Seattle reduces police funding, signals deeper cuts ahead

SEATTLE (Reuters) – Seattle’s council on Monday approved a reduction of the budget of the city’s police department of less than 1% after months of protests demanding that it defund the force, but it signaled deeper cuts might be on the way.

By a vote of 7-1 the council approved a revised 2020 budget that reduced the department’s budget by $3.5 million for the remainder of the year and invested $17 million in community public safety programs.

The cut to the $409-million department’s annual budget fell way short of the 50% demanded by protesters following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in police custody on May 25.

Council President Lorena González called the move a “down-payment for future potential reductions” to the budget of the Seattle Police Department (SPD).

Defunding advocates oppose the militarization of U.S. police forces and say officers are called on to deal with issues like addiction, mental illness and homelessness that could be better addressed by social services.

Law-enforcement supporters say cuts to police spending will lead to more crime.

The council begins 2021 budget talks in September and Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best have signaled their willingness to rethink policing and consider $76 million in proposed cuts to the department’s 2021 budget.

The revised 2020 budget came after a council inquest into the department, which revealed that 56% of 911 calls are for non-criminal activity and only 3% of calls result in arrest.

The rebalanced budget reduces executive pay and eliminates 100 police officers. It also reduces the budget for travel, public affairs, training and recruitment and makes cuts to specialized units like SWAT, harbor patrol, homeland security, mounted patrol and officers in schools.

The budget also removes officers from the city’s homeless outreach team. More than a dozen business and neighborhood groups signed a letter from the Downtown Seattle Association opposing that move.

“In defunding SPD, the council moved with speed and pettiness rather than with precision and thoughtfulness,” the association said in a statement.

The SPD has been under a federal consent decree for excessive use of force since 2011.

Multiple demonstrations for and against “defunding the police” have taken place at city hall over the past week. Militant anti-police protesters smashed windows at businesses perceived to support the police and set fire to the construction site at a juvenile detention facility.

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