Seattle police chief retires after city council votes to cut US$3.5 million from the police budget

Seattle police chief retires after city council votes to cut US$3.5 million from the police budget
Source: The Associated Press

Seattle police chief Carmen Best announced her retirement on Monday, hours after the city council voted to cut US$3.5 million from the police budget and decrease the size of law enforcement by about 100 officers.

Best said in a letter, “This was a difficult decision for me, but when it’s time, it’s time.”

“I am confident the department will make it through these difficult times … I look forward to seeing how this department moves forward through the process of re-envisioning public safety.”

Best gave no reason for her departure, but Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a letter to police officers that Best retired due to the police department’s strained relationship with the City Council.

“I regret deeply that she concluded that the best way to serve the city and help the department was a change in leadership, in the hope that would change the dynamics to move forward with the City Council.”

“Know that while I understand the Chief’s reasons, I accepted her decision with a very heavy heart,” Durkan added in the letter.

Seattle is among the many cities that have been engulfed in protests against systemic racism following the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer.

Throughout the nationwide protests, a key demand has been to defund the police department and redistribute the money to community programs for public safety.

The City Council’s move to reduce the police budget comes in response to those demands, but falls seriously short as the protesters have demanded a 50% cut to the police budget. The slashed US$3.5 million represents less than 1 percent of the police department’s US$409 million budget.

The decision to reduce the police budget also comes because of the need to balance the city’s budget during an economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“No one could have anticipated that we would be faced by a global pandemic, an economic crisis and a national racial reckoning that places the responsibility of a path forward squarely at the feet of local leaders,” City Council president Lorena Gonzalez said in a statement.

“With a lack of unified federal leadership, this growing economic recession means we must do more with much less.”

As part of the approved budget cuts, 100 police officers will be cut from the police force’s total 1,400 officers. Other cuts include a reduction in the budget of the SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team, the mounted patrol unit, school resource officers, homeland security and harbor patrol. Training and travel expenses and other administrative costs will also be reduced.

US$17 million will be invested in community public safety.

The city council also proposed drastically reducing the police chief’s annual salary of US$285,000 but backtracked on that decision.

Gonzalez described the approved cuts as a “down payment” for future reductions in the police department’s budget. An overall reduction of US$76 million is expected in the 2021 budget.

Discussions over budget cuts for the next year will begin next month. Current proposed cuts include moving the 911 call center and parking enforcement from the control of the police department. The city is also discussing the potential creation of a new public safety department.

“Our inquest into SPD’s budget revealed 3% of 911 calls result in arrest but 56% of calls involve non-criminal activity. As a City, we cannot look at this data and assume this is a best practice and cost-efficient,” Gonzalez said in the statement.

“What we can do is allow our police to focus on what they are trained to do and fund service providers addressing the more complex issues of housing, substance use disorder, youth violence prevention, affordable healthcare, and more.”

“Reducing the budget of the Seattle Police Department is a response to the calls for advocating for racial justice and investments in BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) communities,” Gonzalez added.

While Best and Durkan were willing to approve small cuts of nearly 20% from the police budget they didn’t approve of the deeper cuts being planned by the Council.

Meanwhile, Council member Kshama Sawant, the only person to vote against the budget cut, criticized the council for not doing enough to strip the police force of its power and funding.

“This budget fails to shift the misplaced priorities of the Democratic political establishment,” Sawant said in a statement.

“It continues to hand more money over to the bloated police department than to eldercare, homeless services, and other human services, affordable housing, neighborhoods, and arts and culture combined.

“A budget that does not meet basic social needs and that continues to throw money at a racist, violent institution is a failed budget.”

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