Police Chief Best Announced Her Retirement
Chief Carmen Best was the first black woman to lead the SPD. Her last day will be September 2, and Mayor Durkan has appointed Deputy Chief Diaz to serve as interim chief, with no plans to search for a new chief until next year at the earliest. Chief Best said at the press conference announcing her retirement that she’d made the decision to retire because she couldn’t bring herself to make any layoffs and because of the lack of respect for officers. She also felt targeted personally by the Council and therefore felt it would be better to get fresh eyes on the problem.
Here’s a balanced summary of various reactions to this news. There have been debates over whether it was about the money; the Council had discussed reducing Best’s salary and ultimately reduced it from $294k to $275k, although Best herself says it wasn’t about the money. Some people feel the Council drove Chief Best out. I have a lot of compassion for Chief Best, who I think was in an impossible position, and for the people who are suffering because of this situation.
I do think it’s important to be clear that the City Council is bound by bureaucracy to not engage in discussion with department heads (of which Best is one) during budget season. That being said, while preparing the 2020 revised budget, they did consult with other members of the command staff at the SPD more than once; I know that to be true because I watched them do it. One can argue that this is a bad policy that should be changed; I have no opinion on this because I don’t know the reasoning behind the policy. But the Council was in fact just abiding by rules agreed upon by everyone beforehand. For Mayor Durkan to repeatedly slam them for following these rules seems like a misrepresentation of the facts.
Today’s Special Meeting:
This afternoon’s special Council meeting was full of political posturing and hedging as the Council discussed the COVID relief bill that was vetoed by the Mayor. The division between the Executive and the City Council is particularly rancorous right now, and the slamming the Council has been taking in the press this week hasn’t helped. From all the rhetoric, it sounds like the Council was trying to find a compromise and make a deal with the Mayor regarding this legislation, but that the Mayor refused to come to any compromise unless the Council first sustained her veto. CMs Pedersen and Lewis were willing to do this, but the other council members were not. (CM Juarez was absent today.) Therefore the Council was able to override the veto, although only by a 2/3 majority. The lack of a 3/4 majority meant the parts of the bill related to appropriations were no longer valid. However, the Council then passed, with a 7-1 vote, an amended version of the bill that reduced its appropriations from $83m to $57m, reflecting the additional revenue shortfall for 2020 that had been reported on Monday.
Also passed was a bill appropriating $3m from the COVID relief bill to be used for community research and a participatory budget process related to public safety, a bill requiring precincts to be disaggregated in SPD budget reports, and a bill authorizing the interfund loan that will be financing much of the investments into community organizations working on public safety. With these passages, I believe the Council’s public safety package is complete…depending on whether the Mayor chooses to veto once again.
The Public Safety and Policing Resolution Passed Monday
The revised text to this resolution is now available, and as it lays out the Council’s promises and future work program related to public safety, I think it’s important to go over the details.
- The Council states their intent to create a civilian-led Office of Community Safety & Violence Prevention by the fourth quarter of 2021.
- By the end of November 2020, they will move the following units away from the SPD and into other departments: 911 communications functions; the Office of Emergency Managment; Harbor Patrol; and Parking Enforcement.
- By the end of November 2020 they will have also provided sufficient appropriations for a community-led research and participatory budgeting effort and funded new appropriations through phased reductions to the SPD’s budget
- They suggest to the Chief how to prioritize 911 calls during this transition, as well as requesting a work plan related to addressing biased policing in the SPD.
- They ask that for SPD cuts, the Chief consider out-of-order layoffs based on sustained complaint history and that the Chief establish a police misconduct registry for all SPD officers that is accessible to the public.
- They ask the SPD for a report by 10/15/20 on how patrols would function after proposed layoffs, covering general redeployment and response times by precinct.
- The Council promises not to support any budget amendments that increase the SPD budget to offset overtime expenditures above funds budgeted in 2020 or 2021.
Their proposed timeline is as follows:
Aug-Nov 2020: The Council and Mayor consider: reducing SPD budget, funding a community-led research process; removing specified functions from SPD; working to identify police practices with disproportionate impact on BIPOC communities
Aug 2020-Jul 2021: Community-led organizations should: conduct research; have a participatory budgeting process; recommend structure and functions for the new department; present recommendations
April 2021-July 2021: The Council, Mayor, and City Attorney should: develop draft legislation for public review; identify necessary city charter amendments; develop ballot language for charter amendments if necessary and submit it to King County Elections for a November 2021 vote
Sept 2021-Nov 2021 (during the 2022 budget process): The Council and Mayor should: introduce, consider, and act on proposed legislation creating the new department of public safety and making associated budget changes.
The last Council Briefing and City Council meeting before the summer recess are this coming Monday.