The Seattle City Council on Thursday voted against a measure that would have frozen the Seattle Police Department’s hiring through 2021, despite continued efforts to cut the department’s funding.
Councilmembers Kshama Sawant (a self-proclaimed socialist) and Tammy Morales introduced the proposal, which would have cut over $9 million from the SPD budget and enacted a hiring freeze through 2021.
Sawant has been insistent on eventually defunding SPD by a full 50%.
“A one-year hiring freeze in 2021 will lead to two consecutive years of reductions in the number of SPD’s Fully Trained Officers and Officers In-Service,” reads the proposal. “The second-year reductions occur because SPD’s number of Fully Trained Officers and Officers In-Service will decline through normal attrition over 24 months but will not be replenished/replaced until 2023 after new hires made in 2022 move through a full year’s worth of academy and field training.”
In addition, over $9 million would have been redirected to the Human Services Department.
According to the proposal: “The investments should move the City’s community safety strategy toward a public health-centered, harm reduction model of restorative justice, crime prevention, and ameliorating the harm caused by the criminal legal system to individuals and communities most impacted.”
A record number of police officers have already left the SPD this year, the vast majority occurring in the months of riots following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
In the month of September alone, the SPD lost an “unprecedented” 39 officers, double the amount of the next highest month on record. Normally, the SPD sees 5-7 officers leave in September.
And in exit interviews, SPD officers have left scathing remarks about the lack of support from the city in recent months and years.
A Seattle Budget Office report on SPD attrition levels, published October 14th of this year, estimated that if the current hiring freeze continues through 2021, “SPD’s deployable staffing levels could drop as low as 1,139 officers in service by 2022.”
“For comparison,” reads the report, “SPD employed 1,271 sworn officers in 1990. In that time, the population of Seattle has increased by 44%.”
In other words, a hiring freeze through 2021 would reduce the SPD’s staff numbers to a level not seen in 30 years despite a higher population.
The most recent proposal was rejected by the City Council in a vote of 7-2. Councilmembers Lorena Gonzalez and Lisa Herbold voiced concerns about SPD’s ability to respond to 911 calls.
Nevertheless, the Council has voted on other cuts to the SPD budget, and has thus far eliminated 17% of their funding.
The SPD is currently figuring out how to cover current staffing gaps. Interim Chief Adrian Diaz has said that he plans to do so by moving officers out of specialty investigative units. Gonzalez worries that this reshuffling will have a negative effect on sexual assault investigations.
The Council is expected to vote on Monday for the entire 2021 budget.