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Durkan, Best slam 50% defunding of Seattle police, offer $76M compromise

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan speaks at a July 13 news conference. (KOMO News photo)
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan speaks at a July 13 news conference. (KOMO News photo)
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SEATTLE - Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best slammed the Seattle City Council for its push to cut the police budget by 50% at a Monday morning news conference, and instead proposed a more modest $76 million cut amid a "reimagining" of police functions in Seattle.

"We both recognize that we have an historical opportunity and obligation to reimagine how policing can be done in Seattle," Durkan said. "We believe deeply in broad community investments which can build greater community help and less need to call 911 for help."

But she added, "Blunt cuts won't work, and a 50% cut is irresponsible."

Durkan was joined at the press conference by Seattle Police Carmen Best, who called the council's proposed 50% cut "reckless."

"There is simply no way safety will not be compromised if we fire 50% of our officers," Best said, adding that many of those let go under such a cut would be officers of color.

Durkan said a preliminary review has found that $76 million in cuts could safely be made to the police department's 2021 budget without jeopardizing 911 service.

Of that total, $56 million could be saved by moving some police functions to civilian control, including the 911 call center, parking enforcement, the Office of Emergency Management and the Office of Police Accountability.

The remaining $20 million can be saved by not expanding the police force in 2021 and by making reductions in police overtime.

But a 50% cut, as proposed by a majority of City Council members would "decimate the (police) department's ability to respond to emergencies and leave the city with no alternatives."

Durkan said the 50% cut was proposed by council members without even discussing the issue with Chief Best.

During the City Council’s weekly Monday morning briefing, several council members took aim at the mayor, who was having her press conference at the same time.

“It’s important that we push back against this dishonesty from Mayor Durkan and Chief Best,” Councilwoman Kshama Sawant said.

The council is in budget deliberations and will make a recommendation on how much SPD’s budget will be cut for the remainder of this year. The council has not yet discussed a potential 2021 budget other than saying they could be open to cutting the SPD budget by half.

"Not sure how it is that the chief can be prognosticating on the content of budget proposals that haven't even been developed yet,” said Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who also chairs the Public Safety Committee that oversees police matters.

“Defunding the police does not mean decreasing public safety,” said Councilman Dan Strauss. "In fact, it means increasing public safety for so many members of our community.”

Seven of the nine council members pledged last week to defunding police the way it currently operates it and replace a response by uniformed officers with community crisis responders.

"To date, the City Council has done almost no analysis on SPD’s budget, 911 calls or staffing models needed for a 24/7 response in every part of the city," Durkan said. "They haven’t even talked to the chief of police to get her views. "This is simply not responsible. You can’t govern my Twitter or bumper sticker. Community safety is too important."

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Monday's statement by Durkan comes after weeks of street protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Calls to defund the Seattle police grew louder after protesters were hit with pepper spray and flash bombs during demonstrations.

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