Population: 737,015 in 2020
Type of government: City
In its FY2021 budget, the Seattle City Council reduced the police department budget by a little less than 20% (activists sought and a majority of the city council anounnced an intention to reduce it by 50%).1 This budget reduction was largely achieved by moving 911 dispatchers, the Office of Emergency Management, parking enforcement, and their Victim Advocacy Team out of the police department. The city council also cut some vacant positions to reduce the number of budgeted sworn officer positions from 1,422 to 1,400 and reduced overtime. Nevertheless, Seattle City Council also approved hiring around 100 new officers, largely to replace officers that had left, and they had allowed the police department to exceed their overtime budget in FY2020.2 Notably, the city council pointed to some roadblocks--including from the court-ordered monitor, the police union, and other legal issues--to reducing the number of officers.3
The council also included a number of reinvestments (which was funded by more than just the reduction in the police budget), including:
- $12 million for community alternatives to policing
- $30 million for participatory budgeting processes (see also, the Black Brilliance Research Project’s Preliminary Report)
- $30 million anti-displacement fund
- $30 million for Equitable Communities Initiative, which will direct funding to reinvest in Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities
In addition, the city council ended a controversial unit that included police to clear encampments of houseless people, creating a new team of case workers to do outreach and coordinate the city’s response to these encampments. However, this change does not mean that removals have ended.4
In 2020, the city piloted the Critical Incident Community Responders, which has community members patrol neighborhoods and use deescalation techniques.5 They made that program permanent in the FY2021 budget.6
Establishing the public safety participatory budgeting process is still underway, as of early 2022. The city council charged Seattle's Office of Civil Rights (SOCR) to administer the program, and SOCR is seeking a nonprofit partner to oversee and facilitate the participatory budgeting process at the time of this case study being published.7
1 Daniel Beekman, “Seattle City Council Adopts 2021 Budget After Months of Political Turbulence; Mayor Will Sign,” The Seattle Times, November 23, 2020, https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/seattle-city-council-adopts-2021-budget-after-months-of-political-turbulence-mayor-will-sign/.
2 Daniel Beekman, “Seattle City Council Adopts 2021 Budget After Months of Political Turbulence; Mayor Will Sign,” The Seattle Times, November 23, 2020, https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/seattle-city-council-adopts-2021-budget-after-months-of-political-turbulence-mayor-will-sign/; Daniel Beekman and David Gutman, “Seattle, King County Wrestle with Promises for Change that Politicians Made After George Floyd’s Murder,” The Seattle Times, May 25, 2021,https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/seattle-king-county-wrestling-with-promises-for-change-that-politicians-made-after-george-floyds-murder/; City of Seattle, Washington 2021 Adopted Budget, 22, https://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/FinanceDepartment/21adoptedbudget/2021%20adopted%20budget%20book.pdf.
3 Daniel Beekman and David Gutman, “Seattle, King County Wrestle with Promises for Change that Politicians Made After George Floyd’s Murder,” The Seattle Times, May 25, https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/seattle-king-county-wrestling-with-promises-for-change-that-politicians-made-after-george-floyds-murder/.
4 Anna Patrick, “Project Homeless FAQ: We’ve Answered Your Questions on Seattle’s Navigator Team, “The Seattle Times, December 26, 2020, https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/homeless/project-homeless-faq-weve-answered-your-questions-on-seattles-navigation-team/; Daniel Beekman, “Seattle City Council Adopts 2021 Budget After Months of Political Turbulence; Mayor Will Sign,” The Seattle Times, November 23, 2020, https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/seattle-city-council-adopts-2021-budget-after-months-of-political-turbulence-mayor-will-sign/.
5 Kim Malcolm and Andy Hurst, “One Year Afte the Murder of George Floyd, Are Promises to Defund Seattle Police Being Kept?” KUOW, May 25, 2021, https://www.kuow.org/stories/calls-for-defund-spd-started-one-year-ago-so-how-s-that-going; Paul Kiefer, “As Seattle Weighs 911 Options, a Promising Program Shows the Potential, and Limitations of Community-Based Crisis Response,” Publicola, September 252020, https://publicola.com/2020/09/25/as-seattle-weighs-911-options-a-promising-program-shows-the-potential-and-limitations-of-community-based-crisis-response/.
6 City of Seattle, Washington 2021 Adopted Budget, 30, https://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/FinanceDepartment/21adoptedbudget/2021%20adopted%20budget%20book.pdf.
7 Paul Kiefer and Erica C. Barnett, “Just One Group Applies to Lead Participatory Budgeting; Funding for Hotel-Based JustCARE Program Ends this Spring,” Publicola, February 15, 2022, https://publicola.com/2022/02/15/just-one-group-applies-to-lead-participatory-budgeting-funding-for-hotel-based-justcare-program-ends-this-spring/.