Seattle City Council passes smaller police budget for 2021

SEATTLE — Monday’s city council vote to make cuts to Seattle’s 2021 police budget followed months of racial justice demonstrations and pledges to rethink public safety.

Earlier this year, budget chair, Teresa Mosqueda, endorsed defunding the Seattle Police Department by 50%.

“In the 2021 budget, we’re at about a 20% reduction, but what’s more important is the investments we are making into community,” Mosqueda said.

Mosqueda said that next year, two citizen-led groups will decide how to spend $60 million to benefit communities of color.

Last week, the City Council rejected a police hiring freeze, acknowledging it will take time to develop new civilian-led public safety systems.

“The unfortunate reality is that undoing the systems, even though they are rooted in deeply oppressive origins, cannot be achieved overnight,” said M. Lorena Gonzalez, the council president.

“I think our effort here is to look at how we do that right-sizing,” Mosqueda said. “It’s not about how fast we can get there. It’s about making sure it’s a sustainable transition.”

Council member Kshama Sawant pushed hardest for a full 50% cut.

She calculates the council is actually cutting about 8% in 2021 because some work now handled by SPD is being moved to different departments.

“Every reduction in the bloated police budget reflects a real tangible victory for the movement that is really rare,” Sawant said.

Debora Juarez is one of two council members who never endorsed a 50% cut without a plan for what to do instead.

“Defund the police by 50% was a slogan, and it was an empty and misleading slogan. It caused damage. It caused pain. It caused trauma. It caused anger,” Juarez said.

Despite all the concerns about policing, late last week, the City Council’s budget was actually on track to result in a few more fully trained officers in 2021.

So Monday, the council shifted an additional $2 million from SPD to “community-led public safety investments.”

“This is a historical document in a point in history where people are going to look back and ask what we did. And from a values perspective, I did not want there to be any indication that this council was going to have a net increase in new officers,” Mosqueda said.

The council projects that in 2021, SPD will lose about the same number of officers that it gains in new recruits.

The council president today said 134 officers have left this year so far, which is 54 more than the city projected.