To the Seattle City Council members currently debating 2022 public safety funding: You can listen to the voters, or to Twitter.
Here’s a clue: Your constituents just signaled their intentions for the city in the Nov. 2 election, a much more reliable poll than any social media platform.
On Thursday, council members will begin voting on final amendments that include dollars for the Seattle Police Department.
The City Council should approve an amendment sponsored by Councilmember Alex Pedersen of North Seattle that restores $10 million in SPD cuts, which were announced by Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda last week.
Failing that, the council should adapt a compromise $5.2 million Pedersen amendment that includes funding for police staffing, hiring incentives and overtime.
Voters will closely watch the council’s swing votes — Andrew Lewis and Dan Strauss, who represent downtown and Ballard respectively. Same with Public Safety & Human Services Chair Lisa Herbold of West Seattle.
“Providing the public safety resources that the current and incoming mayor say we need reflects what we heard clearly from voters,” said Pedersen. “I think we should honor that call to action.”
The context of the current budget deliberations is important.
Earlier this month, Seattle elected a new mayor, city attorney and at-large council member, all of whom supported law enforcement and were clear-eyed about the need for reform. Polling indicates public safety registers high on the list of community concerns.
In recent weeks, acrimony between the council, the outgoing mayor’s office and police department reached a fever pitch. Disagreements about whether a police budget cut is really reducing dollars or simply ratcheting down a proposed increase has left all but the most die-hard City Hall observers tuned out and frustrated.
Here are some facts.
In 2019, there were about 1,280 deployable officers in the Seattle Police Department. Today, the number of in-service cops stands at 1,015. The impacts of this reduction are visible in the community.
Last year, there were 52 homicides in Seattle. FBI statistics reveal the department cleared just 16 cases (crimes are not necessarily cleared the year they occurred). By comparison, the San Diego Police Department investigated 56 homicides and cleared 48 cases.
An August report to the City Council showed lengthening SPD officer response times across the city. For example, Priority One calls such as shootings and assaults in the North Precinct averaged 12 minutes in the second quarter of the year. It was nine minutes in the same time frame last year.
In a letter to Mosqueda last week, Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz wrote: “Every step of budget discussions, Council’s answer to officers (leaving) is always how many more dollars can we cut — not how do we work together to recruit and retain the best officers.”
Mosqueda responded by expressing her gratitude to SPD. She also said SPD staffing problems and slow service was equally important as other city departments. This is the wrong approach. No one calls 911 because of a cracked sidewalk or pitted ball field. Public safety is essential.
At the last moment, outgoing Council President M. Lorena González and Councilmember Tammy Morales sponsored an alarming measure not seen in budget negotiations so far.
They proposed fully eliminating 101 open police officer positions. It would take a vote of seven of the nine council members to restore those jobs midyear. The impact on SPD morale would be devastating, but that may be exactly what they intend. The activists on Twitter clearly are celebrating the Mosqueda budget as part of the effort to defund SPD.
Council members should turn off social media and listen to their constituents. The votes cast now will legitimately become fodder for district council campaigns in two years.
The city’s budget should reflect the priorities of the majority of its residents. Approve Pedersen’s amendment, and properly fund public safety.