By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
If the Seattle Police Department‘s budget is cut in half immediately, closing the Southwest Precinct would be one way to save money.
So says SPD Chief Carmen Best in a letter to Mayor Jenny Durkan, shared with WSB by the mayor’s office late today as the battle heats up over cuts the City Council might consider this month. Here’s the chief’s letter:
From the letter:
With little to no engagement with SPD, Council has articulated a plan to cut SPD’s 2020 budget by 50%. The SPD is fully committed to assisting the City in meeting its budget needs for the remainder of 2020, as well as engaging in a broad community-led discussion around re-envisioning community safety. Truly transforming policing into a system that meets communities’ needs, particularly communities of color, should only be done with a solid plan, not through a budget cut. These 2020 cut scenarios by the Council are political gestures, however, not realistic or rational solutions. SPD is absolutely committed to transforming the department and has already started the process. But if we are asked to cut 50% of our department overnight, we will be forced into decisions that do not serve our shared long-term goal of re-envisioning community safety. …
The proposed $50 to $80 million additional council budget cuts, together with the identified $20 million cut, represents a 100 percent cut in the total budget for the fourth quarter. The only way we can achieve that level of cut within the last four months of the year is to terminate or transfer approximately 1,100 employees – or over 50 percent of our total workforce. This would leave us with about 630 deployable sworn members in the department.
Patrol Operations Impact
Currently, there are approximately 775 sworn members in the Patrol Operations Bureau. Even at that
staffing level, we often are stretched to respond to emergency calls in our target response time of seven
minutes. Under the proposed budget cuts, my only option that does not sacrifice public safety would be to do all that we can to maintain the staffing in Patrol. Given the potential reductions would have the entire department function with less personnel than are currently in Patrol, we would have to take drastic action to maintain patrol capacity. It also is important to remember that through labor rules, our newest, most broadly diverse officers are in patrol, and they will be the first we are forced to terminate.
• Close the Southwest Precinct
o The Southwest Precinct was opened in 2003, and previously the West Seattle area was served by the South Precinct. Currently, the Southwest Precinct is staffed by 100 sworn employees. Re-distributing these 100 employees to the remaining four precincts would help offset some of the impact of the cuts. …
The Southwest Precinct covers South Park as well as West Seattle, so theoretically both areas would be dispatched from the South Precinct – which is at 3001 S. Myrtle (map) – if this precinct were closed.
Now, some backstory:
The budget-halving idea stemmed from the “defund the police” advocacy that arose around the country during recent demonstrations against racism and injustice. The council and mayor wouldn’t usually be talking budget at this time of year, but the coronavirus crisis has led to a big loss in city revenue and meetings of the council, as the Select Budget Committee, were already under way to figure out how to deal with that. (Here, by the way, is the SPD budget summary. It lists $19 million for the Southwest Precinct.)
We have had a message out for a few hours to District 1 Councilmember Lisa Herbold – who chairs the committee in charge of public safety – asking where she stands. No reply yet, but in her weekly newsletter earlier today, she included this:
The Council’s Budget Committee met on July 8 to consider revisions to the 2020 budget to address the more than $300 million revenue shortfall because of COVID19 and its impact on our economy.
The Budget Committee began with a panel presentation from Decriminalize Seattle, King County Equity Now, and the Participatory Budget Project. It’s important that we listen to community voices moving forward in reimagining what policing and public safety look like. The panel proposes that the City Council cut 50% from the SPD budget and earmark those funds for reinvestment in community-led health and safety initiatives. They suggest cuts might come from:
-Reduction in patrol staffing, prioritize for reduction those officers with highest number of complaints
-Remove the Office of Collaborative Policing, including Navigation Team
-End contracts with private firms that defend SPD and the City against police misconduct
-Cut SPD’s recruitment and retention budget
-Cut SPD’s public relations budget
-Cut SPD’s spending on Homeland Security
-Cut SPD’s training budget
-End overtime pay for police officers
-Replace current 911 operations with a civilian-led system …
The Budget Committee will meet again next Wednesday to hear Central Staff issue identification memos, including issued identified by Councilmember for potential cuts and additions to the 2020 rebalancing budget package.
There is no specific legislation yet in the city system actually proposing a 50 percent cut; the agenda for next Wednesday’s meeting has not yet been published (it’ll appear here).
But here’s the agenda from last Wednesday’s meeting, including the slide decks from the presentations mentioned in Herbold’s post, as well as one for a presentation she requested from city staff, with a breakdown of what types of 911 calls SPD receives and answers. The Seattle Times reported that Herbold and a majority of other councilmembers voiced support for the “roadmap” in the presentations, and for halving the SPD budget.
The mayor, meantime, has proposed a five percent cut as part of her plan to deal with the coronavirus-caused budget crunch.
If you didn’t read the chief’s letter above – it’s also viewable here in PDF – the Southwest Precinct is far fromthe only major cut she says she’d have to make if the budget were halved. One of the many others would also likely have a serious West Seattle impact, given that we’re surrounded by water:
(WSB file photo, SPD boat off Alki)
• Harbor Unit – The Harbor Unit responds to criminal and other emergency events in all of Seattle’s immediate waterways. We would have to leave this responsibility to the Seattle Fire Department.The SFD does not currently have immediate access to Lake Union or Lake Washington.
We’ll be watching for the specific documents that are likely to emerge in the city files early next week. You can also expect to see a lot of high-profile politicking over this, too, in the days ahead, as the mayor has long since said she is for reform but against a major cut. (We’ve asked her office what specifically she supports, and are still awaiting that answer too.)
FEEDBACK? Contact info for both the mayor and the council can be found here.