Tag: police defunding

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.”

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best Stepping Down September 2

By Erica C. Barnett

Shortly after the city council’s vote to reduce the Seattle Police Department’s budget about 7 percent this year—with a promise of much more to come—Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best announced she is stepping down on September 2. Assistant police chief Adrian Diaz will serve as interim chief.

The C Is for Crank independently confirmed Best’s resignation.

Best, the first African American woman to serve as police chief in Seattle’s history, has been criticized by advocates for police defunding, including those who were injured by “less-lethal” weapons such as tear gas during recent protests, and praised by the mayor and SPD supporters for defending her department in the face of proposals to cut its funding.

Best recently made headlines when she praised her neighbors in Snohomish, where she lives, for chasing away a group of protesters who attempted to go to her home; video posted by the Every Day March demonstrators show a blockade of pickup trucks across the road and at least one man wielding a shotgun.

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In a letter to her staff, Best directed her praise toward Mayor Jenny Durkan and the rank and file, thanking the mayor “for her continuous support through good times and tough times” and assuring officers that despite “these difficult times…the vast majority of people in Seattle support you and appreciate you.”

“I look forward to seeing how this department moves forward through the process of reenvisioning public safety,” Best continued. “I relish the work that will be done by all of you.

She said nothing about the city council, which voted last week to reduce her salary from nearly $300,000 to $171,000, then decided against it today.

Durkan responded to Best’s letter by sending her own letter to officers, which called Best’s leadership “unmatched nationwide, which is why it is a sad day for our City to lose her.”

Best (and the mayor) have consistently opposed attempts to defund the police department, arguing that the city has been a model of reform and transparency and that cuts would jeopardize SPD’s ability to respond to crimes in progress like burglaries and rapes.

Although Best didn’t give a specific reason for her resignation, Durkan did, saying in her letter to SPD staff that Best left because “she concluded that the best way to serve the city and help the department was a change in leadership, in the hope that would change the dynamics to move forward with the City Council.” 
“I also know it seems like the real strides SPD has made in recent years are going unrecognized,” Durkan wrote. “[Y]our work and dedication is probably more important than it has ever been, and … the city needs and supports you.”

Council Takes a Small Bite Out of Police Budget As New Forecast Predicts Even Bigger Shortfall

This post originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

By Erica C. Barnett

Advocates for an immediate 50 percent cut to the Seattle Police Department’s budget may have walked away unsatisfied Monday evening, when the city council passed a midyear budget package that lopped just 7 percent off SPD’s remaining 2020 budget. But the council majority left no question that they consider the short-term cuts a down payment on a more substantive proposal next year—one that, importantly, has a shot of making it through labor negotiations with the powerful police officers’ union.

The budget would eliminate the equivalent of 100 full-time officers through a combination of layoffs and attrition. The council made requests for specific layoffs—zeroing in, for example, on the Navigation Team, the mounted patrol, and the sworn portion of SPD’s public affairs office—but they have no power to actually dictate how the police department spends it budget, which is why no “defund the police” proposal (short of eliminating the department altogether) actually requires the chief to spend her budget in the way the council wants.

As a result, the rhetoric around the council’s cuts has often been far more heated than the modest changes suggest.

Council member Kshama Sawant, who cast the lone “no” vote against the rebalancing package (Debora Juarez was absent), accused her colleagues of passing an “austerity budget” that “fails working people” because it did not include her version of the so-called “Amazon” (payroll) tax. (Budget chair Teresa Mosqueda’s retort: “No one is siding with Jeff Bezos.”)

Mayor Durkan, who has held numerous press conferences to denounce the council majority’s more modest plan, issued a statement after the vote saying it was “unfortunate Council has refused to engage in a collaborative process to work with the Mayor, Chief Best, and community members to develop a budget and policies that respond to community needs while accounting for – not just acknowledging – the significant labor and legal implications involved in transforming” SPD.

The package of bills adopted Monday would also:

• Express a commitment to creating a new a civilian-led Department of Community Safety & Violence Prevention by the end of next year—a proposal Sawant mocked as “resolution to hope to study defunding the police”;

• Start the process of civilianizing the 911 system by putting a civilian director and deputy director in charge of the 911 call center (which is already run by non-sworn SPD personnel);

• Reallocate funding that Durkan originally allocated for an expansion of probation to community groups working to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations;

• Cut the salaries of SPD’s command staff (with the exception of Best, who would see her $294,000 salary reduced by less than $20,000);

Allocate $1.7 million to non-congregate shelter, through a proviso that would prohibit Durkan’s Human Services Department from spending the money on any other purpose

• Empower the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program to enroll new clients into its Co-LEAD program, which has been held up by the executive branch for months, without SPD participation; and

• Earmark $17 million for community organizations working to create new systems of community safety outside the police department.

