Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and police Chief Carmen Best are objecting to proposals by a City Council members that would seek to reduce the police force by as many as 100 officers this year through layoffs and attrition.
In a remote news conference Tuesday, Durkan and Best urged the council to hold off on additional cuts until the 2021 budget, arguing reductions would be too hard to make right away and ill-advised, anyway.
That has been their stance since Black Lives Matter demonstrations erupted in Seattle and many protesters began demanding that Police Department funding be reallocated to community-based solutions. Defunding advocates say the department’s budget is bloated and reforms have failed to curb discrimination and to stop police killings.
Durkan and Best balked last month when seven of nine council members agreed to support a “defunding” road map laid out by Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now, at least as a goal. Those community coalitions have asked the council to cut 50% of the Police Department’s remaining 2020 budget and 50% of its entire 2021 budget.
A package unveiled last week by council members Lisa Herbold, Tammy Morales, Teresa Mosqueda and M. Lorena González would include 70 layoffs and assume 30 unplanned resignations. The council members have said the moves would set the stage for more dramatic changes.
They also have acknowledged their proposals would reduce the Police Department’s $409 million budget by only $3 million this year, assuming the layoffs would be delayed until November by collective bargaining.
“Our proposals are a modest reflection of our recognition of the calls from the community,” Herbold said Tuesday.
Defunding advocates have scheduled a march for Wednesday, when the council’s budget committee may vote. Meanwhile, Durkan took aim Tuesday, accusing council members of overpromising.
“I would just urge the council again, take some time,” Durkan said. “It’s a step forward to have admitted you were wrong.”
The mayor and chief previously identified about $20 million in Police Department savings for this year, mostly in response to the COVID-19 budget woes, rather than in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
In July, Durkan announced a rough plan to reduce the department’s budget by $76 million in 2021, mostly by transferring the city’s 911 call center, parking-enforcement officers and some other services out of the department.
Council members have indicated support while suggesting some additional services also be transferred, such as victim support. But other points of contention have emerged.
A Public Safety Civil Service Commission rule requires police layoffs to occur by reverse seniority, which would result in diverse recruits and new cops being laid off first, Durkan and Best have said. Council members have noted that an exception allows layoffs out of order when the chief shows that approach is necessary. Durkan and Best contend the process would be difficult.
The employees set to be laid off out of order each would be entitled to hearings, the layoffs would require bargaining and litigation could ensue, the Durkan administration’s labor-relations director wrote in a memo Tuesday.
Were the layoffs to happen, there would be a gap in services, Best added, suggesting someone calling 911 could get a slower response without explaining exactly why. The council proposals would ask the chief to reduce patrol staffing and eliminate mounted, schools, public affairs and homeless-encampment removal units.
Council members have suggested that layoffs could be prioritized for officers with sustained misconduct complaints.
The mayor and council disagree on how to scale up community solutions this year. Herbold, Morales, Mosqueda and González want to use $13 million from the city’s rainy day fund; Durkan opposes that.
A philosophical split exists, too. Defunding advocates say City Hall should shrink the Police Department while scaling up community solutions. Durkan said Tuesday the city must build capacity for alternatives before cutting cops.