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Seattle City Council overrides mayor’s veto of policing cuts

Seattle police officers in front of City Hall
Seattle police officers walk past people holding signs and flags in front of City Hall during a rally in July in support of police and other law enforcement.
(Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

Seattle will reduce the police department’s budget and reallocate some money to community programs after the City Council voted Tuesday evening to override Mayor Jenny Durkan’s vetoes of adjustments to this year’s spending blueprint.

The changes, first approved by the council last month, were supported by demonstrators who have marched in the city for months following the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. But the plan was strongly opposed by the mayor and by the city’s former police chief, Carmen Best.

“Divestment from a broken policing model is not only the right thing to do. … I believe it is the needed course of action,” Council President M. Lorena González said. “We cannot look away from this, and we can no longer accept the status quo if we truly believe that Black lives matter.”

In vetoing the council’s actions, the mayor said she did not agree with losing officers or a plan to take officers off a team that removes camps of homeless people. Durkan also complained that the council had not discussed its plans with her or the police chief before taking action, although at least one council member said Tuesday that the chief had been consulted.

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Best, the city’s first Black female police chief, officially retired earlier this month amid the controversy over proposed police cuts and the department’s response to protests.

The measures passed by the council will cut less than $4 million from the department’s $400-million annual budget this year. The exact number of officers to be cut wasn’t clear, but council members suggested it would be several dozen.

Seattle has about 1,400 police officers. The planned reductions fall far short of calls from many Black Lives Matter supporters for a 50% cut to the department. Some members of the council had described the cuts as a “down payment” on future reductions.

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An overwhelming majority of people who spoke during a public comment period Tuesday urged the council to overturn Durkan’s veto. Many told the council: “If Black lives matter, prove it.” Members of business groups were among those who spoke in favor of upholding the veto.

As U.S. attorney in Seattle, Durkan pushed a Justice Department investigation that found officers were too quick to use force, leading to a 2012 consent decree with the federal government. Reviews by an independent monitor have found that changes made under that decree have led to a drop in how often police use force. But critics say the department’s actions during recent protests show that not enough progress has been made.

Councilman Dan Strauss said “excessive and indiscriminate use of force” by police against Seattle residents exercising their 1st Amendment rights led the council to make the budget adjustments.

“The changes proposed in the 2020 rebalanced budget are not radical or earth-shattering,” Strauss said. “They are reasonable and responsible first steps in a long process to re-envision the way we handle public safety.”


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