• Move millions of dollars from levy funds that were supposed to pay to expand programs or create new ones to pay for the ongoing operations of city departments, such as the Seattle Department of Transportation and the Department of Education and Early Learning;

The changes adopted Monday amend Mayor Durkan’s original budget-balancing proposal, which relied heavily on a hiring freeze, emergency funds, federal grants, and levy dollars that had been allocated for other purposes to close an anticipated shortfall of more than $200 million. On Monday morning, just minutes before the weekly council briefing meeting, the mayor’s office distributed a memo from CBO director Ben Noble projecting an additional revenue shortfall of $26 million this year alone.

Near the end of almost eight straight hours of budget discussions, council member Lisa Herbold said she wanted to state for the record that “we as a council and the mayor’s office are in a really unique position to seize upon a moment in the city and in this country” by taking seriously community demands to redefine public safety and defund the police. “I am hopeful that we are more aligned in our desire to do that than it has appeared in the last two weeks.”

That hope seems optimistic. In adopting the midyear budget Monday, the council rejected Durkan’s proposal to discard the historical practice of two-year budgeting, demanded a report that would provide more transparency into how SPD is actually spending its budget, and prepared to overturn Durkan’s veto of a COVID relief plan that would temporarily drain the city’s emergency reserves until they can be replenished with funds from the new payroll tax that goes into effect in 2022. The council will start the whole process over again next month, when the mayor proposes her 2021 budget.

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.”

Poll: Most Seattle Voters Support Police Defunding

A poll conducted by EMC Research found that a slight majority of likely voters in the upcoming mayoral election support the concept of defunding the Seattle Police Department, although they were divided on how fast and how to make that happen.

The live phone poll, taken between July 22 and July 27, found that 53 percent of likely voters supported the general idea of a plan that would “permanently cut the Seattle Police Department’s budget by 50% and shift that money to social services and community-based programs,” with 36 percent saying they strongly support such a plan. Forty-five percent said they opposed the idea, with 29 percent strongly opposed.

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If you enjoy breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going.

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.

By wide margins, poll respondents said they trusted Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best over any Seattle elected official, or the “Defund the Police movement,” to make “fundamental changes to SPD while protecting public safety”—61 percent said they trusted Best, compared to 49 percent who said they trusted Mayor Jenny Durkan and 47 percent who said they trusted the City Council or the defunding movement. Interestingly, just 42 percent said they trusted “the Seattle Police Department,” as opposed to Best, to make fundamental changes to SPD.

Researchers also polled people on two messages, one ostensibly representing the perspective of the city council and one ostensibly representing the perspective of the mayor, as well as a third message of general opposition to any cuts to SPD at all. Based on the wording of those messages, people were more likely to agree with the mayor’s purported point of view (“the city council is rushing ahead without any concrete plans”) than the council’s (“he only way to create meaningful change is to dismantle and rebuild SPD from the ground up.”)

However, both statements are misleading in ways that could make people more likely to side with the mayor’s go-slow point of view. The council has not actually proposed cutting the police department in half right away, as the question implies (nor would this be possible, given bargaining requirements and the federal consent decree), nor does the mayor’s current plan propose “fund[ing] alternative approaches to policing including social services and community-based programs.” Instead, the cuts the mayor has proposed would either be on-paper shifts of responsibilities to other departments or savings that would be used to help plug an immediate $300-million-plus budget hole.

I’ve asked EMC to provide more information about the poll, including any additional questions that weren’t included in their nine-page presentation, and will update this post if I hear back.

A separate poll earlier this month, conducted by Patinkin Research on behalf of UFCW Local 21, found that Durkan had a net favorability rating (the difference between the percentage of voters with favorable and unfavorable opinions) of 5 percent, and compared that number unfavorably to an EMC poll from 2018 that showed Durkan with net favorability rating of 38 percent. Since polls of different groups of voters by different firms are not directly comparable, additional information from EMC could shed light on how voters view the mayor now compared to two years ago.