Last Friday Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan vetoed a budget passed by the city council which would have cut about 100 police officers from the force. One of the things she repeated as she announced the veto was that the council had no plan for what to do going forward:
There’s no plan for how the city will bridge potential gaps in the police response caused if we lose 100 police officers. There’s no plan for how we could even accomplish an out-of-order layoff or the alternative, cut one of the most diverse groups of recruits that we’ve had. And there’s no plan that I can support to cut 40 percent of the salaries who are in the ranks and leadership of the Seattle police department who have valid agreements with our city and who have been working to provide community safety to every part of our city.
Today a Seattle Times columnist argued that the city should push forward even if the plan isn’t all that clear. The author complains that the resignation of Chief Best has taken some of the wind out of the reformer’s sails.
Following a decision by the City Council to cut $3 million from the police budget to make a “down payment” on bigger cuts to the police in 2021, Best announced her resignation, saying she could not carry out the officer layoffs the council supported. Best is Seattle’s first Black police chief.
Best’s decision opened the floodgates of criticism toward the mostly women of color council members who led the defunding effort from those who opposed any cuts to the police in the first place.
Another Seattle Times columnist saw things different last week. He wrote that Chief Best resignation may have saved Seattle from itself? Why? Because it made even some of the progressives on the council back away from the extremism of socialist council member Kshama Sawant whose goal is toe disband the police.
On the morning of the budget committee vote on Aug. 5, Sawant put in an amendment to cut the salaries of Best and her command staff. It was so new it wasn’t listed on the agenda, and it hadn’t yet been vetted much by council staff (the amount of money to be saved was at the time listed as “$XX” because staff hadn’t even had time to calculate it).
After only a few minutes of questions about whether it was legal to modify employment contracts midstream (council staff wasn’t sure of that either, while Sawant insisted it was), the council backed the pay cuts with a 6 to 3 vote…
In addition to defunding Chief Best, it was Sawant who offered a plan of police cuts so deep that staff wrote “SPD may not be able to make this reduction without eliminating all or nearly all staff.” Even knowing this — that her plan could lay off the entire department — she pushed it to a vote anyway (it didn’t pass)…
At least five council members realize this was a huge political blunder. One, Lisa Herbold, apologized, while another, Debora Juarez, termed it a “wake up call” to work more collaboratively. Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County blasted the council, saying it “does nothing” for their cause that the city’s first Black police chief had been “forced out of her job.”
Chief Best didn’t resign at random, she was pushed out by the most extreme voice on the city council. And even some of the people who voted to cut her salary seem to have belatedly realized they made a mistake listening to the most extreme member of the group. Getting back to the argument in favor of defunding police without a plan:
Despite how some talk about it, the police are not an anti-crime vending machine. You can’t insert money and have public safety come out.
If it was, then the 36% hike in the Seattle police budget over the past five years would have left us with a commensurate reduction of crime. In fact while the property crime rate has declined about 8 percentage points over that period, the violent crime rate has gone up and down.
If you follow that link about the hike in the police budget you’ll see that the spending increased over the past five years without any increase in the number of officers:
The department has justified these and many other new positions as necessary to modernize the force, win community trust and satisfy the terms of a 2012 settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). A deal with the police union in late 2018 added measures on officer discipline and oversight while considerably raising wages.
The revamping of SPD helps explain how its budget swelled by more than $100 million over the last five years, a 36% increase, even as the number of police officers barely budged…
SPD’s increasingly large budgets reflect more than simply adding police resources, with rising costs for pensions, health care and insurance — along with funds shifted between departments — playing a role. Even with the addition of civilians, sworn officers still make up 77% of SPD’s personnel costs, according to a City Council presentation last week.
It’s true that if you pay the same number of officers more money, as spending goes up on pensions and health plans, you probably won’t get less crime. That doesn’t mean that cutting the number of officers dramatically, which is what the city council wants to do, won’t have a negative impact. Rushing ahead without a clear plan (as the author admits the council lacks) isn’t a good idea:
Does the City Council have a fully formed plan put together by highly paid consultants and city staff? No. But again, how has that approach worked so far to end racial injustice in policing? It hasn’t and it’s time to try something different, even if it means that those who are used to having a seat at the table have to make the table bigger and open it up to more people.
She’s almost literally saying that having a plan hasn’t worked so let’s try not having one and see how that goes. This argument reminds me of the one we have after school shootings, i.e. progressives say now is the time to do something but often don’t seem to have any plans that would actually change the outcome for the better.
Opening the discussion about policing to more people is fine and maybe even a good idea, but common sense suggests you should do that before you make dramatic changes to staffing levels and force the police chief out, not after you do those things. Now is not the time to take a leap of faith on policing and hope for the best. We’re already seeing a surge of violent crime in cities around the country. Moving forward without a plan could turn out to be very costly.