Seattle Just Defunded Its Police — Sort Of

Above photo: Counter-protest to a rally in support of police and other law enforcement officers, Wednesday, July 15, 2020, in front of City Hall in Seattle. AP Photo/Ted S. Warren.

The decision wasn’t enough to satisfy activists, but it made the police chief resign almost immediately.

After a summer of explosive demonstrations that saw protesters take over several city blocks for weeks, the Seattle City Council approved a budget “revision” package on Monday that will cut $3 million from the police budget and eliminate up to 100 positions from the department. The move both fell far short of the demands of activists, and was so forcefully opposed by the city’s establishment that the police chief resigned almost immediately.

Seattle police chief Carmen Best wrote a letter to members of the department announcing her retirement late Monday, effective September 2. Best, the first Black woman to serve as Seattle police chief, spent 26 years at the department before being appointed chief of police in 2018. “This was a difficult decision for me, but when it’s time, it’s time,” Best said in her letter, according to KING-TV.

Best will be replaced on an interim basis by deputy chief Adrian Diaz. Mayor Jenny Durkan, who opposed the cuts, lamented Best’s resignation in a letter to police. “I regret deeply that she concluded that the best way to serve the city and help the department was a change in leadership, in the hope that would change the dynamics to move forward with the City Council,” Durkan wrote, according to KING-TV.

Best’s move comes after the Seattle City Council voted 7-1 on Monday for the cuts in a budget revision. The cuts make up less than 1 percent of the city’s $400 million budget and 100 positions represent 7 percent of the city’s police force. The position cuts include 32 officers from patrol, as well as reductions in specialized units including SWAT and school resource officers, and the removal of officers from the city’s homeless “navigation” team.

The City Council touted it as a first step, after a majority previously committed to cutting the department’s budget in half. In a statement, City Council president Lorena M. González hinted that more cuts would be considered when the next annual budget process rolls around. “The Council has used the summer rebalancing budget process to consider initial cuts, with more budget allocation decisions to be made in the fall during the Council’s regularly-scheduled budget session,” she said in a statement.

The budget cuts follow months of protest in Seattle, which climaxed when protesters took over the immediate vicinity of the Seattle PD’s abandoned East precinct and set up the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), later rebranded the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP). Durkan ordered police to clear the area in early July, but protests have continued, especially after the Department of Homeland Security dispatched federal law enforcement officers there last month.

Anti-racism activists had demanded a 50 percent budget cut, and the lone vote against the package was socialist Kshama Sawant, who thought the police cuts didn’t go far enough and austerity measures in other areas of the budget went too far.

“With my ‘no’ vote today, I affirm our movement’s unchanging demands: Defund SPD by at least 50% and tax big business and the rich, not working people, because we can’t pay and we won’t pay for this crisis – this crisis of the racist and bankrupt system of capitalism,” she said in a statement.