The Seattle City Council approved steep cuts to the city’s police department but avoided the 50% scale back in funding social justice activists had sought.
The council voted 7-1 to approve a spending plan that will cut the pay of top police officers while eliminating the Navigation Team and SWAT unit, according to several reports. It would also slash the department’s $400 million budget by around $3 million.
Moments after the vote passed, Mayor Jenny Durkan issued a statement through her office.
“It is unfortunate Council has refused to engage in a collaborative process to work with the Mayor, Chief Best, and community members to develop a budget and policies that respond to community needs while accounting for – not just acknowledging – the significant labor and legal implications involved in transforming the Seattle Police Department,” Durkan said.
City officials said more than 100 officers could see their pay reduced or positions eliminated as a result of the new spending plan.
One member of the council, Kshama Sawant, said she voted no because the plan did not go far enough.
Following the Memorial Day death of George Floyd, calls for sweeping police reform have reverberated across the nation. In Seattle, Black Lives Matter and other demonstrators took over a six-block radius of the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, a police-free area they dubbed the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” and later the “Capitol Hill Organized Protest” zone.
The demonstrators published a list of demands they wanted met before they left the area. Defunding local police by 50% was at the top of the list.
Seattle police eventually broke the encampment, clearing the area and making dozens of arrests. In the weeks that have followed, the city has seen several protests deteriorate into widespread looting, arson, and rioting.
After more than a dozen police officers were injured during a July 25 clash with protesters, Police Chief Carmen Best asked members of the City Council to disavow the demonstrations.
“It is a fact that there are groups and individuals who are intent on destruction in our City,” Best said in a letter to the body. “This weekend we know that several events are planned across the city that will foreseeably involve many of the same violent actors from recent days. There is no reason not to assume we will continue to experience property destruction, arson, looting, and attempts to injure additional officers throughout the weekend and beyond.”
Sawant, who has called for the full defunding of the city police department, led an anti-police brutality demonstration outside the home of Durkan during the height of the protests.
“Instead of working to make true change, Councilmember Sawant continues to choose political stunts. Tonight she did so without regard for the safety of the Mayor and her family,” Durkan’s office responded in a statement. “The Mayor was not even home — she was working at City Hall. Seattle can and should peacefully demonstrate but should not put families and children at risk.”