Tag: Decriminalize Seattle

What is Participatory Budgeting, and How Could It Shape the City’s Approach to Public Safety?

Annotation 2020-08-23 110400

By Paul Kiefer

When Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced her decision to veto the City Council’s midyear budget rebalancing package on Friday, she specifically called out an ordinance appropriating $3 million for the council to contract with community-based groups to create a “roadmap for future equitable participatory budget processes related to public safety” by gathering public input to shape the city’s public safety budget priorities.

Council member Tammy Morales, the sponsor of that ordinance, has said that the research would be the first step toward “participatory budgeting,” a process some cities use to guide public spending, often by allowing residents to vote on how to spend a designated pot of money (a federal grant, for instance).

The mayor’s office, the council, and the most prominent police abolitionist groups have all expressed various levels of support for participatory budgeting. If the city ends up using participatory budgeting to guide a significant portion of next year’s public safety budget next year, then Seattle will become the testing ground for participatory budgeting on an unprecedented scale. But whether those three parties see eye to eye about what participatory budgeting would entail—and how much weight public input would carry—remain open questions.

King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle

King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle, two of the most prominent voices in the push to cut the Seattle Police Department budget and invest in alternative public safety programs, were the first to call for the city to launch a participatory budgeting process to redirect the city’s public safety budget toward alternatives to policing and investment in BIPOC communities. The bill Durkan vetoed emerged out of those two groups’ demands.

In partnership with a nonprofit called The Participatory Budgeting Project, the two groups developed a detailed outline for how the city could lay the groundwork for a participatory budgeting process, called the’ “Blueprint for Police Divestment/Community Re-Investment.” That blueprint describes a $3 million “community-led research process to generate true public safety informed by community needs” which is the model for the research described in the vetoed bill.

The council would direct the money to a nonprofit, which would subcontract the work out to other groups—presumably, though not necessarily, KCEN and Decriminalize Seattle. The two groups estimate that roughly $1 million of the $3 million would go toward hiring staffers, including researchers, many of whom they hope will be young people from BIPOC communities. The rest would go to recruit and compensate people in BIPOC communities to participate in the survey and for data collection and reporting, plus $500,000 for unspecified “cash assistance and direct support for community members” to “address economic and other urgent needs.”

In essence, those expenses would serve two purposes.  The first would be to provide jobs—in the form of researcher positions—and financial support to community members who participate in the research process. In their blueprint, KCEN and Decriminalize Seattle write that “community members should not be expected to come up with solutions on a volunteer basis.”

“In part because of the City’s long track record of supporting harmful policies and procedures, many community members do not trust the City to lead an effective research process. The pattern of collecting data and recommendations and then doing little to nothing with the results must end.” —King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle Blueprint for Police Divestment/Community Re-Investment

The second would be to prepare for a large-scale, accessible participatory budgeting process that would influence the 2021 city budget, starting with surveys and interviews of city residents (with a focus on BIPOC communities) about their public safety concerns and thoughts on how the process should be run: for instance, whether a steering committee should develop community proposals, and if so, who should be on that steering committee. Based on the findings of those surveys and interviews, the nonprofit contractor would then sort out the details of the participatory budgeting process: how the public could give input (in the form of budget proposals, for instance), how that input would be turned into budget items, and who would be responsible for reviewing and developing citizens’ proposals.

Technically, none of the $3 million would fund a full-scale participatory budgeting process; the closest the city would see before next year would be a small test run. However, according to King County Equity Now Research Director Shaun Glaze, the two organizations want to see a full participatory budget process come to fruition before budget discussions next year. More specifically, Glaze says her organization hopes that the participatory budgeting process will help determine how the city spends half of SPD’s 2021 budget— a figure in the range of $200 million, which would be an unprecedented use of the process both in Seattle and nationwide.

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The City Council

The legislation the council passed says the contractor should produce a “community participatory budgeting process,” but it is silent on exactly what that process should look like.

