Seattle City Council Set To Vote On Proposed Police Budget Cuts

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SEATTLE, WA — The Seattle City Council is poised for a committee vote Wednesday on a large package of amendments to this year's budget, seeking cuts and other changes to the Seattle Police Department.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan's rebalanced 2020 budget proposal includes a $20 million cut to the police department's remaining budget — roughly $4 million more than originally planned — and amounting to roughly 10 percent of what's left for the year. On Tuesday, the mayor suggested further cuts in 2020 were likely to face legal challenges and labor battles.

The council is considering about $3 million in additional cuts this year, including a potential reduction of 100 officers, accomplished through a mixture of layoffs and attrition. A stronger round of cuts and changes could be on the table in the next year's budget, which the council and mayor's office begin to work on this fall.

The rebalanced budget must account for a $378 million shortfall in the city budget this year, due to declining revenue and higher costs associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

Related: Sawant Introduces Amendment To Cap Seattle Police Salaries

Protesters and community groups have called for more drastic, immediate action, seeking a 50 percent cut to SPD's remaining budget this year and to the department's full budget in 2021. By early July, seven of nine city councilmembers publicly voiced support for a "roadmap" to cutting the budget in half, proposed by King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle.

In a statement released last Friday, both groups said the council's proposed amendments were a step forward, but "fall well short of the Community's demand to maximize public safety" by redirecting half of the police department's funding into community-led programs and initiatives.

Related: Legal Observers Decry Seattle Police Actions At Weekend Protest

Durkan and Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best held a joint news conference Tuesday to speak against the council's proposed reductions, characterizing various amendments as ill-advised, reckless, or damaging to public safety.

The mayor has remained steadfast in her oppoistion to largescale cuts to the police budget and staffing, arguing instead for a "reimagining" of the department's responsibilities and priorities over the long term.

"As someone who has worked on police reform for over 35 years, I get no one wants to hear about the roadblocks to progress," Durkan said. "I get that there is a sense of urgency like there has never been before, and I know that when I said I did not believe we could cut the police department by 50 percent this year, it was very unpopular in many places."

The mayor said sustainable changes to the department can only be accomplished if the council works in collaboration with her office and the police chief, and allows enough time for the process.

"We should not make hasty decisions, we should make right decisions," Durkan said. "There is a right way to right-size policing, but anyone who thinks it can happen overnight clearly isn't looking at the facts."

In a draft resolution, already released by the council, a proposed timeline for actions includes goals through Nov. 2021, and a list of specific desired outcomes, including the formation of a civilian-led Department of Community Safety & Violence Prevention.

(Seattle City Council)
(Seattle City Council)

The council's Select Budget Committee will hold two sessions on the proposed amendments Wednesday, beginning with a public comment period at 10 a.m. Since meetings are held remotely, due to the coronavirus precautions, public comments are limited to phone participation and e-mail. Registration for public comment opens at 8 a.m.

A rally to defund the police, organized by King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle, is scheduled to begin outside the juvenile detention center at noon, before marching to City Hall.

A final vote on the complete rebalanced budget package is expected before the full council on Monday, Aug. 10.

This article originally appeared on the Seattle Patch

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