Seattles is preparing to slash the city’s police budget just as homicides in the city climb to their highest level in more than a decade.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is set to sign a city budget that includes an 18 percent cut to the Seattle Police Department, a move that comes after police reform activists demanded the police budget be reduced by half. Calls for police reform have abounded in cities across the country since May, when George Floyd died at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
The city council voted last week to slash about $69 million in funding for officer training, salaries and overtime, and get rid of vacant positions in the police department as well as transfer parking officers, mental health workers, and 911 dispatchers out of the department. The goal is to ultimately reinvest in alternatives to police in situations such as mental health crises.
Meanwhile, Seattle had seen 55 murders this year as of Monday, the highest level since at least 2008, the last year of data available. The troubled city is also suffering a spike in violent crime, with 8,418 burglary incidents, up from to 7,634 last year, according to police.
The mayor, a Democrat, said last week that she believes the city is “laying the groundwork to make systemic and lasting changes to policing.”
“We have rightly put forward a plan that seeks to ensure SPD has enough officers to meet 911 response and investigative needs throughout the city, while acknowledging and addressing the disproportionate impacts policing has had on communities of color, particularly Black communities,” Durkan said in a statement.
Police Chief Carmen Best resigned over the summer amid disagreements with the city council over the cuts to the police budget.
In June, rioters claimed and barricaded off several blocks in the city’s downtown Capitol Hill neighborhood, calling it the “Capitol Hill Occupied Protest” zone, or CHOP, after police abandoned their East Precinct to vandals and arsonists. Police agreed not to respond to calls from within the “autonomous zone” unless they were life-threatening.
Later that month, however, Durkan, who previously predicted the autonomous zone would usher in a “summer of love” and said her decision to withdraw police from the area reflected her “trust” in protesters, announced the city would begin dismantling the zone, citing incidents of violence. A shooting inside the zone left a 19-year-old dead and another critically injured. Police said they were met by a violent crowd that blocked their access to the victims.