When I asked Morales to clarify how the council planned to spend the $3 million, she pointed to the King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle blueprint as the model; the council also adopted $3 million figure itself from that blueprint. However, that blueprint doesn’t provide any details about how the participatory budgeting process would function, nor does either organization intend to have full control over the process themselves.

Participatory budgeting is nothing new in Seattle. After a push by former council member Nick Licata, the city’s first experiment with participatory budgeting began in 2015 with the Youth Voice, Youth Choice program. In 2017, the council renamed the program Your Voice, Your Choice, and opened it to input from all city residents. Like most participatory budgeting programs, Your Voice, Your Choice allows city residents to submit ideas for neighborhood-level capital projects.

The Your Voice, Your Choice program differs substantially from the research process proposed in the ordinance, not least because Your Voice, Your Choice is run by the city. Although KCEN and Decriminalize Seattle have said explicitly that they are not interested in controlling how the entire process plays out, they argue that the research portion of the participatory budgeting process for public safety should not be under direct city control.

The two groups explain why in their blueprint, writing, “in part because of the City’s long track record of supporting harmful policies and procedures, many community members do not trust the City to lead an effective research process. The pattern of collecting data and recommendations and then doing little to nothing with the results must end.”

The startup costs for the community-safety research process mark a significant shift in how Seattle uses participatory budgeting. The city spends roughly $2.2 million on the entire Your Voice, Your Choice program, of which $2 million funds the actual projects. In contrast, the council’s ordinance would spend $3 million on preliminary research alone.

Mayor Durkan

Near the end of Friday’s press conference, Durkan responded directly to a recent demand from King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle that the city use participatory budgeting to allocate $100 million that she has pledged to invest in BIPOC communities next year. In short, she said she wouldn’t be doing that, but that she supports the idea of participatory budgeting in theory.

“I’ve been very clear from the beginning that the community—and I mean community being larger than just one organization—will be at the table helping us decide what they need and how we get there,” Durkan said. “King County Equity Now wants to be the deciders in that.” (KCEN has denied this.) “We want those voices at the table, but we will have a broader process.”

“We need to have trusted community partners going into communities to bring information and proposals back,” Durkan continued, “whether it’s a task force or a joint group [created by the council and the mayor].” Continue reading “What is Participatory Budgeting, and How Could It Shape the City’s Approach to Public Safety?”

Police Chief Carmen Best Explains Her Decision To Resign; Durkan Says No Search For Replacement This Year

By Paul Kiefer

In a press conference Tuesday morning that she insisted was not “a wake,” Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said she is stepping down on September 2 because, in her words, “When it’s time, it’s time.” 

Best announced her resignation to SPD’s sworn and civilian staff on Monday, shortly after the Seattle City Council voted to approve cuts to the Police Department’s budget that are supposed to be first step in a larger effort to shift resources away from traditional policing and towards community-based alternatives. Those cuts are meant to reduce the police force by roughly 100 officers (although many of those cuts will be through attrition) and cut the salaries of SPD’s command staff, including Best. After some debate about the optics of reducing the chief’s salary by nearly 40 percent, to $171,000, the council voted to cut is from $294,000 to $275,000. 

Best said she felt that the council was targeting her personally, which she said she took as a sign that she could no longer effectively lead the department. “At some point, every leader has to recognize when you can’t move the needle forward for the men and women in the organization,” she said. “I don’t want the animus that has been directed at me to affect the people who work for me. Targeting my command staff and their pay felt very vindictive and very punitive.”

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Best has consistently claimed that any layoffs would have to target the most junior officers—a more diverse group than SPD as a whole—in order to avoid age and race discrimination against white officers who have been on the force longer, and she cited this as another key factor in her decision. She also called the council’s plan for downsizing the department “duplicitous,” pointing to the council’s $1.6 million investment last year in SPD’s efforts to hire a more diverse class of recruits. “Less than a year later, we’re told to turn them all away,” she said. 

Mayor Jenny Durkan took the podium after Best to offer the chief an emotional goodbye, praising her as “the right person to help reimagine policing in this city.” Durkan’s portrayal of Best as a model reformer is not entirely surprising—driven together by ongoing protests against SPD policies in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the two have worked together closely for the past few months—but it is a remarkable turnaround from the 2018 police chief selection process, when Durkan didn’t even include then-interim chief Best as one of the three finalists.

Like Best, Durkan also directed harsh criticism at the city council for their approach to reconfiguring the SPD budget, placing the greatest emphasis on her claim that the council actively avoided hearing input from Best. “It has been mystifying to watch city council plow ahead without talking to her, consulting with her, or listening to her pleas to be thoughtful,” Durkan said. City council member Lisa Herbold points to budget policy, established by the council and executive, that prevents department heads from consulting the council about their budget during the budget process. 

In her response to Best’s resignation and sense that the council had not shown her respect, Herbold—the council’s public safety committee chair— offered an apology. “I am deeply and sincerely sorry that the Chief feels Council’s actions have been disrespectful toward individual officers, and that our journey to reimagine community safety has been personally directed at her,” Herbold said in a statement.

But Herbold also pushed back on some of Best’s past claims that the council treated her unfairly. “After the first weekend of demonstrations, after the Chief addressed the Council, she told me that the Council had disrespected her in questioning her in committee about the actions of the police,” Herbold recalled. “Indeed, it is the Council’s job to ask questions.”

“You know what a Black city council member would have done? They would have held a press conference, even if they disagreed with the Chief, and asked why the council wasn’t consulting with the Chief.” — Community Police Commission member Rev. Harriett Walden

Other council members who voted for the cut to Best’s salary stood by their votes by expressing regret over Best’s departure. In an interview, city council member Tammy Morales said “the work that the council has been doing the past two months is not personal,” but added that while “it is important that the chief of police is responsible for the behavior of SPD during the George Floyd protests, it’s hard to see a woman of color in a leadership position make this decision. I think the city will lose out for not having somebody like her leading.”

In separate statements today, the three council members who did not vote for the pay cut— Debora Juarez, Alex Pedersen and Andrew Lewis – echoed some of Best’s criticisms. Juarez, who was not present for yesterday’s vote, was the harshest in her rebuke of her colleagues, writing that “Chief Best’s resignation is a wake-up call for the Council and the Mayor’s office that we must work cooperatively to re-envision public safety.” Juarez also placed some responsibility for Best’s resignation on demonstrators, adding, “it’s also a reminder to the public that their actions have consequences too. Harassment and intimidation are not social justice tools.”

“We know that only deep structural change—not the resignation and replacement of any single person—will protect Black lives and stop racist policing.”—Statement from Decriminalize Seattle

Juarez is the only council member who has refused meet with Every Day March demonstrators who have protested outside the homes of council members and other officials; when the marchers attempted to visit Chief Best’s home in Snohomish, they were turned away by a brigade of residents, at least one of them armed. Best later used the police department’s website to denounce the protesters and applaud her neighbors.

Community members had a mix of reactions to Best’s resignation. Reverend Harriett Walden, a member of the Community Policing Commission from its outset and a Best supporter, said the inexperienced, “anti-Black” council refused to collaborate with Best and helped drive her away. “This is the first time in 50 years that we haven’t had a Black person on the council and we’re supposed to be all right with that,” Walden said after the press conference. (Bruce Harrell, the council’s last Black member, was replaced by a Latinx woman, Tammy Morales.) “You know what a Black city council member would have done? They would have held a press conference, even if they disagreed with the Chief, and asked why the council wasn’t consulting with the Chief.”

