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Seattle to cut police budget 18% while homicides reach record high

Police use a chemical spray in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. (Seattle Times/TNS)
December 01, 2020

Seattle has reached record high homicides, but its city council members voted in November to cut police funding — and the mayor is expected to give the final signature.

After months of discussions, Seattle city council members voted in November to approve an 18% police department budget cut, which will cut funding for police training and overtime, and eliminate numerous vacant positions in the Seattle Police Department, the New York Post reported. Mayor Jenny Durkan is expected to sign the measure.

The cuts come as Seattle saw its 55th murder this year after a man was fatally shot Monday. Comparatively, Seattle had 28 homicide victims in 2019 and 32 in 2018, reflecting a recent spike in violent crime that is also seen in other major cities nationwide.

Local activists had called on the city council to cut the police department budget by 50 percent in the midst of growing nationwide demonstrations against police brutality and perceived racial injustice.

In addition to the cuts, the city council also chose to transfer from the police department parking enforcement officers, mental health workers and 9-11 dispatchers.

“I believe we are laying the groundwork to make systemic and lasting changes to policing,” Durkan said in a statement last week. “We have rightly put forward a plan that seeks to ensure SPD has enough officers to meet 911 response and investigative needs throughout the city, while acknowledging and addressing the disproportionate impacts policing has had on communities of color, particularly Black communities.”

The budget also included an investment of up to $100 million for developments in communities of people of color.

“I applaud the City Council for taking a more deliberate and measured approach to the 2021 Seattle Police Department budget than occurred this summer which led to the resignation of former SPD Chief Carmen Best,” Durkan said in the statement.

Homicides aren’t the only crimes spiking in the city: burglaries are also up, with 8,418 incidents in 2020 so far, a jump from 7,634 in 2019.

Demands to reduce funding to police stations nationwide increased in June following the death of George Floyd while in custody of the Minneapolis Police Department. Also in June, several blocks of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood were occupied by demonstrators who dubbed the area the Capitol Hill Organized Protest area or CHOP.

Seattle Police Department Chief Carmen Best resigned in August, citing differences with city leaders over police budget cuts and reducing the number of officers.

“I believe 100% that they were putting me in a position destined to fail. Cutting a police department that already had low staffing numbers, that was already struggling to keep up with the demand,” Best told NPR after resigning. “How are we going to provide for adequate public safety in that environment?”