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Kshama Sawant unveils details in proposal to cut SPD’s 2020 budget by 50%

Councilmember Kshama Sawant laid out the specifics of her proposal Thursday to cut the Seattle Police Department’s remaining 2020 budget by 50%.

Veto-proof council majority now supports defunding SPD by 50%

Sawant introduced her plan in the form of upcoming amendments to the city budget, making it the first instance of the “defund SPD” movement taking official legislative form.

Her proposal would cut $85 million, totaling 50% from SPD’s remaining $170 million budget in 2020. That would include the original $16 million in cuts Mayor Jenny Durkan proposed in late June, which would encompass a freeze on the hiring of new officers, and limits on new equipment and training.

The remaining $69 million in cuts would be seen in “across-the-board reductions in patrol and other operations,” while eliminating the city’s Navigation Team (and subsequently its existing infrastructure for sweeping homeless camps).

That money would then be allocated as follows:

  • $34.7 million to fund affordable working class housing in communities facing displacement and gentrification
  • $16.3 million for currently unfunded city services to backfill the deficit brought on by the COVID-19 crisis
  • $14.7 million to move the city’s 911 call center out of SPD’s purview and into civilian control
  • $15.5 million for black and brown restorative justice, as well as “other community programs”
  • $3 million to support black and brown community groups and develop alternative public safety models
  • $700,000 to renter organizing and eviction defense
  • $80,000 to a Green New Deal Oversight Board

Sawant also addressed criticism from Mayor Jenny Durkan and Chief Carmen Best, who have cautioned against what they view as hastily conceived cuts to SPD funding.

“This new approach to community safety requires deep community engagement and thoughtful analysis. It cannot be accomplished by abolishing police or by a blunt cut of 50% with no alternative plan,” Durkan said in mid-July.

“Something we hear often is that we have to be thoughtful and take our time — that’s a mind-boggling assertion,” Sawant countered on Thursday. “After eight years of failed police reform while under federal oversight, after the outrageous demonstration of the past two months of indiscriminate police violence against peaceful protesters, after having voted wrongly to approve a racist police contract, and hiring bonuses to attract police officers to the force, after all this, it’s way past the time to act.”

Speaking to concerns from the mayor and police chief over a reduction to SPD’s staffing, Sawant pointed out that 19 of the top 200 highest paid Seattle City employees work within the police department, and that the average salary among officers, sergeants, and lieutenants is roughly $268,000. Chief Best estimates that a 50% reduction to SPD’s budget would force it to cut 681 of its 755 patrol officers.

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A competing proposal from Durkan and Best would move roughly $76 million in services out of SPD’s budget in 2021. The pair also vowed to oppose cuts from the city council they believe would “compromise SPD’s ability to provide service and safety to the residents and businesses of Seattle.”

Their own proposal involves a series of “common sense” measures designed to transfer “an initial set of SPD civilian functions” out of the department’s purview. That includes:

  • Moving $32 million out of SPD’s budget to have the city’s 911 call center operate outside of police control
  • Moving $13.7 million in civilian parking enforcement funding to place it under the control of the Seattle Department of Transportation
  • Moving $3.3 million to have the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) operate outside of the police department
  • Moving $4.5 million to have the Office of Police Accountability function under its own independent budget (while already functioning as an independent office, the OPA’s budget currently falls under SPD)

In terms of straight reductions, that would see $20.5 million cut from SPD’s 2021 budget, including $13.7 million originally set aside for new hires, $4.1 million to leave 40 civilian staff positions vacant, and a $2.7 million cut in overtime spending for police at special events. SPD’s 2020 budget would remain intact under this proposal.

Seven of nine council members have voiced support for cutting SPD’s budget in half, a veto-proof majority. Sawant’s council colleagues have yet to comment on the specifics of her budget amendments.

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