the human services department.

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People carry signs during a “Defund the Police” march from King County Youth Jail to City Hall in Seattle, Wash., on Aug 5, 2020. (Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images)

The amendments were first passed by the council’s budget committee last week before being passed during a vote Monday by the full council on the revised 2020 budget.

Along with the cuts, the council approved appropriating $17 million to scale up community-led public safety interventions, including $3 million for “participatory budgeting for public safety.”

The vote came on the same day the city’s budget office showed that 2020 revenues are projected to bring in $337 million less revenue compared to estimates in the adopted budget—a 19 percent drop.

Some councilmembers pushed to replace some police functions with a civilian-led department and slash a full 50 percent from the police department’s budget in a plan from Black Lives Matter activists but failed to garner enough support, for now.

‘Initial Cuts’

City officials, however, are already planning deeper cuts for next year’s budget, on which work will start in the coming weeks.

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Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant speaks as demonstrators hold a rally outside of the Seattle Police Department’s abandoned East Precinct, in Seattle on June 8, 2020. (David Ryder/Getty Images)

The city council in a statement described the approval of defunding as “initial cuts” and “a down-payment for future potential reductions” to the department’s budget.

They have faced opposition.

In a letter to council members last week, Jason Johnson, the acting director of the Seattle Human Services Department, said he was greatly concerned “regarding your action to eliminate the Navigation Team with no plan on how to address” issues like encampments, of which there are over 250 active.

“I hope you will reconsider your decisions, and fully fund continuation of the Navigation Team’s life-saving, vital work,” he wrote.

Hundreds gathered in Seattle on Sunday to oppose proposed cuts, arguing the city would be less safe with fewer police officers.

Police Chief Carmen Best told officers in a message made public last month that it was “completely reckless” to “ask the people of Seattle to test out a theory that crime goes away if police go away.”

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Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best addresses the press as city crews dismantle the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) area after multiple shootings, in Seattle on July 1, 2020. (David Ryder/Getty Images)

Police officials last week rolled out a website they said highlighted in-depth information on the department’s policies regarding de-escalation and other measures, data on crime and calls for service, and internal manuals.

Best and Democratic Seattle Mayor Durkan repeatedly said they were against deep cuts but last month unveiled a proposed $76 million in reduced funding, in an apparent bid to temper movement towards a larger defunding.

“We both recognize that we have a historical opportunity and obligation to reimagine how policing can be done in Seattle. We believe deeply in broad community investments, which can build greater community health, and less need to call 911 for help. And when someone does call 911, we want them to get the help they need,” Durkan said at a press conference.

The proposal would move the 911 call center, parking enforcement, and the Office of Police Accountability out of the agency. About $20 million would be saved from freezing hires and cutting down on overtime.

Best called it a “comprehensive re-envisioning of what community safety could look like here in Seattle.”

The city council’s move on Monday follows other cities cutting police funding.

The Los Angeles’ City Council last month approved cutting $150 million to the LAPD. The New York City City Council around the same time slashed some $1 billion from the city’s police agency. And the Portland City Council in June approved cutting at least $15 million from the city’s police bureau.

Minneapolis officials proposed dismantling its police department but those efforts were blocked last week so commissioners could review the move.

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