Seattle City Council Approves Slashing Millions From Police Department

But members rejected proposals to cut funding by 50 percent
August 6, 2020 Updated: August 10, 2020

The Seattle City Council’s Budget Committee on Aug. 5 approved cutting millions in funding to the Seattle Police Department, but rejected a pair of proposals that would have slashed $75 million from the department’s budget.

Council members approved an amendment to dismantle the 14-member Navigation Team, a group that works to connect homeless people to housing and other resources. In a 5–4 vote, they also approved defunding the team altogether, cutting $2.9 million and redirecting some of it to homeless services outside the department.

The vote was to “disband” the team, Councilwoman Tammy Morales said during the committee hearing.

“This would allow us to give hope to so many of our neighbors who lost faith in a city that has used public dollars to repeatedly mistreat and push people out of sites,” said Morales, a Democrat, referring to homeless people as “unhoused people.”

Councilwoman Kshama Sawant said the team was “euphemistically named.”

The sweeps of homeless encampments the team carries out are “inhumane and ineffective,” she said. “They just move people from one corner to the next, and they do nothing to increase available shelter space or affordable housing.”

In a statement to the Seattle Times, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office said the Democrat opposes the cut.

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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)

Durkan “is concerned that the council has voted to eliminate this entire unit without a plan to bridge the gap with outreach services to address the impacts of unmanaged encampments,” the statement reads.

Mike Stewart, executive director of the Ballard Alliance of businesses, told the paper in an email that cutting the team was “irresponsible,” pointing to a hepatitis A outbreak in an encampment in Ballard Commons Park earlier this year that was removed by the team.

“If not for the Navigation Team, the consequences for both sheltered and unsheltered residents of North Seattle would have been dire,” he said.

Council members adopted another amendment that limits the pay of top-level police staff. The measure will cut funding to the department by $500,000, according to Sawant, a socialist. Other approved amendments included redirecting $36,000 from the department’s implicit bias training budget and $800,000 from the department’s recruitment and retention efforts.

In all, the budget committee approved a reduction in the size of the police force of dozens of officers. The department currently has approximately 14,000 officers.

But they rejected two proposals from the councilwoman that would have slashed the police department’s funding by 50 percent.

Despite a majority of the council committing last month to defunding the department by 50 percent, every member voted no on the proposal except for Council President M. Lorena González, who abstained. No one seconded the other amendment, which meant there was no vote on it.

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Police block a road during protests near the Seattle Police East Precinct in Seattle on July 26, 2020. (David Ryder/Getty Images)

Sawant blasted her colleagues in a statement after the meeting.

“Our movement has every right to be disappointed and angry at the Democratic Party majority on the City Council for falling so dramatically short of the promises they made just last month to honor the community demand to defund SPD by 50 percent,” she wrote.

Some council members are already eyeing next year’s police budget for deep cuts. Councilwoman Teresa Mosqueda, a Democrat, told KOMO News that she projects the department could be defunded by 41 to 42 percent in 2021.

In an email to supporters, the Seattle Police Officers Guild, a police union, said, “City Council Rejects Key Proposals!”

“We’re making an impact but the fight is not over! We need everyone’s full support now more than ever,” the guild said.

People were encouraged to sign a petition against defunding police that’s received over 125,000 signatures, and attend a rally on Aug. 9 at Seattle’s City Hall.

The council’s Budget Committee met last week to formally introduce a series of proposals for cutting funding to the police. The total of the cuts approved on Aug. 5 isn’t clear. A final vote on spending is scheduled for Aug. 10.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber