Seattle Councilmember still working on a plan to layoff police officers by race

Back in July, Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold got into an argument with now-former Police Chief Carmen Best about defunding the police. Chief Best was pointing out, correctly it turns out, that cutting staff would also result in firing much of the most diverse crop of new officers the city had ever hired. That’s because under union rules layoffs happen on a last in, first out basis. At the time, Councilmember Herbold suggested a novel solution to that problem: Lay people off based on race rather than time on the job.

Chief Best, who is black, had a simple response to that suggestion: “It is illegal to make layoffs based on race and so I’m not sure where she is getting her legal advice from but the persons who are advising us are making sure we understand that it’s illegal to do that.” As I pointed out at the time, singling out white officers for layoffs would appear to be a pretty clear violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Chief Best would later resign after he salary was cut by the City Council over this disagreement, but that seemed to be the end of the plan to fire people by race.

Today, Jason Rantz points out that out-of-order firings cropped up once again recently from another member of the City Council.

Legal issues aside, the only practical way the council can fire white officers is to negotiate the right in the next contract. They’ll get their chance to in 2021. The Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) contract is up for renewal…

Under the current contract, layoffs require the SPD to ditch newly hired officers before more senior officers. This, of course, makes sense. You don’t want to risk losing officers with the most experience, training, and community relationships. But the older officers are white, and the newer officers less so.

“It’s going to be a massive fight and one of the things that is gonna be a huge fight is how to do out-of-order layoffs so that it’s not last-hired, first-fired, which is where all of our diverse police officers sit in that category,” Seattle City Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez told Vice News. “We’re going to have to negotiate some of those issues likely with the union.”

There’s no doubt where Gonzalez is coming from. Asked if she considers the budget cuts the Council already made an achievement she replied, “I would have wanted to see something happen faster…and be bigger, but at the end of the day it would be difficult to, in one budget cycle, undo 400 years of institutionalized racism in the police department.”

If your starting point is that cutting the police budget is the key to fighting institutionalized racism, there isn’t a lot of room for compromise. And you can probably see how firing more white officers might sound like an even better idea, whether it’s legal or not. In short, it seems the extremists on the Seattle City Council are still prepared to violate the law to get their preferred outcome. This bad idea hasn’t gone away. It’s still waiting in the wings. Here’s Gonzalez predicting this will be the next big battle with Seattle PD: