Seattle police chief fires back at suggestion to lay off officers ‘out of order’

SEATTLE — As the Seattle Police Department looks at the Seattle City Council’s demands to cut the department’s budget by 50%, police Chief Carmen Best fired back at a suggestion from Councilmember Lisa Herbold to lay off officers out of order of seniority as a way to preserve the jobs of people of color.

“We cannot do layoffs based on race,” Best said. “I would love for Councilmember Herbold to work with us and not against us, making sure we have a viable number of officers.”

Currently, a majority of the City Council supports defunding the Seattle Police Department’s budget by 50% in an effort to move some tasks away from the department and to fund community-led organizations.

“Now is the time to divest from the police department,” Council President Lorena Gonzalez said of the effort last week. “Now is the time to zero out these budgets and to reimagine, rebuild, build something from a community-led and community-driven perspective that will actually build community safety for the people who have been harmed the most by over-policing and criminalization.”

On Wednesday, SPD released a detailed diversity breakdown of current officers and recruits to show the impact of that proposed cut. According to the policy, they would lay off the most recent hires first.

SPD said that would mean laying off 46 Asian officers, 47 Black or African American officers, 56 Hispanic or Latino officers and 59 biracial or multiracial officers, among others, as well as 526 white officers.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold called a similar diversity breakdown of the proposed cuts “a threat” on Twitter.

She wrote that the “Chief can request the Public Safety Civil Service Commission Executive Director to lay off out of order” when doing so is in “the interest of efficient operations of his or her department,” citing the commission’s rules.

Herbold went on to tweet that “this means Chief doesn’t have to fire the newest hired first. Chief says firing BIPOC members of the SPD would be harmful and I agree. I know she can argue just as convincingly that maintaining the employment of BIPOC officers is in the interest of efficient operations of the SPD.”

“It is illegal to make layoffs based on race,” Best said. “I’m not sure where she’s getting her legal advice from, but the persons who are advising us are making sure we understand it’s illegal to do that.”

Seattle police patrol Officer Sergio Garcia said he’s part of both worlds in the midst of this movement. He became a police officer in Florida, he said, after being pulled over multiple times by a white officer in a span of days. Garcia said he wanted to “set a better example.”

“At the end of the day, I take this uniform off, and I’m still a brown person,” Garcia said. “So when I go to the same stores, when I go on vacation, I still deal with things that we are concerned about.”

His job is on the line. He’s been with SPD for three years.

“I don’t have the privilege — as many people have had here, the privileges we speak of, of having a college education,” he said. “I don’t have that type of privilege, right. So I do depend on this job, and I take a lot of pride in doing a really good job and building a better community.”

The commission Herbold references in her tweets is a city department that does not report to the council or the mayor.

Executive director of the Public Safety Civil Service Commission, Andrea Scheele, told KIRO 7 by phone, “I’ll hear any and all arguments that the chief makes and give it thoughtful consideration, including hearing from interested stakeholders. It’s my job to remain neutral so that I can make a decision based on the facts.”