A proposal to cut the Seattle Police Department budget by 50 percent appears to have the support of a majority of the city council.
Seven of the city’s nine council members have now said they support a 50 percent cut, according to The Seattle Times. Democratic Mayor Jenny Durkan has said she supports a reduction in the police budget as part of a long-range strategy, but not at the 50 percent level.
Six council votes are enough to override any mayoral veto.
The call to slash the police budget was presented by Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now, two community coalitions. The groups said that the police budget for 2021 should be cut in half from its current figure, and that the budget for the remainder of 2020 should also take a 50 percent hit.
The department’s 2020 budget is currently $409 million.
A 50 percent cut to the police could require layoffs for 755 sworn officers and 281 civilians who work for the police department, according to figures provided by the mayor’s office to The Times.
Activists who outlined their vision of a smaller police department want to remove Seattle’s 911 dispatchers from police control.
“‘We believe 911 dispatch should be removed from SPD control,’ partly because armed police responding to calls too often leads to killings of Black people,” The Times reported, citing comments from Angélica Cházaro, a Decriminalize Seattle representative who presented activists’ proposal to the council’s budget committee on Wednesday.
She added that “911 calls should be referred, whenever appropriate, to non-police responders.”
The groups also call for more of what they term community-based solutions to public safety and want money to support a process to develop “imagine life beyond policing.” The activists are also calling for money to be poured into creating affordable housing
The aim is “defunding the Seattle Police Department and building a world where we trust and believe in community to provide the safety that we need,” Jackie Vaughn of Decriminalize Seattle said at a news conference Thursday.
“I really, truly do not believe change will happen unless we take away 50 percent,” Seattle resident Ayan Musse told the city council during Wednesday’s public comment session. “We have to start imagining a world without law enforcement.”
Durkan has called for a $20 million cut to the police budget.
In a very gentle pushback to the activists’ proposal, Durkan spokeswoman Kelsey Nyland told The Times: “Our office doesn’t object to any of these ideas — they are all undeniably critical to building a more just and equitable city. But each … is much more nuanced than it initially might seem, and if we don’t factor that into our discussions … then we’ll never be able to build actionable and lasting solutions.”
Senior Deputy Mayor Mike Fong was a little less tactful when he wrote to the council saying that “blunt efforts” to cut the current year’s budget by $100 million or more “would not serve our communities.”
The layoffs that would follow would leave “the Seattle Police Department unable to conduct basic functions,” he said.
Fong said long-term strategies can reduce the police budget, that the changes will take time.
But activists demand their vision of the future.
“Ensure that young people and our families have access to the sorts of resources, housing, economic and employment opportunity, health care, education, which actually prevent young people and their families from ever entering the school-to-prison pipeline or the prison industrial complex,” Nikkita Oliver of Creative Justice said during Thursday’s news conference, according to KIRO-TV.
“You want us as visionaries in thinking through community solutions to policing,” Jaelynn Scott with the Black Trans Taskforce added.
“How many victims would not have to be victims?” said K. Wyking Garrett, CEO of the Africatown Community Land Trust. “Because when the police show up, there’s already a victim, and there’s already a suspect, who’s also a victim in certain ways.”
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