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Seattle mayoral candidate: Challengers should support defunding SPD ‘or drop out’

Demonstrators hold a rally and teach-in outside of the Seattle Police Department's East Precinct, which had been boarded up and protected by fencing, on June 8, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

The future of policing in Seattle has become one of the central debates for candidates running for mayor in 2021. So, where do they each stand on the future of SPD?

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On Thursday, one of those candidates — Andrew Grant Houston — offered an ultimatum to his fellow challengers: either support defunding the Seattle Police Department by at least 50%, or “drop out.”

Houston’s campaign issued his challenge in an open letter, calling on “all candidates in the race for Seattle Mayor to propose more than just fixing what is an inherently broken system of policing in our city and beyond.”

Last summer, seven of nine sitting Seattle councilmembers — including current mayoral candidate Lorena Gonzalez — voiced their support for cutting SPD’s budget in half. In the months that followed, that fervor died down amid a lengthy battle within City Hall, with the council eventually committing to less dramatic reductions.

Houston cited that in his letter, pointing to “candidates who, with direct influence over SPD’s budget, committed to defunding by 50% only to walk back their statements when it was no longer trendy to lay claim to the hashtag.”

“SPD’s budget is nearly double what it was 10 years ago, and we are not twice as safe,” he continued. “Defunding SPD by at least 50%, and investing in community and alternatives to public safety, is necessary. The time is now.”

Among the six major candidates who’ve raised significant campaign funds in 2021, Houston is the only one to explicitly support defunding the city’s police department.

Other proposals run the gamut. That includes homelessness advocate Colleen Echohawk, who says the city should move its traffic safety and mental health crisis support “into the community,” and establish a Public Safety Department staffed by mental health workers and neighborhood liaisons.

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Former Council President Bruce Harrell proposes that every SPD officer be required to watch the full video of George Floyd’s murder, and voluntarily sign a letter saying that “the inhumane treatment of fellow human beings will not be tolerated in Seattle.” He also addresses the debate over the department’s funding, calling on city leaders to “move beyond the arbitrary and divisive public safety budget debates,” and invest money in training for officers, as well as for hiring social workers and addiction specialists.

Gonzalez’s stated position on her campaign website is more concise, simply stating that she envisions “a Seattle where public safety is completely reimagined: [where] policing is demilitarized and held accountable to the public.”

Economic developer Lance Randall sits furthest away from Houston’s “defund” stance, emphasizing a police department that is “adequately funded, staffed and supported,” and proposing the creation of a Public Safety Youth Academy “to train young people from our local community to carry the torch as the next generation of those who will keep Seattle residents safe.”

While former state lawmaker Jessyn Farrell has been competitive in raising early campaign funds, her website does not detail a stated position on policing, focusing more on post-pandemic economic recovery, wealth inequality, and public education.

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