Police Chief Carmen Best announced plans to retire Monday night, shortly after the Seattle City Council voted to cut the city’s police department budget by less than 1% after months of protests demanding that the city defund the police.
By a vote of 7-1, the council approved mid-year budget cut would reduce the police department’s $409 million 2019-2020 budget by $3.5 million. The plan will instead invest $17 million in community public safety programs.
“I look forward to seeing how this department moves forward through the process of re-envisioning public safety,” Chief Best said in an email to the force announcing her retirement.
Best, who is the first Black woman to occupy the city’s top policing job, said that she is “confident the department will make it through these difficult times.”
The revised police budget will reduce executive pay and eliminate 100 full-time police officers. It also decreases the budget for public affairs, travel, training, and recruitments and slashes the funding of specialized units like community safety officers in schools, harbor patrol, homeland security, mounted patrol, and SWAT teams. The budge also removes police from the city’s homeless outreach team.
The council approved the budge change after an inquest into the department revealed that 56% of 911 phone calls are for non-criminal activity and only 3% of calls result in arrest.
“This cut is a down payment for future potential reductions,” Seattle City Council President M. Lorena González said in a statement. “Reducing the budget of the Seattle Police Department is a response to the calls for advocating for racial justice and investments in BIPOC communities.”
Although these budget cuts are significant, they fall way short of the 50% cut being demanded by Seattle protestors.
Seattle has been the site of almost nightly protests since the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on May 25. The protests lead to the establishment of the Capital Hill Organize Protest (CHOP), a six-block area controlled by community members free of police presence, that lasted from June 8 to July 1. Although there have been a few violent skirmishes between police and protestors, the protests have been almost entirely peaceful.
This weekend, protestors marched into Chief Best’s suburban neighborhood to protest outside her house but were rebuffed by a group of armed white neighbors.
The approved plan also falls significantly short of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s June 24 request that the city council cut the police department budget by $20 million to address a $378 million city deficit related to the coronavirus pandemic. At the time, Mayor Durkan asked the police department to prepare for a possible 50% reduction of its spending in the 2020-2021 budget.
Chief Best had previously proposed a smaller cut of nearly 20% but vehemently opposed the council’s plans for deeper cuts.
Chief Best did not clearly state the reasons behind her retirement, which will be effective September 2, but Mayor Durkan said she was leaving in hopes of improving the department’s contentious relationship with City Council in her statement accepting Best’s resignation.
Sources: CNN 8/11/2020; Reuters 8/11/2020; Aljazeera 8/11/2020; The New York Times 8/11/2020