SEATTLE - As Seattle City Council scrambles to cut the police department’s budget this year, likely scenarios come nowhere close to the 50 percent defunding many members recently said they supported.
Calls to defund SPD by 50 percent took off the past two months during protests sparked by George Floyd’s murder. Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now Coalition created a roadmap to defunding the rest of SPD’s budget this year, along with proposals for next year. The majority of council members vocally supported it.
However, with a vote expected next Monday and hundreds of officer jobs on the line, budget experts on the nonpartisan council central staff said laying off every sworn officer in the department still would not meet the goal of trimming $85 million from SPD in 2020, which is half of the remaining budget.
Now, some council members are coming to the conclusion a 50-percent reduction is impossible this year, and their colleague, Kshama Sawant, is blasting Democrats for lacking the political will to get it done.
“I’m not sure what you all council members thought you were promising when you said you were going to defund the police by 50 percent,” she said during Monday’s budget meeting. “This is exactly what people want, they want a smaller police department and yes, that means laying off officers.”
Council central staff said they estimate that current labor agreements mean roughly three months will pass between the time layoff notices are given and when the officer is no longer employed. In their calculations, if officers are given notices this week, they will be on payroll until roughly the first week of November, which means savings will only be realized for the last two months of the year.
To save just $3 million in 2020’s budget through personnel would mean laying off 180 patrol officers this week, according to Dan Eder, Seattle City Council Central Staff Deputy Director.
Facing an uphill battle, groups behind calls to defund SPD by 50 percent are undeterred.
“At the end of the day, I think now presents the opportunity for any elected official to be innovative in how they deliver that for the community,” said TraeAnna Holiday with King County Equity Now coalition.
As council members look to more modest cuts, like wiping out the navigation team and cuts to the SWAT team and mounted patrol, 50 percent is far from realized.
“Whatever can be done for this year’s budget needs to be done and definitely we’re looking at next year’s budget,” Holiday said.
While calls to defund police led to tens of thousands protesting in the streets, voices against defunding police are now growing. Seattle Police Officers Guild President Mike Solan said he thinks the growing outcry is giving the council pause.
“They’re finally hearing the ignored majority’s voice,” Solan said. “We have over 130,000 [petition] signatures in six days that are saying ‘no more’ to your unreasonable activism, because the council wasn’t listening to their constituents when they started this process.”
The council has a week to resolve cuts to the 2020 budget as a whole, faced with COVID-19 related revenue losses and protest demands to defund SPD. Members are scheduled to vote on a rebalancing budget Monday, August 10.