Discussing the Plan for SPD Divestment

Obstacles to defunding and what we're looking for in the next few weeks

Today’s Council Briefing:

You can find my Twitter thread from this morning’s meeting here:

Only a few items of note. CM Herbold is sponsoring an amendment to remove the SPD from the gatekeeping role of providing referrals to LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion), our local arrest diversion program. Chief Best supports this effort, so it looks like this reform should be pretty easy to enact.

CM Mosqueda announced the two budget meetings this week, one at Wednesday at 2pm and one on Thursday at 10am. There will be periods for public comment at both meetings. These meetings will be to discuss potential amendments to the revised 2020 budget that are not involved with the SPD. As such, I will probably skip this week’s budget meetings. The amendments involving the SPD will be discussed at the budget meeting on Wednesday, July 29. Remember, the revised budget as a whole is scheduled to be voted on at the city council meeting that following Monday, August 3.

Ordinance banning less-lethal weapons violates Consent Decree

After all the excitement of getting the bill banning the SPD’s use of less-lethal weapons passed last month, it turns out it violates the Consent Decree. Under the terms of the Consent Decree, the city and the SPD are supposed to present this sort of change for review and to the court for approval. Attached to the notice filed on Friday acknowledging the violation of the decree is a blistering criticism of the bill from Police Chief Best. This highlights one of the ongoing issues with attempts at reform and divesting from SPD: namely, that the Consent Decree is still active and must be adhered to, which will make these processes lengthier.

Other Difficulties

In addition to needing to take time to have many measures related to the SPD reviewed and approved by the court because of the Consent Decree, this reform process will also have to reckon with existing local and state laws and the several different labor contracts covering groups of employees currently housed within the SPD. While not impossible barriers, these issues will both slow down and complicate the process. You can read an excellent run-down of these problems here:

“There is nothing above that can’t be changed (state law will be the most difficult as it is entirely out of the hands of the city, and at this point it seems unlikely that the state legislature will hold a special session this year), but even if the City Council and the Mayor act with urgency it will take time. Even some of the things that look simple, like moving the 911 call center and parking enforcement out of SPD, can’t be done without collective bargaining and possibly some changes to the laws.”

It is important to proceed correctly and legally because otherwise any reforms made can be easily overturned, wasting this opportunity to make change, and more generally because we don’t want to see the rule of law further weakened. We’re in this for the long haul.

Meanwhile, this article makes the point that for the housing portion of Decriminalize Seattle’s four point plan, there are other powers at work, in this case the Growth Management Policy Board:

“While Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now push for housing as a pillar of change in the justice system, groups like GMPB are actually deciding the location of housing throughout the region…It is the work happening at GMPB which corrals and undermines reform regardless of veto-proof majorities and participatory budgeting.”

Moving Forward

Given that a lot of the changes being proposed to the SPD are impossible to make in a few short weeks, what now? While activists continue to call to defund the SPD by 50%, The Urbanist reports what Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now are actually suggesting is a 12% cut to the SPD budget for each remaining month of the year. A little back-of-the-envelope math tells us that means we’re talking in the range of $20m total to spend from August through December of this year to fund the research process and scaling up relevant community organizations. In an interview with the West Seattle Blog last week, CM Herbold suggested $30m of additional cuts, so those two data points give us a general ballpark figure of what to expect. At the same time, the City Council can begin the relevant bargaining, law changes, development of policies to ensure laws are met within the reorganization, and process to get approval of changes that impact the Consent Decree.

So at next week’s budget meeting, this is what we’re looking for: whether the Council can come up with enough additional, legal, and immediate cuts within the SPD to bring us close to that $20-30m figure to fund community efforts, as well as signs of their continued commitment to do all the necessary work to continue making this transition over the next several months and years.

That being said, when you’re communicating with your council members, whether that be via email, phone, or public comment, it is perfectly fine to continue to push the message about defunding by 50% as part of supporting Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now’s plan. The Council knows what that means in realistic terms, and they need the continued pressure to proceed with the work, especially since the 2021 budget process is right around the corner. This next two weeks is a critical time to make your voice heard.