Councilmember on SPD budget cuts: ‘This will make people less safe’

Dec 8, 2022, 4:22 PM


Seattle police officers confer after taking part in a public roll call at Hing Hay Park in Seattle's Chinatown-International District on March 18, 2021. (Ted S. Warren/AP file photo)

(Ted S. Warren/AP file photo)

Last week, the Seattle City Council approved a budget proposal that eliminates 80 actively-vacant police officer positions within the Seattle Police Department (SPD) in a move to save approximately $11.4 million to address the ongoing budget deficit.

Three council members — Kshama Sawant, Alex Pederson, and Sara Nelson — voted against this budget decision.

“Since 2020, SPD has lost over 400 officers and is now down to about 30% of its deployable force,” Nelson said on The Gee and Ursula Show. “We do have a public safety crisis on our hands because fatal shootings are up 35% in those two years, and crime is skyrocketing. Response times, when you call 911, are really, really long.”

SPD is down to 900 positions within the department, according to Nelson, with Mayor Bruce Harrell’s goal to add an additional 500 jobs in the near future.

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“Eliminating these permanent positions is a cut. And it’s unnecessary because the salaries to support those positions have already been spent. I’m fine with that, but eliminating those positions is the wrong direction, it is extremely difficult to recreate a vacant position from scratch,” Nelson said. “We’re not doing this to any other department. There are vacancies across the city, we’ve got a tight labor market. And we’re not eliminating, making permanent cuts to any other department.”

However, the budget does allocate funds to hire for 160 Seattle open police positions, instead of the 240 Nelson wanted.

Seattle is facing an additional $82.3 million revenue shortage in its 2023-2024 budget, according to the city’s Revenue and Forecast Council’s November Report, which has been added to the original $141 million general-fund deficit the city was preparing for. Infrastructure projects and programs are rumored to take the biggest hit in terms of budget cuts.

Nevertheless, Nelson does believe the relationship between Seattle’s city council and its police department has improved since 2020.

“We’re not calling for a 50% cut to SPD as the majority of council members did two years ago, so that’s an improvement,” Nelson said. “And I put forward a resolution calling for hiring bonuses to be able to recruit new officers in that past six to three, so that, I think, could be said about moving in the right direction.”

But Nelson is concerned about SPD’s morale, citing multiple rank-and-file officers who interpreted this move as another “defund the police” stunt.

“This looks like a lack of priority for public safety in their eyes,” Nelson said.

The debate over the budgetary decision is whether or not the choice actively harms Seattle’s safety, further damaging SPD’s morale, or if it made the most financial sense after the Revenue and Forecast Council’s November Report.

“Despite a grim budget forecast, the Chair stayed true to our values and invested in public safety with a racial equity and justice lens — despite the rhetoric this budget decreases community safety investments,” Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda’s team wrote in a statement, acquired by KIRO 7.

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Which spurred Ursula Reutin, co-host of The Gee and Ursula Show, to ask the question on every Seattleites’ mind: Am I less safe now because these 80 positions have been cut?

“Or would you say it, operation-wise, is going to have a negligible impact because we can’t hire enough officers in the city right now?” Ursula asked.

“We won’t be able to hire enough officers if we continue down this road. Quite simply, this is an unnecessary bookkeeping cut,” Nelson responded. “It was designed to sort of remove the clutter of unfilled positions. Again, we’re not doing that in any other department. I do believe that this will make people less safe, because I think we stand to lose more of our existing officers that are already trained, that already know the community.”

Last month, Nelson created an additional proposal for the city budget to install a new pilot program that helps cover the costs of treatment for substance use disorders for those who can’t afford it.

Listen to Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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