The Seattle City Council’s deep cuts in the police budget last year appear to be having an effect on policing in our city, but it is not the effect council members may have intended. New data indicates that the number of officers on the force has plummeted and, as a result, response times to emergency calls have gotten significantly longer.
Last summer, city streets were filled with protesters outraged by the shocking death of George Floyd, a Black man who died with the knee of a Minneapolis cop pressed against his neck. Like their counterparts around the country, local activists called for major changes in policing with a key demand for severe reductions in the police department budget.
In a hurried response, the city council slashed police funding, a rash move that prompted the resignation of Seattle’s first Black female police chief, Carmen Best. Now, with crime becoming more prevalent in the downtown core, we have many fewer cops and longer waits when we call for help, but no actual change in how the police operates. There is real work to be done to improve interactions with minority communities and to move away from militarized policing methods, but mindlessly hacking away at the police budget did not advance those priorities.
Alex Pedersen, the only council member who expresses any significant concern about criminal activity on our streets, issued a statement about the disturbing statistics in which he said, “This newly released data on police response time for emergency calls, which I requested as part of our budget process last fall, demonstrates how important it is to consider all the potential consequences before making major policy and budget changes.”
Pedersen implores his colleagues to postpone additional cuts until all the ramifications are taken into account. As logical as that may sound, do not count on the other council members to heed his advice, given how tempting it is for them to simply appease the narrow slice of activists who demand instant, simplistic solutions.
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