Seven members of the Seattle City Council have committed to severe cuts in the police department’s budget — a move that the Mayor’s Office says would mean abolishing the department altogether.
Councilmembers Lisa Herbold, Andrew Lewis and Dan Strauss joined Kshama Sawant, Tammy Morales, Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena González in the call for as much as a 50 percent reduction in funding for the Seattle Police Department (SPD).
That would mean nearly $200 million removed from department in future years as the city, county and state face huge holes in their budgets resulting from the economic recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The sum eclipses the initial 5 percent reduction offered by Mayor Jenny Durkan. In a letter to the City Council, Deputy Mayor Mike Fong said that at this point in the year, SPD had already spent half its budget.
Further cuts in 2020 would mean abolishing the entire department, Fong wrote.
“In addition, it would be irresponsible to make immediate cuts without any conceivable mechanism to stand up alternative models to achieve community safety,” Fong wrote.
Coalitions are already looking at ways to reimagine public safety without police, or with a reduced role for officers. Armed, sworn officers can respond to a wide variety of situations but lack training to deal with many of them, such as homelessness and mental health crises.
Three Native-led organizations — Chief Seattle Club, Seattle Indian Health Board and United Indians of All Tribes Foundation — called on the city to remove police officers from the Navigation Team, a blend of officers and two “system navigators” who respond to encampments to ostensibly offer people shelter and services, but also to clear them out.
Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now, two Black-led organizations, are pushing to redirect funding to community organizations rather than police.
At a July 9 press conference, leaders acknowledged it would take time to build up capacity at local organizations for the new work, and that asking groups to accept more responsibility without appropriate funding or development was futile.
“This is a transition, so expecting community organizations to be able to tomorrow step in without the resources and time to build significant infrastructure would be an unfair request,” said Nikkita Oliver, co-director of Creative Justice and member of Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now.
The concept of police abolition has been in the social justice discourse for a long time, but it became mainstream after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minnesota.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC.
Read more in the July 15-21, 2020 issue.