Seattle councilmember targets compromise on proposed SPD budget cut

Mar 23, 2021, 6:54 AM | Updated: 12:56 pm
SPD budget cut, police...
Seattle police at a protest. (Photo: Jason Rantz)
(Photo: Jason Rantz)

The Seattle City Council has been pursuing a $5.4 million cut to the police department’s budget for weeks now. But in the wake of a presentation from the Seattle Police Department that delivered scathing criticism of that proposal, Councilmember Lisa Herbold is aiming for a compromise.

Seattle council wary of large changes to SPD policies after rebuke

Originally, the plan was to move $5.4 million in SPD budget appropriations to “participatory budgeting” for community-led efforts to reimagine public safety. A sizable portion of that money would have come from “salary savings” that resulted from the high rate of officers who voluntarily left the department toward the end of 2020.

In early March, though, the mayor’s office and SPD warned of dire consequences should the police department lose that money.

“I need to be able to manage the department, and right now the instability in our budget is causing massive instability in the department, including our staffing,” interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz told councilmembers. “We do not know what 2021 will look like. Right now, I know that we have no flexibility and we cannot count on using any salary savings to help address these losses.”

Things were further complicated on Monday, when Dr. Antonio Oftele, the federal monitor overseeing the city’s ongoing consent decree, issued a memo regarding the proposed budget cut. In it, he echoed concerns from SPD, and asked for additional analysis from city leaders over how the proposed reduction in funding will affect the police department’s ability to remain in compliance with the decree.

Federal judge cautions council to be ‘mindful’ of consent decree

That had councilmembers instead discussing a new substitute bill on Tuesday, which seeks to move just $2 million away from SPD into participatory budgeting, and then spread out an additional $5.7 million in savings from officer separations over a series of targeted asks from Chief Diaz.

According to SCC Insight’s Kevin Schofield, that would include money for leasing a new evidence storage facility, hiring mental health responders, filling open SPD civilian positions, providing more support for public disclosure requests, covering separation pay, and more.

That was discussed Tuesday morning in the council’s public safety committee, although councilmembers expressed that they would prefer to “spend more time” with the substitute bill before moving it forward.

Ultimately, the committee instead voted 3-2 to allow the substitute bill to replace the previous $5.2 million budget cut proposal while they await further feedback from the federal monitor.

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Seattle councilmember targets compromise on proposed SPD budget cut