Seattle City Council, mayor spar over proposed $10M police cut

Mayor Jenny Durkan criticized the proposal, blaming the city council for an "exodus" of officers


By Sarah Grace Taylor
The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — The Seattle City Council is mulling $10 million in cuts to the Seattle Police Department budget to offset decreasing revenue, drawing criticism from the city's mayor and mayor-elect as contrary to public safety.

Budget Committee Chair Teresa Mosqueda introduced her proposed balanced budget package Tuesday afternoon, suggesting the council make the cuts to the budget Mayor Jenny Durkan proposed in September.

Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz, left, looks on as Mayor Jenny Durkan addresses a news conference Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, in Seattle.
Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz, left, looks on as Mayor Jenny Durkan addresses a news conference Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

"Over the last seven weeks, we have diligently been working to try and to address many of the items that community members and council members have been flagging to make sure that we address the needs that are compounding throughout our city and invest in a more just and equitable Seattle," Mosqueda said in her presentation on Tuesday.

"By releasing today's budget, we hope that what you see is significant investments and a vision for a more equitable, just safe, healthy and housed Seattle."

Since Durkan proposed her original $7.1 billion budget in September, the city's projected revenue for 2022 fell by $15 million, as large employers announced they would continue with remote work through early 2022, exempting employees from the city's JumpStart payroll tax.

"This proposed budget was balanced to an August revenue forecast by the city budget office that assumed nearly full return to work by major employers this fall," Council central staff director Esther Handy said during the presentation. She said it appeared by September to be "possibly overly optimistic given the ongoing pandemic."

City Budget Office Director Ben Noble said Tuesday the August estimate could not predict the impact of the COVID-19 delta variant on the JumpStart tax, which will be collected for the first time in early 2022 from businesses with Seattle employees that make at least $150,000 annually.

To offset the impact of the revenue decline, Mosqueda focused on cutting the police budget to preserve the council's priorities of addressing affordable housing, homelessness and criminal justice reform.

Durkan criticized Mosqueda's proposal, blaming recent staffing problems in SPD on the council. She said the proposal failed to prioritize public safety.

"City's Council's previous promise to defund SPD by 50%, their treatment of Chief (Carmen) Best and their previous layoff budget led to an exodus of 325 officers from SPD in the last two years," Durkan said. "Multiple plans to address hiring and retention proposed by Chief (Adrian) Diaz and I have been repeatedly rejected by a majority of council."

"And just yesterday, another council member proposed blocking my emergency hiring proposal that has already generated a tenfold increase in applications to 911 dispatch positions in Seattle," she said. "Continued cuts to SPD and underfunding the 911 center are not a plan for true public safety."

"We need alternatives to armed police responses, and we have significantly ramped up these alternatives," Durkan said. "But when someone calls 911 with a dangerous, potentially life-threatening emergency — we need enough police officers to respond."

Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell also criticized the proposal in a separate statement, saying the results of last week's election — in which Harrell was elected over progressive City Council President M. Lorena González — show the city's desire for public safety.

"Last Tuesday, the voters of Seattle resoundingly and unambiguously rejected defunding the police," Harrell said. "Our campaign expressed a clear message and commitment: We must deliver true community safety, ensure unbiased policing, and decrease length of response times by improving training, hiring more and better officers, creating unarmed and alternative responses, and changing the culture within SPD. That vision and those goals for improvement and reform cannot be achieved with this proposed $10 million cut."

The council will be briefed on Mosqueda's proposal at 9 a.m. Wednesday and will hear from members of the public in a hearing at 5:30 p.m. All council meetings are remote and can be accessed at seattle.gov/council.

A final budget vote is expected Nov. 22.

Late Tuesday, Mosqueda said that her proposal would still fully fund the requirements of the federally mandated reform consent decree as well as the Durkan administration's hiring plan, and was a matter of offsetting revenue shortfalls, not an affront on public safety.

"Of course we still need officers. Absolutely we need officers. We funded the full hiring plan," Mosqueda said, noting the council's proposed investments in $27 million investment in public safety, including alternative response to certain emergency calls.

"But when we reduce the workload for officers who currently have to respond to health calls and housing needs calls and case management calls — like they're being called to those situations with a badge and a gun right now — we relieve the stress of where they are being deployed, and then they have a lighter workload that will actually free them up to focus on the issues they signed up to be officers for in the first place."

Mosqueda said that the council's budget package would not, however, cover some technology and other expenses in SPD's budget, in the interest of addressing the city's housing crisis and other economic issues worsened by the pandemic.

"We have, yes, made some reductions where I think we can't afford to put money into a coffer, waiting to see if it gets spent while people literally need food and housing right now," Mosqueda said. "And of course I want to do those investments. I'm hoping that the next administration will find other ways to fund things that they think are important. But with general fund dollars, I have to be prioritizing getting people housed and fed and cared for."

(c)2021 The Seattle Times

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