Durkan Digest: Initial actions to transform the Seattle Police Department and reimagine community safety

SEATTLE – In recent weeks, [Seattle Police Department (SPD)] Chief Carmen Best and I [Mayor Durkan] have taken a hard look at the Seattle Police Department’s budget and made a series of changes to policing. We believe we can build a new model for community safety in Seattle by reimagining our approach to policing and investing deeply in community.

You can read about my vision and actions so far [at www.seattle.gov/mayor/rethinking-policing]. One of my early commitments was rethinking the police budget. Three weeks ago, Chief Best and I began the work of reviewing the SPD’s budget. Today, we outlined our early actions to transform and make significant changes to the police department as part of the 2021 budget that I will propose in September. We both recognize that we have a [historic] opportunity and an obligation to reimagine how policing can be done in Seattle.

The Chief and I had long recognized the need for alternative responses to policing. Its why we created alternative programs like Health One, which sends a social worker and firefighter to nonemergency 9-1-1 calls instead of an armed officer. We have relaunched the Community Service Officer program, adding 20 civilian officers to work with community things like youth safety and nonemergency calls. We also added mental health professionals to support the SPD’s Crisis Response Unit and dedicated nurses at our largest homeless shelters that have the highest 9-1-1 call volumes.

Chief Best and I are committed to this transformation, and today we shared our approach for how we can make substantive cuts to the SPD’s budget without having an impact on public safety. We have heard calls to defund the SPD, and we want to acknowledge them. But a blunt and arbitrary cut – without an alternate plan – has the potential to decimate our city’s ability to respond to emergencies and leave communities with no other alternative. In the last few days, seven out of nine city councilmembers committed to defunding SPD by 50% in 2020.

This is simply not responsible. You cannot govern by Twitter or bumper sticker. A new approach to community safety requires deep community engagement, thoughtful analysis, and a plan.

So here is what Chief Best and I are proposing:

As a first step, in the 2021 budget we will be moving some SPD civilian functions out of the department. We will assess if the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and the 9-1-1 call center should remain as standalone departments, be located in other departments, or be combined with a future organization focused on public health and harm-reduction responses. These transfers will result in a $55.7 million reduction to the SPD budget in 2021:

o The Seattle Police Department 9-1-1 Call Center, which is already staffed primarily by civilians, will be transferred out of the department. The Call Center currently takes 9-1-1 calls for both the SPD and the Seattle Fire Department (SFD) and is composed of 140 civilian employees and 12 sworn officers;

o The civilian parking enforcement division will be transferred out of SPD and moved into the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT);

o The Office of Emergency Management (OEM) – which prepares for, responds to, and staffs the city’s Emergency Operations Center when a major event occurs – will be transferred out of the police department; and,

o The Office of Police Accountability (OPA) will be transferred out of the SPD. The OPA was already an independent office, but its budget was housed in the SPD.

After an initial analysis over the last three weeks, the Chief and I are proposing $20.5 million in cuts from the 2021 SPD budget. This is primarily through not expanding sworn officers in the force next year and freezing civilian staff vacancies. The Chief will ensure appropriate staff levels to keep a 24/7 response across all precincts and shifts.

Next, Chief Best and I have also started a data-driven analysis to drive more change – both in my upcoming budget proposal and into next year. Not only are we evaluating every current role at the SPD, but as we evaluate what specific functions that a sworn officer or civilian at the SPD may no longer do, we also have to ensure we’re building the community response for the needs that to be addressed. We may need to expand current government programs like Health One or the SPD’s civilian Community Service Officers. Or we may need to create or expand community-based organizations and public health responses.

In the coming weeks and months, Chief Best and I are evaluating:

o Functions of current work at the SPD shifted to a public health or harm-reduction models;

o All specialized functions at the SPD to determine what should be civilianized, transferred out of the SPD, maintained, right-sized, or eliminated;

o 800,000 calls from the community to 9-1-1 and dispatches to 400,000 unique events to determine if new emergency responses are necessary;

o Appropriate staffing models to provide sufficient 24/7 services across the city;

o Booking and arrests data to determine if citations are more appropriate response;

o Transitioning low-priority calls to online reporting;

o Expected 2021 retirements and attrition to better determine staffing models;

o The SPD’s response to other agencies, including King County Metro and Seattle Public Schools, unless there is a scene of violence, a serious assault, or a substantial theft or property destruction;

o Optimization of the SPD’s fleet, facilities, and information technology projects to be consistent with the new approach to public safety; and

o Current overtime practices, including necessary staffing throughout the year required to maintain public safety and the presence of the SPD at reimbursable special events and sporting events.

All of these potential areas for transformation are deeply complex, and we must approach each problem to ensure we make actual, lasting change. I believe budget follows values and form. Once you have developed that new model of policing, and a new model for other health based solutions – then you build the budget.

You can watch the full press conference on Seattle Channel. As always, please continue to write me at Jenny.Durkan@seattle.gov, reach out via Twitter and Facebook, and stay up-to-date on the work we’re doing for the people of Seattle on my blog.

Stay safe and healthy!

As COVID-19 cases rise in King County, please stay on alert
For the past several months, our region has been facing several crises unlike anything we have ever seen before. As our city works to respond to continued calls to reimagine policing and public safety, dismantle institutional racism, and invest in true community health and opportunity, we must remember that we are still in the middle of an unprecedented global public health crisis. Over the past few weeks, King County and Seattle have seen a skyrocketing number of COVID-19 cases, led primarily by cases among younger adults.

We must all recommit to the recommendations issued by King County Public Health and the Washington Department of Health to help slow down this virus and limit its spread among our most vulnerable communities. That means wearing face coverings when out in public, continuing to avoid close contact and crowded settings, and continuing to stay at home if you have underlying health conditions or are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.

Our testing sites are now testing thousands of individuals each day, and have tested nearly 40,000 people since opening in June. Testing at these City of Seattle sites is free, so if you are concerned that you might have COVID-19, or are experiencing symptoms, please visit

www.seattle.gov/mayor/covid-19/covid-19-testing

to get tested. Without a vaccine, our behavior and testing are the most important factors to limiting COVID spread and moving into new phases of the governor’s reopening strategy.

As the weather gets nicer, please don’t forget that wearing a cloth face covering is part of our new normal. It’s up to all of us to protect the health and safety of our communities. In addition to a Local Health Officer Directive, Gov. Inslee has now also issued a statewide requirement for face coverings in public spaces.

Mayor announces six-year Seattle Transportation Benefit District proposal to aid in equitable COVID-19 recovery
Mayor Durkan today transmitted legislation for a Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) proposal to generate between $20 and $30 million annually for transit over the next six years. If approved by the City Council, the STBD would go before Seattle voters this November, and would support access to frequent and reliable transit service after current funding sources expire at the end of 2020. The STBD proposal ensures that the critical elements and bus routes of Seattle’s transit network are maintained [and] equitable access to transit continues to be prioritized, and allows the City to scale up service as Seattle’s transit ridership recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Courtesy of Mayor Jenny A. Durkan

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