In a statement released this afternoon, Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County seemed to agree with Walden’s assessment. “It does nothing to further our fight for authentic police accountability and the safety of Black lives that the first Black woman to hold the position of Chief of Police of the Seattle Police Department has been forced out of her job by the Seattle City Council. Racism is racism,” representatives of the organization wrote. “We demand transparency and accountability for the series of actions and inactions that led to Chief Best’s resignation. And we demand a successor that serves Black Lives.”

Decriminalize Seattle, which has been a prominent influence in the council’s recent decision-making, did not attribute Best’s resignation to racism on the council. Nor did they celebrate it as a victory. “Our goal has never been to oust Chief Best,” the group’s leadership wrote on their Facebook page this afternoon. “We know that only deep structural change—not the resignation and replacement of any single person—will protect Black lives and stop racist policing.”

When Best’s resignation takes effect on September 2nd, Durkan has chosen Deputy Chief Adrian Diaz—until recently the assistant chief responsible for the department’s collaborative policing bureau—to become the interim chief. During the press conference today, Durkan announced that she will not launch a search for a new permanent police chief this year, citing the tensions between her office and the city council and the “infuriating” cuts to the department’s budget. “If we started a search right now, I doubt that we could attract the candidates that Seattle deserves,” she said, “because they don’t know what they’re applying for.”

The Council Just Created a Blueprint for Defunding the Police, but Mayor Durkan Isn’t On Board

By Erica C. Barnett

This piece originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

The city council’s budget committee approved package of cuts to the Seattle Police Department budget that would reduce the department’s size by about $3 million, representing around 100 positions, this year;, remove police from the Navigation Team, which removes unauthorized homeless encampments; and start the city on a path to fund new approaches to public safety that don’t involved armed officers. Most of the proposals aren’t direct budget cuts—which the mayor could simply ignore—but budget provisos, which bar the executive branch from spending money in a way other than how the council prescribes.

The council also voted narrowly to dismantle the Navigation Team itself, by laying off or transferring not just the 14 police officers on the team but the system navigators, field coordinators, and other civilian staff who do outreach to encampment residents and remove litter, sharps, and debris. (Those positions would be replaced by contracted service providers, which is how encampment outreach worked before the city brought it in-house last year). And they agreed in principle to $17 million in funding for community organizations, including $3 million to start a participatory budgeting process for 2021. 

Other cuts would eliminate the mounted patrol, cut SPD’s travel budget, eliminate the school resource officer program, and reduce the size of the public affairs department. Some of the 2020 reductions would be achieved be through attrition—eliminating vacant positions or not filling positions when officers leave.

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If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. I’m truly grateful for your support.

Another amendment, adopted 5-4, would reduce this year’s pay for SPD’s 13 command staff to the lowest rate allowed in their designated pay bands, a cut that would save around half a million dollars between September and the end of the year, according to sponsor Kshama Sawant. If the cuts were annualized, they would reduce the command staff’s pay by an average of $115,000 a year; police chief Carmen Best, who makes almost $300,000 a year, would see her salary cut to $171,000,.

In response to the council’s vote, a spokesperson for Mayor Jenny Durkan called the council’s proposal “unattainable and unworkable.”

“[With] a few hours’ discussion and without consulting the Chief of Police, City Council has voted to reduce the police force by 105 this year, cut the Chief’s salary by 40 percent, and eliminate the City’s team of specially trained social workers that conduct outreach and address encampments and RVs that pose significant public health and safety concerns,” the spokesperson said. 

The council is assuming that layoffs would have to be bargained with the police union and couldn’t occur until at least November, so the savings from cuts would work out to a higher dollar amount next year, when they would, in theory, be annualized. According to council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda, the cuts and transfers the council is proposing this year would amount to about $170 million in 2021, or about 41 percent of the police department’s budget.

