SPD hiring freeze

The Seattle budget process is nearing the finish line.

Today the Seattle City Council completed its budget deliberations on Form Cs, which were proposed amendments to the budget. You can take a look at all the Form Cs under discussion here. There were no major changes to the SPD portions of the budget from what we’d discussed earlier. Depending on your source, in 2021 the SPD budget will be cut 17-20%. CM Sawant kindly did the math for us to let us know if you remove the transfers of units outside of SPD from these numbers, the cut to the SPD budget is 7.7%.

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Amy Sundberg @amysundberg
All right, let’s listen in to this budget meeting, shall we? We just heard 156, which would require SPD to report on policies that would re-militarize officer tactics, equipment, and culture.
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Amy Sundberg @amysundberg
Wow, CM Morales is really going to bat for an SPD hiring freeze, or at least a partial hiring freeze. This was proposed by CM Sawant, but CM Morales is speaking very passionately about it.


The Form C about the SPD that got the most discussion was CM Sawant’s proposal to maintain the SPD hiring freeze through 2021. When it became apparent that wasn’t going to fly, CM Morales proposed a 50% hiring freeze through 2021, which was also backed by CM Mosqueda. Nevertheless, neither of these proposals had enough support to move forward.

This echoed what CM Herbold said at a town hall last week. We’ve talked a lot about how police union contract negotiations and the consent decree are barriers to resizing the police force, but another barrier is the CMs themselves, who are reluctant to cut the force any further until community alternatives are stood up, scaled up, and ready to respond. Those alternatives are less ready than we hoped due to the rigamarole earlier this year with the Mayor’s veto, which delayed the promised investments from being dispersed. Several CMs have stated that they remain committed to the process of shrinking the SPD, but they wish to do so in a methodical and data-driven way.

In addition, Interim Chief Diaz has repeatedly stated his primary commitment is to maintain 911 response times; he will continue to transfer officers from specialty units to patrol in order to achieve this. This means that modest cuts to the number of police officers on the force (which is what either hiring freeze would achieve) won’t impact the size of patrol in any meaningful way, while pulling resources from specialty units that CMs believe are important, such as units investigating human trafficking and domestic violence. The CMs have discussed at length how to measure public safety, what public safety actually is, and how to best determine the proper SPD staffing plan, and I think we can expect those discussions to continue.

The last budget meeting of the season is on Monday, November 23 at 10am or as soon as the Council finishes their regular briefing. This meeting is primarily to tie up loose ends and make technical fixes to the budget as it currently stands. The final vote on the 2021 budget will be on the afternoon of Monday, November 23 at 2pm. There will be an opportunity for public comment beginning at 2pm, with signups opening at noon. This will be your last chance to weigh in on the version of the 2021 budget upon which the CMs will be voting.

In the meantime, the Black Brilliance Project released their own public safety agenda this week, and you can read more about that here.

In other news, now that the election is over, our State Senators and Representatives are gearing up for the next Washington State legislative session, which begins on January 11. Police reform is one of the legislature’s top priorities during this session, and there are a large number of bills on the topic being introduced. Now is a great time to email, call, or meet remotely with your state senator and representatives and let them know that police reform is a priority for you. If you don’t remember your district, you can look it up here.

This legislative session is particularly important because the issues around police reform have been gathering momentum for the past six months, meaning there’s more of a chance for useful legislation to be passed. This legislation would have impact throughout the state, including King County and Seattle specifically. I’ll be writing more about specifics on state-wide legislation in upcoming months.

Until Monday, and have a lovely weekend!

The Seattle budget process is nearing the finish line. Read More »

Seattle City Council’s 2021 Draft Budget

Today CM Mosqueda presented the City Council’s 2021 draft budget. No big surprises here, but let’s dig right in. You can take a look at the presentation slide deck yourself, and you can read the live tweet threads here and here.

Proponents of the Solidarity Budget and large-scale change and divestment in SPD might be disappointed by this proposal, which falls far short of requests to defund from SPD by 50%, maintain the SPD hiring freeze, and make large-scale investments into community. In her opening remarks on public safety in Seattle, CM Mosqueda suggested she thinks the City is on the right path but has not yet reached a turning point. She emphasized this was the first year the Council had not increased SPD’s budget, and referenced the roadblocks they have faced. Her goal appears to be to introduce measured steps towards divestment in police and reinvestment in community resources and organizations, giving those organizations time to scale up and build capacity.

The main danger with this approach is perhaps the possibility that the political will to make this large-scale change in how the City approaches public safety will diminish as time passes. Indeed, we already saw CM Pedersen today distancing himself from the quite modest cuts to SPD represented in this proposed budget in spite of lots of assurances in past weeks that he stands against systemic racism. CM Juarez, on the other hand, was much more supportive of this plan than she was of the summer plan. At its best, this plan could cause further divestment from SPD to be more successful, with community organizations being better prepared to step in and serve their communities after 2021’s round of investments.

Interestingly, in a press release yesterday the Mayor signaled tentative approval of this new budget proposal. In spite of her $100m BIPOC communities investment being significantly shrunk (more on that in a moment), she has to be pleased that the Council is not attempting to downsize the police force any further than they committed to this past summer. It seems possible the Mayor might not feel the need to veto this budget. Opponents will say this means the budget didn’t go far enough, but on the bright side, this increases the likelihood that investments this budget makes will actually be spent.

Public Safety/Community Investments

  • The Mayor’s $100m investment into BIPOC communities, otherwise known as the Equitable Communities Initiative, will be shrunk to $30m, with a proviso: “The Council intends that these funds should be allocated towards investments that reflect alignment between the Task Force’s recommendations and recommendations from the Participatory Budgeting process.”
  • $30m will be restored to the Strategic Investment Fund
  • $18m will be allocated to the participatory budget process, in addition to $12m for this process obtained through SPD cuts, for a total of $30m
  • the $10m promised in the summer’s rebalancing will be allocated to community-led public safety investments
  • $1.08m will be restored for the Office of Civil Rights to provide funding for community organizations providing alternatives to or alleviating harm caused by the criminal justice system

SPD Changes/Alternatives to Policing

  • oh so many reports! The Council is asking for all the reports they asked for in the summer, as well as reports on SPD overtime use, monthly reports on police staffing, a traffic stops report, a report on using PEOs for special events, and a report on 911 response times.
  • Creation of the new Community Safety and Communications Center
  • a Statement of Legislative Intent about the new 911 Call Center
  • annualizing various SPD budget cuts from travel, training, and discretionary purchases from the summer
  • abrogating 93 vacant police officer positions
  • moving mental health providers to HSD and hiring eleven additional
  • cut $6.1m from SPD for vacancy savings and $3.7m from SPD for overtime savings; also proviso $5m for potential salary savings
  • Proviso for out-of-order layoffs for 35 officers (this is a carry-over from summer)
  • Health One expansion
  • a consulting nurse and crisis counselor for SFD’s dispatch
  • $550k for a DEEL restorative justice pilot program and a few other small expenditures

Other Budget Points of Note

The Council’s proposal refills the City emergency funds to almost $40m, which is in contrast to the Mayor’s proposal, which drained them, leaving them practically empty. It also continues work towards figuring out a replacement for the Navigation Team. I believe the cuts to the SPD still amount to around 17%, most of which is achieved through moving units outside the force.

Next Steps

After the CMs turn in their Form Cs by Thursday evening, the Council will discuss amendments on November 18 and 19, and vote on the final budget on Monday, November 23. There will be public comment at the beginning of each of these meetings.

Seattle City Council’s 2021 Draft Budget Read More »