by Lisa Baumann
SEATTLE, Washington (AP) — Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said Friday she will veto City Council-approved proposals that would include reducing the police department by as many as 100 officers through layoffs and attrition.
The council’s proposals approved last week were supported by demonstrators who have marched in the city following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis but strongly opposed by the mayor and police Chief Carmen Best.
Durkan said in a news conference Friday she did not agree with losing the officers, in addition to measures that included a reduction in Best’s roughly $294,000 annual salary and the salaries of other police leaders, as well as a plan to take officers off a team that removes homeless camps. She had also complained that the council had not discussed their plans with her or the police chief before taking action.
“This veto was because the bills as passed did not have the type of collaboration that I think we will have going forward, and that I’m hopeful we will have going forward,” she said. “There’s some flaws in each of these (bills) that I hope the council can correct, or with discussions, we can find a path forward together.”
Measures passed by the council would have cut less than $4 million of the department’s $400 million annual budget this year. Only council member Kshama Sawant voted against the budget package, saying it did not decrease the police budget enough.
Seattle now has about 1,400 police officers, and the proposed reductions fell far short of the calls from many Black Lives Matter protesters for a 50% cut to the department. Several council members said the changes were a starting point in a long process to reimagine policing and public safety.
Hours after the vote, Best announced she would be leaving her post, saying she was OK with her pay cut, but not with having to lay off new officers, many of them hired in part to improve diversity in the department.
Durkan said Friday she has been talking with Council President Lorena González since then and is optimistic that the council and her office can work out a compromise. González told The Seattle Times she was “disappointed” by the mayor’s veto decision, but she would work with her on a path forward.
“I have to believe that we agree on more than we disagree, and I will strive to bridge the gap on our few but critical differences of opinion,” González said. “I hope that the public knows that their elected leaders are committed to working together on achieving a long-overdue transformation of our law enforcement and criminal justice systems that have for far too long perpetuated trauma and harm on our black, brown and indigenous neighbors.”
As U.S. attorney in Seattle, Durkan pushed a Justice Department investigation that found officers 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 have said the department’s actions during recent protests show not enough progress has been made.
The Seattle Office of Police Accountability said on Friday it has received 19,000 complaints over policing at protests against systemic racism and police violence since May 30. So far, the complaints have led the office to open 87 investigations. The most common complaints are allegations of excessive force, the Office of Police Accountability said.
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Lisa Baumann is a reporter for The Associated Press.
Photo “Seattle Police Cars” by zeraien. CC BY 2.0.