On Monday, the Seattle City Council voted to cut the Seattle Police Department (SPD) Budget’s remaining 2020 budget by 14 percent.
On Tuesday, SPD Chief Carmen Best resigned.
One council member, Kshama Sawant, a member of the Socialist Alternative Party, voted against the cuts. She was calling for a 50% reduction in this year’s spending on police. Sawant commented on the smaller cuts in a press release, saying, “A budget that does not meet basic social needs and that continues to throw money at a racist, violent institution is a failed budget.”
The 2020 cuts include eliminating school resource officers, eliminating 100 police officers, reductions in training and recruitment, and cuts in specialized units such as mounted police, SWAT teams and Homeland Security. The cuts also affect the Navigation Team, “a specially trained team comprised of outreach workers paired with Seattle Police Department (SPD) personnel, to connect unsheltered people to housing and critical resources.”
Best had been adamant in opposing drastic budget cuts. In an interview while the city council was discussing proposed reductions, she said members had not reached out to her for input, adding that she had not seen any plans and was concerned.
She said, “We have 800,000 calls for service every year. If you just lop off, even 100 officers, that’s going to be highly detrimental to a department that wasn’t staffed enough to deal with the calls we did have. And who is going to answer? I’m going to tell you, at 3 a.m., when somebody is standing in the street in some kind of crisis mode, armed or unarmed, somebody is going to need to respond to address it.”
The SPD was investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2011, after allegations that the department “had a pattern of using excessive force, and also had policies and practices [that] could result in bias against minorities.”
The DOJ said the department “was violating the constitution as well as policing with bias.” The SPD and the DOJ reached an agreement or “consent decree” on reforms centered around “discipline, accountability, force and community oversight.”
In 2018, Federal Court Judge James Robart found that the department was in compliance with the terms of the agreement. The city then entered into a two-year “sustainment period plan,” to maintain “effective constitutional policing in Seattle.”
In May 2020, because of marked policing improvements, Seattle and the DOJ had “filed a joint motion to remove parts of the decree they were in compliance with — including use-of-force but not accountability or discipline.” But the protests and riots over the killing of George Floyd led to more than “14,000 complaints regarding Seattle police use of force” – after the first weekend of protests, so the city withdrew its motion.
Despite the budget cuts and progress in the police department, Sawant and like-minded groups are calling for more shifts, including “wholesale structural change” in the SPD. They call for defunding the police and “more taxes for big business and the rich” to pay for projects like health care and child care for all, a world-class mass transit system, and a green public works program to provide “living wage jobs and dramatically reduce the region’s carbon foot print.”
Best served for 28 years with the SPD, working her way up through the ranks and becoming the first black woman to head the department in 2018.
In her letter to officers announcing her retirement, Best did not mention the cuts, but wrote, “I am confident the department will make it through these difficult times. You truly are the best police department in the country, and please trust me when I say, the vast majority of people in Seattle support you and appreciate you.”
Best’s letter concluded, “After more than 28 years, I am so thankful for the time I spent at SPD. You are my family. You will always be in my heart. We have had tough times before and come out better on the other side. I am glad I pushed through each of those tough times with you. I am grateful for the opportunity to have served as your Chief. Remember to take care of one another.”
Photo from Capitol Hill Seattle
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