Seattle City Council overrides Mayor Durkan's veto of cuts to police budget

The Seattle City Council voted Tuesday to override all three vetoes that Mayor Jenny Durkan announced last month, which means the cuts to the Seattle Police Department can proceed.

Durkan announced on Aug. 21 that she had vetoed the City Council's budget revisions that would have cut up to 100 police officers.

The council bill affecting the police budget was voted 7-2 to overrule the Mayor's veto. Council members Alex Pedersen and Debora Juarez were the two who voted to sustain the veto.

“We are disappointed that the City Council has decided to override Mayor Durkan’s veto," said James Sido of the Downtown Seattle Association. "This override pushes Council and executive leadership further apart. The Council needs to listen to constituents from across the city, not just those who choose to gather outside their front doors.”

On Tuesday, the Democratic Socials of America showed up outside of council member Andrew Lewis's home and called in during the public comment portion of the meeting and said, "I’m calling on all of you council members Lewis, Strauss, Herbold and Pedersen to maintain your vote to defund SPD and vote to override Mayor Durkan’s veto. If Black lives matter then you need to prove it."

The council voted unanimously to override two additional bills the Mayor kicked back to the council in a veto.

Both bills shift millions of dollars in funding from the Rainy Day Fund and the Constructions and Inspections Funds to make investments into the Legislative Department and community groups whose focus is on supporting Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC).

The Mayor said in a statement that the bills spend money the city currently cannot afford while facing a major deficit in next year's budget.

A spokesperson with the Mayor's Office said the 2021 budget is setting aside $100 million for BIPOC communities.

In a statement, Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now said, “As we head into the 2021 budget cycle, we expect Councilmembers to maintain their conviction, elevate Black lives, and uphold their public commitments to divest from policing and reinvest in Black communities.”

Earlier in August, 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.

The council was on a 3-week recess when the vetoes were announced.

Durkan previously said in a news conference 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.

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Durkan said she has been talking with Council President Lorena González since then and was optimistic that the council and her office could work out a compromise. But ultimately, the council was not happy with the compromise and went ahead with the veto.

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 has received and investigated 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.

The Mayor will present the 2021 budget next week and will need to address a significant budget shortfall.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.