‘This has become a farce’: Seattle council clashes over strategy for SPD layoffs

May 12, 2021, 11:42 AM | Updated: 11:45 am

The Seattle Police Department’s 2021 budget passed by the city council last year mandated layoffs for 35 officers. At the time it was passed, interim-Chief Adrian Diaz was instructed to conduct the layoffs out of order rather than by seniority, prioritizing officers with histories of sustained complaints. Council President Lorena Gonzalez said Tuesday, though, that she no longer believes that’s possible.

More questions than answers over council’s stance on defunding SPD

Gonzalez cited months of research conducted by the council and its staff, and frequent obstacles they encountered in trying to find a way to legally make out-of-order layoffs happen.

“Every single time I thought we found an answer and a way to do it, we would open up yet another Pandora’s Box of yet another layer built into our legal framework decades before any of us were here, that has effectively shielded even those officers laid off for lying, or biased policing, or being convicted of a crime,” she described during Tuesday’s public safety committee meeting.

In fact, she warned that if SPD was somehow able to lay off its officers with a history of misconduct, they may eventually find their way back into the department anyway.

“Even if we were able to lay off specific officers who have been found of significant misconduct in the past, the moment there was an opportunity to hire new officers back to the police force, those officers in that pool have the right of first refusal,” she said. “I think that effectively frustrates our entire policy goal.”

Councilmember Lisa Herbold — who chairs the public safety committee — further pointed out that there’s also a state-level rule the council discovered in its research that prohibits “taking any adverse action against any officer on the Brady List.”

The Brady List is kept by prosecutors so they can avoid having officers with a history of dishonesty, sloppy investigative work, or bias testify under oath.

As Herbold and Councilmember Andrew Lewis further noted, changing that language was not among the reforms the Legislature passed during its last session. Both cited that as a priority the next time lawmakers convene.

“I think it is unbelievably counter to the public policy interest that officers on the Brady List are so insulated and protected from this kind of accountability,” Lewis said. “It was really discouraging to see that, and the solution to that sits in some essential changes to state law.”

Not everyone agreed with the decision to back off conducting out-of-order layoffs, with Councilmember Kshama Sawant voicing her own opposition to what she viewed as ever-shifting goalposts for police reform in Seattle.

Watchdog group received over 19,000 complaints against SPD in 2020

“Do councilmembers remember saying they support defunding the police by 50% last summer?” Sawant posited. “Then, do councilmembers remember saying that they cannot defund by 50% in 2020 because reducing the number of police officers would take up to four months, but they promise to do so in 2021? Then do councilmembers remember saying that they cannot reduce the number of officers in 2021 because they first need to research out-of-order layoffs?”

“Now councilmembers are saying, ‘out-of-order layoffs of police are not possible, so please forget that councilmembers ever promised to reduce the size of the police force,'” she continued. “Frankly, in my view, this has become a farce.”

Gonzalez briefly touched on the possibility of moving forward with layoffs by seniority instead, clarifying her point to say that not conducting out-of-order layoffs “should not be translated into saying that layoffs would or should never occur.”

“It simply means that the concept of doing out-of-order layoffs in order to prioritize and identify individuals who cannot fulfill their full functions as a police officer because of prior misconduct is not achievable,” she added.

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‘This has become a farce’: Seattle council clashes over strategy for SPD layoffs