Seattle City Council Budget Meetings 7/8/20

I am now going to do my best to summarize the five hours of budget meetings that took place earlier today. Here is the Twitter thread, which is very long.

We began with a panel presentation by community experts including Angélica Chazaro from Decriminalize Seattle and Kristania De Leon from the Participatory Budget Project on defunding the police department and creating a participatory budget process for the city of Seattle. Ms. Chazaro said the time for police reform has passed because more training and more accountability hasn’t improved the situation. Therefore, they’re asking the City Council to cut 50% of the remaining SPD budget for this year. It’s worth noting the SPD has expanded by 43% in the last ten years. She laid out where they recommend cuts (hiring freeze, cut sworn officer jobs, cut PR, training programs, end overtime pay, etc.) and what to invest in instead:

  1. Replacing the 911 system with a civilian-led system independent from the police department
  2. Scale up community solutions
  3. Invest in housing for all
  4. Fund a community-led process to create a roadmap to life without police

We have several community organizations that can be scaled up to meet a lot of these needs, and we also need to invest in incubating new organizations. The hope for #4 is to create a participatory budget process that can be followed annually to give residents of Seattle a greater voice into how public funds are spent in our city while emphasizing equity. The idea is to start scaling up community solutions, including a new 911 dispatch service, while gradually scaling back SPD in a phased way, with the process starting this year and then continuing in 2021 and beyond.

We then had a presentation on participatory budgeting.

It’s worth noting the CPC (Community Police Commission) has endorsed the idea of defunding SPD by 50%. CM Strauss also noted that it takes about four years to be able to see how new policies are working, so this is a long term project.

SPOG and the police union contract that ends this year were only briefly touched upon, so I’m not sure how much they expect that contract to affect this process. I was surprised that wasn’t further discussed, but it’s possible all the participants of the meeting already understand that aspect of this process.

We then moved onto the 911 call analysis, led by SPD’s Dr. Fisher. Almost half of SPD’s sworn workforce is employed by responding to 911 calls. They can be broken out by criminal vs non-criminal calls, although that classification can be fluid depending on how things develop on the ground, by various call types, and by priority level. You can also classify calls based on number of calls fielded or amount of time spent in response. Criminal calls take a lot more time to deal with. Everyone is concerned with which calls need to be responded to by sworn officers versus which calls could be dealt with by other outside agencies. CM Mosqueda was also interested in figuring out which calls dealt with crimes due to poverty and homelessness. CM Herbold pointed out that outside data from the NYT suggests that calls involving violent crime only make up 1.3% of calls received.

In the afternoon budget session, we went over questions about the Mayor’s proposed revised 2020 budget. We spent a long time discussing homelessness, especially in the context of COVID and trying to move people into non-congregate shelters in order to keep them safe from the virus, especially those at high risk. It’s tough because we need to act quickly and spend a bunch of money on this, but we’re also experiencing a huge budget shortfall so there is some push-and-pull between the council members and the budget office as a result. There is likely to be continued revenue shortfall in 2021 and 2022, so they are going to have to continue to make really hard decisions for the foreseeable future.

Deputy Mayor Ranganathan spoke about the community engagement process for reforming the SPD. She says the community engagement process will work in phases. The first phase will lead to the Mayor introducing her proposed 2021 budget in late September, at which point they’ll launch into a phase of reimagining public safety and also figuring out how to allocate the $100m the Mayor has promised to BIPOC communities. Where that $100m is coming from remains unclear. CM Mosqueda asked for this timeline to be provided in writing and pressed this request, which the Deputy Mayor ultimately agreed to. She also flagged that it’s important to talk carefully about what community demands actually are and to work with organizations that have community trust and long-standing relationships with their communities, which I think might have been a shot at the Mayor haphazardly meeting with some organizations and not others in recent weeks.

Now the City Council is supposed to come up with their own recommendations about how to amend or reallocate funds within the revised 2020 budget. They will continue to have budget meetings every Wednesday until the end of July, and are hoping to vote on the revised 2020 budget at the beginning of August.

A lot of ground was covered today. The SPD budget is complicated, and figuring out how to best defund the police department and reallocate those funds is a huge job. There are lots of details in the linked documents and my Twitter thread if you’re interested, but this is all still at a very preliminary stage. I will say it’s encouraging that we’re even able to have this conversation right now, something that was politically impossible just a few months ago.

In the meantime, I’m almost done with my overview of the history of the police in the US, so I should have that out to you by the end of the week. I looked at several sources, thinking this history might be somewhat controversial, but there seems to be a lot of agreement on the main points. Hopefully this piece will help give some context for the situation regarding the police that we find ourselves in today.