Seattle city leaders debate cuts to police budget before final vote

Ultimately, the cuts are far less severe than calls to defund the police by 50% in 2020


By Sarah Grace Taylor
The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — Hours of debate and several failed budget amendments highlight the disconnect among Seattle city leaders' approaches to police funding as the City Council heads into a final budget vote Monday.

On Thursday, the Seattle City Council select budget committee met to vote on proposed amendments to committee chair Teresa Mosqueda's proposed balanced budget package, which calls for cutting millions of dollars from the police budget in salary savings. Mosqueda's proposal earlier this month was in response to Mayor Jenny Durkan's proposed $7.1 billion budget.

During the final, five-hour committee meeting of the budget season, the council voted down a slew of proposed police amendments, some that would have further reduced the department's budget to $355.5 million and some that would restore funds removed by Mosqueda.

The result is a proposed police budget that largely reflects Mosqueda's original balanced budget proposal, which reduced Durkan's proposed SPD budget by $10.8 million in salary savings from unfunded positions.

The cuts are far less severe than calls to defund the police by 50% in 2020, which many on the council were sympathetic to. Yet to Durkan and others, any cut from the original proposed budget is too much as the department faces staffing shortages.

Ultimately, the most significant change to the budget Thursday was Mosqueda's own amendment to add roughly $900,000 from the general fund back to the SPD budget to fund the hiring of more community service officers, who are unarmed civilian employees who problem-solve with businesses and residents.

But discussions around other proposed amendments emphasized the political divide around police staffing and budgeting among city leadership.

An amendment by Council President M. Lorena González to remove funding for unfilled police positions spurred controversy Wednesday afternoon when interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz publicly scathed González's idea.

"Over the past year we have already lost 325 officers to retirements, resignations, and cuts. That's essentially like cutting our entire North, West and Southwest precincts," the chief said in a written statement and accompanying video released during the council's budget deliberation.

"But the Council President's amendment would permanently eliminate another 101 officers," Diaz said. "This would greatly jeopardize the safety of our communities and have long term impacts on investigating violent crimes and caring for our most vulnerable."

A spokesperson for SPD declined to answer questions on behalf of Diaz.

González's amendment would have recouped $17.1 million in salary savings from SPD by cutting 101 of the 134 positions funded in Durkan's proposal. It would not cut any filled positions or any of the positions SPD says are likely to be filled in 2022.

"At its core, my budget amendment is simply an effort to align the department's budget with the actual size of the force over the next several years. This revised position count would provide a buffer well above the SPD's own optimistic staffing projections," González said.

Before the vote, the council president said the chief's statement "grossly mischaracterizes" her amendment, which she said he issued without speaking to her or her staff.

"I'm deeply disappointed in that tactic and find it disrespectful. Be that as it may, let me put the fear-mongering aside and misrepresentation of facts to bed," she said.

"This budget fully funds SPD's sworn staff hiring plan, and nothing in this budget or in my amendment proposes firing, laying off or otherwise eliminating funded and filled sworn officer positions," González added. "This is why it is incomprehensible to me as to why the interim chief would represent otherwise."

But her amendment failed 5-4, with the support of Councilmembers Mosqueda, Kshama Sawant and co-sponsor Tammy Morales. Councilmembers Alex Pedersen, Dan Strauss, Lisa Herbold, Debora Juarez and Andrew Lewis voted it down.

Herbold, chair of the public safety committee, said that while she agrees that Diaz mischaracterized González's intent, abrogating the unfilled positions may send a message to the public that the council didn't want SPD hiring more officers.

"I really am very concerned that supporting this at this time would send that message to the public. And we have to recognize that I think our goals for standing up non-policing crisis response have not been realized this year," Herbold said.

While Pedersen praised the council for how many issues it had agreed upon during the budgeting process, he introduced a series of amendments that would have effectively reversed Mosqueda's cuts in an effort to retain officers.

"The goal in my mind is to send a positive message to those city government employees and uniformed officers and detectives who remain committed to Seattle, knowing that we have much work to do on police accountability issues," Pedersen said, noting that the department had a net lost of about 200 officers in the past year, with roughly 300 resignations and 100 new hires.

None of Pedersen's amendments passed, leaving the council budget package to reflect over $9 million in reductions from Durkan's proposed SPD budget.

In a statement Friday, Durkan's office said the mayor is concerned about the state of the budget and urged the council to reconsider before the final vote Monday.

"As Council takes final action on the budget next week, it is our hope Council acts with urgency to restore tools to SPD to help them recruit, retain and train officers committed to community safety," Durkan's office said.

(c)2021 The Seattle Times

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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