Seattle facing ‘public safety crisis’ as almost 200 officers flee the city as police department massively defunded

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SEATTLE, WA – A mass exodus of police officers leaving the city of Seattle has left residents vulnerable to crime and violence. In a city plagued by Antifa violence and Democratic calls for police defunding, nearly 200 officers have left the city in a little over a year.

The police chief, deputy mayor, and various business organizations have pleaded with the city council to take steps to prevent further reductions, calling the situation a staffing crisis. Downtown Seattle Association President Jon Scholes called the situation malpractice by the council:

“It’s municipal malpractice, the way that our city council has addressed public safety over these last six months.”

Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz appeared before the city council on Tuesday, March 9 to present his argument against a proposed $5.4 million cut to the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) budget. Diaz said the cuts could send the SPD into a staffing crisis “beyond mitigation.”

The cuts come on top of a 2021 budget that saw an 18% cut to the police department budget, which was approved by an 8-1 vote in November.

The cuts came after months of violent protests and riots that included a takeover of a police precinct and multiple injuries to officers in response to the killing of George Floyd.

Mayor Jenny Durkan praised the council when the cuts were first made:

“I applaud the City Council for taking a more deliberate and measured approach to the 2021 Seattle Police Department budget than occurred this summer which led to the resignation of former SPD Chief Carmen Best.”

Best, the city’s former police chief, resigned in August shortly after the first round of budget cuts.

Durkan said in November that she supported the cuts:

“I believe we are laying the groundwork to make systemic and lasting changes to policing.

We have rightly put forward a plan that seeks to ensure SPD has enough officers to meet 911 response and investigative needs throughout the city, while acknowledging and addressing the disproportionate impacts policing has had on communities of color, particularly black communities.”

The Mayor has since changed her mind, saying the loss of officers has led to increased response times to emergencies, and the public is at risk:

“Seven minutes is a long time when you need somebody right now. And the more officers we lose, the more that number will go up.

“So many people have left the department and we are so hamstrung in our ability to hire back, it is starting to really have risks to public safety and our obligations under the consent decree.”

Police officers stated that there were 221 days last year where officers could only respond to Priority 1 and Priority 2 calls, leaving lower-level incidents uncovered for more than 60 percent of the year.

Response times for the most serious or Priority 1 emergency calls ran as high as 8 minutes. For Priority 2 calls, the response time lasted as long as 24 minutes.

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Diaz told the council that the department could not continue providing proper services to the city if the new cuts went into effect.  He said the department has lost almost 200 officers in the past year, and the cuts would spur more officers to flee from the department:

“The continued cuts to the budget, especially those not matched with efforts to reduce the duties of the department, will only drive further staffing losses. I can’t plan around a budget that’s constantly changing.”

Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington also participated in the presentation to the council. She shared Diaz’ staffing concerns:

“My older brother Michael spent most of his life in prison. I remember watching him being thrown down by the police and arrested on multiple occasions.

This early introduction to police caused me to grow up with a negative image of who they are and how they treat people. Black people were enslaved for over 400 years and cannot be expected to get better in a year or two as there is a lot of repair needed.

“Reducing the police budget to invest in communities this year, will not result in immediate change. When I call the police for help as a black woman, I have an expectation that someone will come to assist me in a reasonable amount of time. This is not our current reality in the city right now.”

Councilmember and Public Safety Chair Lisa Herbold disagreed with the Police Chief and the Deputy Mayor’s claims that the budget cuts led to the staffing crisis:

“Now we want to have a conversation about whether and how to adjust the budget in 2021. I think that narrative suggests that the officers that have left the department, that the reduction in the number of officers is attributable to the budget cuts. The budget cuts did not result in police officers leaving the force.”

However, Herbold backed away from a suggestion made last year that the SPD could be cut by 50%:

“(The cut is) clearly is not achievable as it relates to the conversations that were that we’re in right now.”

The council’s Public Safety Committee will not consider any amendments to the proposed police budget until the next meeting on March 23.

The cuts and staffing crisis come following a year when Seattle saw the most homicides in over two decades. The city suffered 52 homicides in 2020 compared to 35 in 2019. Compared to 2019, homicides last year were up 48.57%.

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