SEATTLE - The Seattle City Council heard from hundreds during Wednesday’s budget meeting as members get closer to a vote on whether to defund the police department by 50 percent, a decision that could lead to the firing of hundreds of officers.
While the “defund” crowd has been strengthening for months, calls against defunding are starting to pick up. One day after launching a “Stop Defunding” petition, the Seattle Police Officers Guild said they already collected more than 20,000 signatures.
At a critical time in Seattle’s history, the city council is faced with a decision that will reverberate for years to come. Nearly 300 people signed up for public comment Wednesday. It took nearly three hours to hear from everyone available.
“Defunding SPD is a radical experiment that will hurt the vulnerable,” one caller said.
“Nothing less than defunding will begin to heal the violence committed by police against Seattle’s Black, Brown and Indigenous communities,” another caller countered.
The “defund” group is calling for immediate cuts of $85 million for the rest of the year. SPOG President Officer Mike Solan said during public comment that those cuts could mean immediately cutting up to 100 officers from the force.
“He’s right, let’s fire the officers who think it’s okay to tear gas citizens of their own city and instead give money to communities who have been suffering at the hands of police for decades,” a caller said in response to Solan.
Most calling to defund Seattle Police Department by 50 percent support a 4-point proposal by Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now coalition. That proposal calls for spending the $85 million on a civilian-controlled 911 system, community-based responses to crises, a research process to figure out life beyond policing and immediate investments in housing.
The group proposed cuts could come from dramatic reductions in patrol staff, cutting the recruitment and retention budget, cutting the training budget and ending overtime pay, among others.
“SPD is already understaffed and with the city growing rapidly, calls for service are increasing,” a caller said. “I do not want less officers, I want more officers who are able to respond to priority calls in seven minutes or less. We don’t live in Utopia.”
At this point, a veto-proof majority of council members have already committed to deep cuts to the department, despite recent polls showing public support for defunding is mixed at best.
“Seattle City Council, you are irresponsibly not fully representing your constituents by making the reckless decision of defunding our police department by 50 percent,” a department supporter said.
But the council is feeling the pressure, from constituents threatening to vote them out if they don’t defund the department to protesters who are showing up at council members’ homes to make sure their voices are heard.
“If the budget is not cut by $85 million, if you think what you’ve seen is bad, it’ll only get worse,” one caller said.
Now, there’s less than two weeks for the council to decide. Members are already in the middle of rebalancing the year’s budget over COVID-19 revenue losses. They will start debating SPD-related budget cuts Friday and will vote on a new budget for the rest of the year Monday, August 10.