Why one Seattle councilmember moved from wanting more police funding to 50% defund

Jul 23, 2020, 5:39 AM
defund police...
Demonstrators arrive at City Hall as part of the nationwide Strike For Black Lives on July 20, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. Organized by racial justice groups in partnership with labor unions, the nationwide events included at least two rallies in the Seattle area. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

As the Seattle City Council moves to defund the police by 50%, some plans are emerging and unrest continues. Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis joined KTTH’s Jason Rantz Show to discuss his support of the defund effort, and why he moved toward this position.

As Jason asked at the offset, a little under a year ago at the Seattle Police Officers Guild forum, Lewis said that we need to hire more police officers because we don’t have the staffing numbers to have effective community policing. But now, he appears to back a movement that would go in the other direction. What brought him to this position?

“I do feel like that’s something where I need to be accountable to you, and I need to be accountable to my constituents and providing an answer. I think it’s a fair question. As recently as a couple weeks ago, I still held the view that we had a police staffing issue and had to hire more officers,” he said.

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“We had a presentation from SPD about four weeks ago now, where SPD presented their 911 calls to us, and 56% of the calls that SPD is responding to are non-criminal … that runs the range of things that are public health related calls, it runs the range of things that are citable, like speeding, or jaywalking, or loitering or whatever. Clearly, the disconnect is not that we need more police, the disconnect is that we need first responders to respond on non-criminal calls because we want the police to be responding to criminal calls.”

The idea is to send a mental health professional or a social worker to handle a specific type of 911 call when a police officer may not be necessary.

“It’s important to point out that if there is a situation where someone is in crisis, when they pose a potential danger to the community, like they have a gun, those would still be fact patterns where a police officer is dispatched.”

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Since the 50% defund police movement seems to have various approaches as to how to make the cuts, what specifically is Lewis’ recommendation?

“I think that there’s three components. I think, first, it is civilian-izing certain functions of SPD and putting them under an independent civilian chain of command. … The second thing is the right-sizing of our first response, and that’s where you put in things like Health One, you put in things like CAHOOTS, you put in things that are responsive to that 56% of calls that are currently being done by the police, but where the police aren’t necessarily the right first responder,” he said.

“The third thing that you do is look for SPOG to have partnerships with community based providers and organizations … and see if there’s a way to have community based responses that can cover certain types of calls.”

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Why one Seattle councilmember moved from wanting more police funding to 50% defund