The council’s proposals approved last month were supported by demonstrators who have marched in the city for months following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis but were strongly opposed by the mayor and former police Chief Carmen Best.
“Divestment from a broken policing model is not only the right thing to do … I believe it is the needed course of action,” Council President M. Lorena González said. “We cannot look away from this and we can no longer accept the status quo if we truly believe that Black lives matter.”
In vetoing the council’s actions, the mayor has said she did not agree with losing officers as well as a plan to take officers off a team that removes camps of people experiencing homelessness. She had also complained that the council had not discussed their plans with her or the police chief before taking action although at least one council member said Tuesday that the police chief had been consulted.
Best, the city’s first Black female police chief, officially retired earlier this month amid the controversy over proposed police cuts and the department’s response to protests.
Measures passed by the council will cut less than $4 million of the department’s $400 million annual budget this year. The exact number of officers to be cut wasn’t clear but council members suggested it would amount to several dozen.
Seattle now has about 1,400 police officers, and the proposed reductions fell far short of calls from many Black Lives Matter protesters for a 50% cut to the department. Some members of the council had described the cuts as a “down payment” on future reductions.
An overwhelming majority of people who spoke during a public comment period Tuesday urged the council to overturn Durkan’s vetoes. Many told the council, “If Black lives matter, prove it.” Members of business groups were among those who spoke in favor of upholding 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.
Councilmember Dan Strauss said “excessive and indiscriminate use of force” by police against Seattle residents exercising their First Amendment rights led the council to make the budget adjustments.
“The changes proposed in the 2020 rebalanced budget are not radical or earth shattering,” Strauss said. “They are reasonable and responsible first steps in a long process to re-envision the way we handle public safety.”