Seattle City Council Budget Talks

Select Budget Committee timeline  (contains a link to sign up for public comment two hours before the council’s August 3, August 5, and August 10 meetings, or a link to submit comments online.)

I’ve been listening to the Seattle City Council budget rebalancing discussions, fitting it in as life allows. The council has made ample accommodations for citizens to comment, and hundreds have done so. As only protesters are really paying attention to these discussions, the comments have been wildly one-sided, with person after person calling for defunding police by “at least 50%.” Meanwhile, SPOG, the Seattle Police Officers Guild is circulating an online petition to protect SPD funding and claims to have 100,000 signatures just this week. 

The deadline for council deliberations to conclude their work on rebalancing the 2020 budget is August 10. A big chunk of their work has focused on the SPD budget as they intend to make significant cuts. One thing to bear in mind is that some of these cuts are actually transfers to non-SPD budget lines. For example, currently 911 dispatch is part of the SPD budget, but both the mayor and council plan to move this function to a non-SPD budget. 911 Dispatch will cost less (why?) when housed on a new budget line, but it also will be seen as a significant reduction in the SPD budget. 

As the council debated amendments that the audience couldn’t see, it was a challenge to know exactly what they were discussing. Public commenters have attacked the “homeland security” line of the SPD budget, but during the discussion it became clear that this function involves any activity involving large public events that might be terrorist targets, plus following up on any queries into biological or chemical weapons, etc., the sort of things that now seem related to post 9-11 scares. Still, large events, which are not happening during Covid, are still challenging to monitor as one never knows who’s got an axe to grind. Anyway, deleting the misnamed “homeland security” line of the budget is unlikely.

Police overtime is also a target for budget cutting. Some of this overtime is for police who provide security for certain large private events. The city is supposed to bill the event sponsors for some of these costs, but apparently we do not always get a check. We’ve all heard that President Trump never reimburses cities for expenses related to his campaign rallies, so I’m guessing it’s events of this nature that are under discussion. Seems fair enough, but that’s not the entirety of SPD overtime. Protest rallies come to mind.

Another budget item that will only be moved but not eliminated is the data collection folks. Right now, data collection is part of the SPD budget per the consent decree, but council members think this has to bias the data. So they are picking it up and moving it to a line item outside the SPD.

Our council member, Andrew Lewis, commented in his town hall that over 50% of SPD calls are related to non-criminal incidents. True, but still that statistic doesn’t tell what percent of SPD time is spent on criminal incidents, which is considerably more than 50%. Most likely, we could all get on board with efforts to provide more effective help to people who are homeless and/or have addiction or mental health concerns. To this end, the council proposes adding $17M (not to SPD) to research programs that are alternatives to police responses to these situations. This money will be targeted at BIPOC groups that want to get in on the action. (You do know that BIPOC stands for “Black, Indigenous, People of Color,” don’t you?) The term appears in council dialogue constantly.

This summer’s protesters are so biased and negative about police. One commenter started her remarks with, “ACAB, Black Lives Matter….” ACAB, for those of us who struggle with alphabet soup is “All Cops Are Bastards.” Another started by questioning why the only people who support the police are white, then answered his own question with, “oh, yeah, they’re racist” (not exact words, but close). I just don’t share these opinions, so it’s hard for me to listen to hours of this. 

One frequent comment is that, “Police don’t prevent crime; they only show up afterwards.” A fair number of studies indicate that an increased police presence does reduce crime, and not just by sending it to neighboring areas. In essence, this is not a fact-based discussion. It’s sloganeering at its best. FWIW, CM Debra Juarez, while sympathizing with the good intentions of the defunders, asked why we haven’t heard from the Citizens Police Commission, which the council created several years ago to get a better feel for how BIPOC communities assess SPD services. Good question, CM Juarez.

Oops, I left out mention of the Navigation Teams. These were created a couple of years ago with the goal of getting more assistance to homeless people. I’m not fully up on the composition of the Nav Teams, but police officers are part of the team along with social workers, or some sort of non-police personnel. Public comments and council comments were harsh regarding these teams, mostly because Nav Teams have been involved in sweeps of homeless camps, moving people and removing their belongings when complaints have piled up, but not always finding shelter space or new areas to camp. The council is operating with the theory that an armed uniform officer creates fear and traumatizes the homeless without bringing any benefit. This is one of the primary uses of police that the council wants to replace with unarmed, un-uniformed civilians.

Here are some resources for those of you who have time and motivation to learn more.


Do police reduce crime?

SPD Blotter

Seattle Crime Dashboard

SPD Information

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