SEATTLE — Seattle City Council members have unveiled a plan to shrink the Police Department, starting with a spate of budget proposals that could reduce the force by as many as 100 officers through layoffs and attrition this year.
Most of the proposals, including cuts aimed at the department's SWAT team, encampment-removal team and mounted unit, appear to have enough support to pass. Those moves and an accompanying resolution, stating the council's intent to make more dramatic changes in next year's budget and to create a new Department of Community Safety, could pave the way for sweeping changes in response to the Black Lives Matter protests that have surged throughout the city.
Yet the package unveiled late last week by council members Lisa Herbold, Tammy Morales, Teresa Mosqueda and M. Lorena González won't immediately accomplish what many protesters have been calling for, and what police Chief Carmen Best has issued warnings about: Reducing the Police Department's spending by at least 50% and redirecting that money to other solutions.
The council members behind the new plan were among seven who, in early July, said they would support a "defunding" road map laid out by Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now. The coalitions have called for the nine-member council to cut 50% of the department's remaining 2020 budget and then 50% of the department's entire 2021 budget.
Now the council members say they can't achieve that outcome right away, mostly because layoffs will be delayed by collective bargaining with the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG). They expect their proposed 2020 layoffs, transfers and cuts to reduce the department's $409 million budget by about $3 million this year, assuming the layoffs won't be carried out until November. Mayor Jenny Durkan previously identified $20 million in Police Department savings.
"This is a step forward," said Angelica Chazaro, an organizer with Decriminalize Seattle. "But it's going to take a lot more than this for the community to feel like real change has happened."
The council members are promising to achieve much more in the 2021 budget, which they and Durkan will hammer out this fall, estimating their current proposals and other potential moves (including some already proposed by Durkan) could take $170 million from the Police Department next year.
Rather than begin to scale up community approaches with Police Department cuts, as initially suggested, their plan would use Seattle's remaining emergency reserves and some COVID-19 relief dollars for that in 2020.
"Today's proposed amendments are really a down payment on reducing the size and scope of what the Police Department responds to," González, the council's president, said in an interview. "There are some real roadblocks this year."
The proposals unveiled Friday drew mixed reactions at City Hall and beyond, as the council met remotely to discuss the potential changes.
Many of the moves drew interest from other council members, including Kshama Sawant, Dan Strauss and Andrew Lewis, who also pledged support last month for the community coalitions' defunding demands. They always knew major reductions this summer would be a challenge, Mosqueda said.
"This is the beginning of a process ... we are committed to continuing in September," Morales added.
Still, Sawant blasted the cuts as too timid and "not even close" to 50%, touting her own proposals for deeper layoffs and reductions; generations of police discrimination "cannot continue," the Rev. Robert Jeffrey, of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, said a news conference with Sawant last week.
Though Councilmember Debora Juarez didn't dismiss Friday's plan, she objected to the politics in play, having come under pressure in recent weeks because she declined to commit to a 50% defunding target without more details.
"This is what happens when you write a check you can't cash ... take a pledge without a plan," Juarez told her colleagues. "Now you're scrambling."