Mayor Durkan vetoes Seattle City Council's budget plan that would have cut police officers

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced Friday that she has vetoed the City Council's budget revisions that would have cut up to 100 police officers.

Earlier this month, council members approved 7-1 to cut about $3.4 million from the Seattle Police Department budget. These cuts would have impacted police staffing from the Navigation Team, School Resource Officers, Harbor Unit among other specialized units.

Funding was slated to be cut from Public Affairs, training, and recruitment and from admin. The police chief and command staff salary will also have been cut.

It's unclear what will happen next, as the council would likely have enough votes to override Durkan's veto. The council is currently on a 3-week recess.

Durkan said in a news conference Friday she did not agree with losing the officers, in addition to measures that included a reduction in Best’s roughly $294,000 annual salary and the salaries of other police leaders, as well as a plan to take officers off a team that removes homeless camps. She had also complained that the council had not discussed their plans with her or the police chief before taking action.

“This veto was because the bills as passed did not have the type of collaboration that I think we will have going forward, and that I'm hopeful we will have going forward," she said. "There's some flaws in each of these (bills) that I hope the council can correct, or with discussions, we can find a path forward together.”

Seattle now has about 1,400 police officers, and the proposed reductions fell far short of the calls from many Black Lives Matter protesters for a 50% cut to the department. Several council members said the changes were a starting point in a long process to reimagine policing and public safety.

Hours after the vote, Best announced she would be leaving her post, saying she was OK with her pay cut, but not with having to lay off new officers, many of them hired in part to improve diversity in the department.

Durkan said Friday she has been talking with Council President Lorena González since then and is optimistic that the council and her office can work out a compromise. González told The Seattle Times she was “disappointed” by the mayor’s veto decision, but she would work with her on a path forward.

“I have to believe that we agree on more than we disagree, and I will strive to bridge the gap on our few but critical differences of opinion,” González said. "I hope that the public knows that their elected leaders are committed to working together on achieving a long-overdue transformation of our law enforcement and criminal justice systems that have for far too long perpetuated trauma and harm on our black, brown and indigenous neighbors.”

As U.S. attorney in Seattle, Durkan pushed a Justice Department investigation that found officers too quick to use force, leading to a 2012 consent decree with the federal government. Reviews by an independent monitor have found that changes made under that decree have led to a drop in how often police use force. But critics have said the department’s actions during recent protests show not enough progress has been made.

The Seattle Office of Police Accountability said on Friday it has received 19,000 complaints over policing at protests against systemic racism and police violence since May 30. So far, the complaints have led the office to open 87 investigations. The most common complaints are allegations of excessive force, the Office of Police Accountability said.

Budget shortfall

Durkan also announced a partnership with Council President Lorena Gonzalez and councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda Tammy Morales for a joint COVID-19 relief plan.

This comes as the City of Seattle is facing a $326 million budget shortfall.

The joint proposal announced on Friday would extend and create $45 million to fund COVID-19 relief for the rest of this year and 2021.

“Our City has faced urgent and unprecedented challenges including a pandemic, a civil rights reckoning, skyrocketing unemployment, closure of small businesses, a $326 million shortfall to our budget, and immense needs in our community. While our challenges are unprecedented, our City has led the way in pioneering and supporting so many new programs to address the needs of our residents and small businesses. In the midst of significant new challenges to our City budget, we have come together to create a plan for expanding assistance while continuing to provide City services that our residents and businesses rely on,” said Mayor Durkan. “Over the last week, I have worked with Council to develop a joint solution that serves our communities. In the coming weeks, I am confident we can continue to partner on issues – even when we may disagree. Partnership between the Executive and Council is critical, and it’s what our residents expect of us.”

“While the COVID-19 pandemic won’t last forever, its impact on Seattleites health and financial well-being is potentially life-altering. By acting now to support small businesses, we can keep people employed and businesses afloat long enough to outlast the crisis. If we invest today in immigrant and refugee communities, we can keep families safe and financially secure through this challenging period. By providing safe shelter immediately for those who are unhoused, we can save lives and help folks get back on their feet before their health and economic conditions worsen. The Mayor and Council are striving to set our differences aside in the hope of doing right by the people of our city and supporting those who need government to serve them well today and in the future,” said Council President M. Lorena González.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.