(The following article was originally published in our sister publication, The Stranger.—eds.)
On Monday evening the Seattle City Council voted 8-1 to approve a $6.5 billion 2021 budget package that filled in COVID-19 holes, increased funding to address homelessness, revived Seattle's Green New Deal, and, among other things, cut the Seattle Police Department budget by around 20%.
In the heat of the summer's protests, seven out of nine council members heeded calls from activists and committed to defunding SPD by 50%. The budget the council passed today doesn't make cuts that deep and most likely will not reduce the size of the police force. The council also refused to impose a hiring freeze on SPD that would have resulted in a $9 million boon to city budget funds.
However, in an eleventh-hour move this morning, Select Budget Committee Chair Teresa Mosqueda introduced an amendment to cut $2 million from sworn salary funding to reflect new data on SPD attrition. The amendment eliminates any net increases in SPD officers in 2021.
For 2021, SPD estimated it would be able to hire 114 new officers, and that 89 officers would leave due to attrition, resulting in a net gain of 25 officers. Mayor Jenny Durkan included funds for those new salaries in her budget proposal. But SPD's numbers weren't quite right, according to the data from Mosqueda's amendment.
First, according to city council central staff analysts, over the last seven years, SPD has never managed to hire 114 people in a year. The most SPD ever hired in a year was 108 new officers. On top of that, the council is anticipating attrition will be higher than SPD's projections.
Data show an unprecedented number of officers left SPD in 2020. The Seattle Times reported last month that 110 SPD officers departed the force as of September. This morning, Council President Lorena Gonzalez said SPD forecasted that 80 officers would leave the department during the first 10 months of 2020. But in reality, she said, around 133 officers have left the department so far this year. SPD reported to the council late last Friday that 23 officers left the department in October, a departure from original projections from SPD that anticipated only seven officers leaving.
"Based on current trends," Gonzalez said, "I believe this update is likely fair and appropriate, and that departures from the force will continue at an increased rate."
Using the departure data, Mosqueda's amendment anticipates that 114 total officers will leave the department in 2021. The legislation reduces SPD's funds accordingly by eliminating salary funding for positions the council believes won't be filled. The $2 million the council is taking from SPD's budget will fund community policing. The measure passed 8-1. Alex Pedersen voted against the amendment.
What's nice about this amendment, Katie Wilson, the executive director of the Transit Riders Union told me, is that it's immediate and isn't dependent on a "wait-and-see approach."
Gonzalez introduced a proviso last week that allows the council to siphon up to $5 million more dollars from SPD's hiring budget depending on how hiring and attrition goes throughout the year.
King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle didn't provide comment for this story. The groups were saving their comments for a "teach-in" event they hosted for members of the Solidarity Budget, a coalition urging the council to divest from SPD, to debrief on the council's vote this evening. I'll have a rundown on the teach-in tomorrow. Wilson, who is part of the Solidarity Budget said she was "disappointed that more significant moves hadn’t been made in this budget to reduce the size of the police force."
But, Wilson said, proponents of the Solidarity Budget are "hopeful" that "this attrition strategy will actually reduce SPD numbers as the next year goes on.
The majority (around $40 million) of the SPD's budget "cuts" came from transferring departments like the parking enforcement officers, the 911 call center, the emergency management department, and victim advocates out of SPD. The council reduced another $20 million by cutting funding for vacated positions. The council also recommended 35 out-of-order layoffs for SPD, but those aren't guaranteed since out-of-order layoffs have to be bargained with the police union.
In addition to trimming the fat police budget, the council also had some other significant wins, according to the council's budget committee meeting from last week:
"I’m really proud of the work we’ve done together," Mosqueda said ahead of the final budget vote. "We know there is tremendous work that needs to be done together. We need to be bold. We need to be courageous, and we need to keep pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones."
Councilmember Kshama Sawant was the lone no-vote. She has voted against the council's "austerity budget" every year since she was elected. Sawant proposed legislation in the council's budget committee last week to cut SPD's budget by 50%, but no council members seconded her movement, so the proposal wasn't even discussed.
The budget now goes to Durkan for final approval. Barring a mayoral veto—which isn't out of the question—we can finally stop talking about the 2021 budget.