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Seattle council, mayor ‘turn corner,’ find common ground on SPD budget cuts

Police block a road during protests near the Seattle Police East Precinct on July 26, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

Seattle council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda unveiled her proposal for the 2021 budget this week, including changes that she and fellow councilmembers believe will help reimagine the city’s approach to policing.

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The council’s proposal largely mirrors the one put forth by Mayor Jenny Durkan, calling for the creation of a civilian-led Community Safety and Communications Center, and shifting the city’s 911 call center and parking enforcement unit into that new department.

Councilmembers also propose eliminating 93 already-vacant SPD positions, which would leave them unfilled indefinitely pending upcoming police union contract negotiations. The mayor’s own budget proposal had sought to eliminate 47 of those unfilled positions.

In terms of reducing current SPD staffing, the council’s budget would seek to lay off 35 additional officers by July 1, 2021. The council hopes to have those layoffs conducted out of order rather than by seniority, prioritizing officers with histories of sustained complaints. Between that, natural attrition, and voluntary separations, SPD would see a total reduction of 100 officers between 2020 and 2021.

The council’s proposed 2021 cuts to SPD would total roughly 20%, short of the 50% community activists have called for in the wake of a series of summer protests stemming from the death of George Floyd. That would still be the second largest reduction to a major city’s police department budget in recent months, trailing a 34% cut approved by Austin’s city council in August, and followed by New York City at 16% and Los Angeles at 7%.

Mayor Durkan issued a statement shortly after the council put forth its 2021 budget, indicating that after a summer of heated disagreements between the two parties, a compromise appears to have been found, particularly when it comes to SPD.

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“This summer, there were significant disagreements between me and the City Council on whether they should cut SPD by 50 percent without a plan to both ensure an effective and constitutional police response and robust alternative community-based solutions,” she said. “With these budget amendments, I’m optimistic that we’ve turned a corner and can make collaborative, data-driven decisions that advance our shared policy goals, including making significant investments in community.”

Durkan also indicated that she still has “concerns about our increased rate of sworn officer attrition and its impacts on public safety,” but did not appear to directly oppose the council’s proposed cuts as a whole.

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