“[With] a few hours’ discussion and without consulting the Chief of Police, City Council has voted to reduce the police force by 105 this year, cut the Chief’s salary by 40 percent, and eliminate the City’s team of specially trained social workers that conduct outreach and address encampments and RVs that pose significant public health and safety concerns.”—Statement from Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office

Taken together, the council’s amendments lay out a path forward for future cuts, and a commitment to reinvesting programs guided by the principles of community groups like the Decriminalize Seattle coalition. It’s important to know, however, that while the council can tell the mayor how it wants her to spend the budget, she is generally free to ignore their direction. (See, for example, the administration’s reluctance to expand the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program to provide hotel rooms and assistance to people living outdoors during the pandemic, or to pay for mobile showers for which funding was allocated last November)

In acknowledgement of this power differential—and the fact that labor negotiations may take longer than three months—each of the provisos includes a caveat ensuring that officers will still get paid if the city fails to reach agreement on specific layoffs by November, when the council majority wants the cuts to go into effect. “In every single one of the provisos that reduce spending … the council acknowledges that the chief may realize reductions differently than what the council is proposing,” public safety committee chair Lisa Herbold said. “These provisos are our recommendation for how to achieve the reductions based on the advice that we’ve received that make it more likely that we will be successful in bargaining.”

Across administrations, mayors and councils tend to bicker along predictable lines: The executive branch dismisses the council as ill-informed and naive, while the council accuses the mayor of obstructing progress and ignoring their directives. But the enmity between the two co-equal branches has reached a level under Durkan that many longtime city hall staffers call unprecedented.

Yesterday, for example, Durkan and Best called a press conference to condemn the council’s proposals, one of several they’ve held throughout the council’s budget process. During their prepared remarks, the mayor and chief suggested that cutting the police department would create a “gap in service” for people calling to report major crimes like burglaries and rapes, and accused council members of wanting to lay off officers “by race” because the usual order of layoffs would mean cutting the newest, most diverse cohorts of officers first.

“The mayor does not agree with the city council and a majority of the people of Seattle who believe that we need to substantially reduce the size and scope of the police department, and as a result she is spreading misinformation and fear about what the council intends to do in order to undermine our genuine efforts to transform comm safety in our city.”—Council president Lorena González

The council maintains that the police chief could go to the Public Safety Civil Service Commission to request out-of-order layoffs, but the mayor has argued this wouldn’t be practical on a mass scale. “For over a month, the Chief and Mayor have received guidance from labor relations and law that out-of-order layoffs are unlikely to be finalized in 2020, and will therefore not result in 2020 budget reductions,” the mayor’s spokesperson said.

Council president Lorena González said today that she was “disappointed” that “our labor relations division, which lives in the executive department, [is being] utilized in a politically motivated fashion to advance the goal of never seeing layoffs of badge and gun jobs at the Seattle Police Department.” González suggested the real issue is that Durkan “does not agree with the city council and a majority of the people of Seattle who believe that we need to substantially reduce the size and scope of the police department, and as a result she is spreading misinformation and fear about what the council intends to do in order to undermine our genuine efforts to transform comm safety in our city.”

The council’s unanimous vote for one of the most impactful pieces of defunding legislation—an amendment directing the chief to issue “immediately issue layoff notices” to 32 sworn officers—can be seen as an effort to show a unified front. Or it could be a sign that the often-divided council is in genuine agreement on an approach to defunding SPD. Some of the most surprising remarks this afternoon came from council member Alex Pedersen, whose house has been targeted by protesters urging him to support the goal of defunding SPD by 50 percent. Addressing police officers directly, Pedersen said, “I appreciate the good work so many of you do. At the same time, you’re asked to do too much. You’re sent into complex situations that other professionals in our community might be better equipped to handle.

“You’re also part of a system born out of racism,” Pedersen continued, “and despite progress and reforms, that institutional racism of police departments here and across the nation continues to have a disproportionate negative impact on people of color. By rethinking what public safety really means, by centering Black and Indigenous people and people of color, by taking a thoughtful approach, we can seize this historic opportunity to disrupt institutional racism and achieve real community safety.”