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Seattle City Council votes down freeze on police hiring for 2021

Police officers arrest a person as people march on the night of the election in Seattle, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Seattle City Council voted against a measure that would have froze the police department’s ability to hire new officers in 2021, while approving a series of other cuts.

Seattle council, mayor find common ground on SPD budget

Thursday’s votes came in the council’s budget committee, on the final day of deciding on amendments to the 2021 budget ahead of a full council vote set for Monday.

The hiring freeze proposal came from Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Tammy Morales, and would have cut just over $9 million from SPD’s budget, while pausing all hiring of new officers over the next year. That money would have instead been directed toward “community-led public safety investments.”

The council voted down the measure by a 7-2 margin, with Councilmembers Lorena Gonzalez and Lisa Herbold both citing concerns over SPD’s ability to quickly respond to 911 calls while understaffed. Interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz had also previously intimated that he plans to fill staffing gaps in patrol by moving officers out of specialty investigative units, which Gonzalez worried could have downstream effects on sexual assault investigations.

Under the proposed hiring freeze, the department would have ended 2021 with 1,260 sworn officers. Without the freeze, SPD will have 1,311 available officers.

Morales floated a compromise to instead implement a 50% hiring freeze. That proposal failed by a 6-2 margin with one councilmember abstaining.

Seattle Police Department responds to city council vote, budget cuts

The council did vote on several other cuts to SPD’s budget, totaling roughly 17%. That includes 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.

The council’s budget would also seek to lay off 35 additional officers by July 1, 2021. The council hopes the layoffs are conducted out of order rather than by seniority, prioritizing officers with histories of sustained complaints.

Prior to Thursday’s budget committee vote, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan had indicated that she and the council are largely aligned on the 2021 budget, and that after a heated summer of back-and-forth among leaders in city hall, they had finally “turned a corner.”

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