Seattle Council Votes to Begin Slashing Police Department Budget, Jobs

On Monday, the Seattle City Council voted 8-to-1 to decrease funding for the Seattle Police Department (SPD), though it didn't implement the 50 percent reduction sought by some racial justice and police reform activists.

The lone "no" vote came from Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, and she only voted no because she wanted more drastic cuts to the SPD.

The cuts will remove $3 million from the SPD's annual budget of $400 million. According to KOMO News, the reduction could affect as many as 100 officers through layoffs and attrition. The cut also includes a six percent reduction of SPD Chief Carmen Best's salary and bigger pay cuts for other SPD leaders.

The City Council vote will also remove officers from the SPD's "Navigation Team," which clears homeless camps away from Seattle streets. City Council members have said that these initial cuts are mere the first of more to come along with a larger re-imagining of how the SPD operates within the city.

Durkan herself prepared a plan last month to decrease the 2021 SPD budget by nearly $75 million by transferring the 911 call center, parking enforcement and other functions out of the main department.

Last week, Mayor Jenny Durkan and Best also urged the council to consider such cuts until the full 2021 city budget was under discussion, and warned that the budget cuts would layoff newer officers often hired from minority communities and likely result in lawsuits.

Activists have questioned why the SPD would fire Black, indigenous officers and officers of color first considering that nearly 70 percent of SPD officers are white.

Seattle police budget City Council slash cuts
Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best stands by to address the press as city crews dismantle the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) area outside of the Seattle Police Department's vacated East Precinct on July 1, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. David Ryder/Getty

A 50 percent budget reduction was just one of several goals sought by the city's racial justice groups like Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now.

The two groups also seek a reinvestment of the funds removed from the SPD into community-led health systems, safety programs and the Black community. The organizations also want the release of all protestors arrested during the racial justice demonstrations that began after the May 25 murder of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd by a white police officer.

King County Equity Now also wants to cut all existing contracts and all financial ties between the SPD and the Seattle Public School District.

The SPD's budget and actions have come under greater scrutiny amid the "Defund the Police" movement and a lawsuit filed in early June that alleged that the SPD had used "unnecessary violence" to suppress the constitutional rights of racial justice and Black Lives Matters protesters.

"On an almost nightly basis, the SPD has indiscriminately used excessive force against protesters, legal observers, journalists, and medical personnel... has repeatedly sprayed crowds of protesters with tear gas and other chemical irritants," the lawsuit stated.

The plaintiffs also claimed that the use of police force escalated even as the protests became more peaceful.

Best has said that the police need to use blunt impact munitions and tear gas, a chemical agent banned in most war zones, against racial justice protesters or else police will have to resort to punches, kicks, batons and potentially deadly firearms or tazers to stop potential violence by unruly citizens.