Seattle City Council proposes more cuts to police as 911 response times and crime spike

As the Seattle City Council proposes $5.4 million in budget-cuts aimed at the Seattle Police Department (SPD), police officers failed to meet response time expectations during the last seven months of 2020.

Katie Daviscourt Seattle WA

As the Seattle City Council proposes $5.4 million in budget-cuts aimed at the Seattle Police Department (SPD), police officers failed to meet response time expectations during the last seven months of 2020.

SPD expects officers to respond to Priority 1 calls in seven minutes or less but the department fell short of that goal as they face a dire staffing crisis after nearly 200 SPD officers left the force in 2020. During the height of the 'autonomous zone' last summer, former Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said the response time was as high as 18 minutes.

Priority 1 calls consist of potentially life-threatening situations. According to Seattle Police Interim Chief Adrian Diaz, there were 221 days in 2020 where his officers were only responding to Priority 1 or Priority 2 calls, which meant fewer or no response to calls of lesser Priority, KOMO News reported.

Seattle Police officers left the department in record-breaking numbers as a direct result of the popular democratic ‘Defund the Police’ movement, as well as violent civil unrest in the wake of the death of George Floyd last May.

This past year, 186 officers left the Seattle Police Department. A stark contrast compared to the 56 officers that left the department the previous year. There are currently 1,260 sworn officers in the Seattle Police Department, numbers that Chief Diaz claims is too low to meet public safety standards.

During Seattle City Council’s Public Safety and Human Services Committee meeting on Tuesday, Chief Diaz and members of his staff laid out concerns regarding the proposed $5.4 million in additional budget cuts, with the greatest concern being the staffing crisis.

"Today, we hope we make it clear where the police department currently stands, and why it’s essential that we use our existing budget appropriation to be more efficient, more agile, more supportive of recruiting employees, and more attractive to potential hires," Chief Diaz told the committee.

Chief Diaz says the instability of the department and the continuous budget-cut proposals are affecting public safety since they can’t prepare for the unknown.

"At the start of each and every year, I work with the public safety professionals in the department to best determine how we will address the needs of the department, and how we’ll prepare for the unknown. But by their very definition, it is impossible to precisely plan for the unknowns. That work is further complicated right now by an ever changing budget," explained Diaz.

"I need to be able to manage the department, and right now the instability in our budget is causing massive instability in the department, including our staffing," he added. "We do not know what 2021 will look like. Right now, I know that we have no flexibility and we cannot count on using any salary savings to help address these losses."

In a memo sent out in response to the ordinance Seattle City Council passed at the end of 2020 further slashing the SPD budget by $5.4 million, SPD laid out some of the concerns.

Many of the sentiments expressed in the memo include extreme staffing shortages, which will result in lasting detrimental effects on the city.

Deputy Mayor Mike Fong also presented in front of the committee and explained just how dire a situation the city and SPD are facing.

"SPD is in a staffing crisis," Fong said, as he recalled more than 200 officers fleeing the department.

"Patrol and 911 response challenges have emerged in pretty much every precinct, and the cascading impacts of Chief Diaz needing to redeploy officers and mitigate for 911 response has negatively impacted other units, bureaus including investigations, training, civilian crime prevention and community service support, all of which also jeopardize our compliance with elements of the Federal consent decree," Fong continued.

Jon Scholes of the Downtown Seattle Association expressed concerns that were brought forth by Seattle businesses and community members regarding public safety in an interview with My Northwest, expressing that members have been concerned about an uptick in assaults, attacks, and vandalism as Seattle attempts to emerge from the damage caused by the pandemic, in part, by attracting more business.

"The largest number of officers departing the force in the city’s history in 2020. Response times that are in excess of the city’s own goals, and a council that is looking to cut more money from the Seattle Police Department without much of a plan for how we thoughtfully protect and promote community safety and thoughtfully reimagine policing," said Scholes.

"How will cutting five more million dollars help 'Priority 1' response times, which are now eight minutes?," he questioned.  "What are our goals and objectives as a city? This entire conversation that our council has led has really lacked clear objectives and outcomes. It’s just bad policymaking. '

Ari Hoffman, Associate Editor at The Post Millennial and a Seattle radio show host, told Fox News in an interview Monday "This summer, [police] were saying they couldn’t necessarily come because they were dealing with the riots and the autonomous zone," said Hoffman. "I’ve had friends who told me that the police have told them they’re just not coming."

Several Seattle City Councilmembers refused to listen to the Seattle Police Departments presentation, and chose to leave the meeting without listening to the subject matter experts. The meeting ran longer than scheduled and abruptly ended after the clerk realized there was no longer a quorum council member to legally continue the meeting since a majority of the council members had left.

So far, Seattle City Council slashed over $50 million to the Seattle Police Department’s budget. It’s unclear what an additional $5.4 million in cuts means for the city but based on supportive evidence produced by Chief Diaz, the city can’t afford to lose more officers.

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