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Mayor Durkan forced to immediately suspend Navigation Team, start cuts to SPD

(Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images for Rock'n'Roll Marathon )

As the Seattle City Council begins the months-long work of the 2021 budget process, there is still work to be done on the 2020 rebalancing package, much to the chagrin of Mayor Jenny Durkan.

Durkan opposed several aspects in the budget from cuts to Seattle Police to borrowing money to invest in community alternatives to policing.

The mayor had negotiated a compromise option, but instead the council voted to override Durkan’s veto. It was a move that left her no choice but to start acting on it, starting with the immediate suspension of the Navigation Team.

“This year, COVID-19 has brought new challenges to our homelessness crisis,” Mayor Durkan said. “Our City outreach teams have served a key role in shelter referrals, distributing resources for COVID-19, coordinating outreach and litter abatement, and addressing the limited removal of encampments that pose an extreme public health or safety risk to both residents of the encampment and the surrounding communities. Council voted repeatedly to defund the Navigation Team, which requires the City to suspend operations.”

Durkan expressed continued hope that the council would address some of the optional and legal concerns she had raised, and vowed to work with the council to find common ground. For now, Durkan said she had no choice.

The move effectively returns the city’s response to unsheltered homelessness to a pre-2017 model where service providers alone were the city’s response to encampments.

Durkan is also moving forward on roughly 70 out-of-order layoffs at the Seattle Police Department, while also letting the council know it is not going to happen on the timeline it wanted.

In a letter to the city council, Deputy Mayor Mike Fong explained the out-of-order layoffs – based more on misconduct rather than the usual required seniority to retain newer, more diverse officers – will first have to go through collective bargaining with the police unions after both the Seattle Police Officers Guild and Seattle Police Management Association demanded bargaining.

The longer process means those layoffs will not happen in November as the council required through a budget proviso. Durkan will now submit legislation to remove the proviso from the spending package.

Durkan was opposed to $14 million in that package being borrowed from other departments to use for investments in community alternatives to policing, but will now start releasing those funds after the veto – along with $3 million that will go to community-led research on the issue that does not require her approval.

Durkan says $4 million will immediately be released by the Human Services Department for community-based safety programs that already have city contracts, while HSD will create a new program for the remaining $10 million.

“The City’s Human Services Department will work to distribute as much of the $14 million to community-based organizations as is feasible in 2020,” concluded Mayor Durkan. “I agree that investing in alternatives to policing and the criminal legal system is crucial to the City’s work to reimagine policing and invest in BIPOC communities. However, my concern centered around Council seeking to borrow money, with no identified funding source, but it is my hope Council will address the $14 million as part of their 2021 budget process.”

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