Seattle’s plan to defund its police would be great material for a stand-up comedian (or comedienne).
It might also make a decent episode of a resurrected Twilight Zone or Outer Limits.
On Saturday, July 11, the Seattle Times reported that seven of the nine City Council members are supporting a plan to cut the Seattle Police Department’s $409 million budget by 50% and use the money for what the paper calls “other community needs.” More on those “needs” in a moment.
The plan is not supported by Mayor Jenny Durkan, the wavering weasel who defended the First Amendment rights of protestors while rioters destroyed 100 businesses and seized an area in the city’s Capitol Hill district and diverted us with their antics in CHAZ, which later became CHOP. Mayor Durkan wants a 20% cut.
Police Chief Carmen Best has called the cuts “reckless.” According to Chief Best, the plan advocated by the City Council members would make residents unwilling guinea pigs in an experiment to see if reducing the number of police officers will produce a decrease in crime.
Among the effects cited by the chief are the closing of the Southwest Precinct, deep cuts to the homicide/violent crime, sexual assault and sex offender investigative units, along with a near elimination of gang, theft, domestic violence, elder abuse and family services investigative units.
She also said that the elimination of hundreds of officer positions would leave patrol officers focused exclusively on 911 calls.
This isn’t just a bunch of warm bodies with badges and guns. In most police departments, investigators are officers with more seniority, more experience, and more street smarts.
To make matters worse, the chances are that more senior officers, who are paid more, will be asked to retire or let go.
While the City Council is pondering cutting police funding in half to atone for the murder of a black man by a police officer 1,400 miles away, they really need to look at their crime problem.
According to the FBI, Seattle’s violent crime rate is nearly 79% higher than the national rate and more than 118% higher than the violent crime rate for the state of Washington.
It’s possible that if responsibility for mental health calls, wellness checks, and similar calls were shifted to other departments and the city legalized drugs, gambling, and prostitution, the city could get by with fewer police officers and a smaller budget. I am not sure that the Emerald City wants to become the Sin City of the Northwest or that the West Side Steet Mobb will be very happy with the loss of the lucrative trade in illegal drugs, but it would be possible to defund police and still have some sort of a handle on serious crime.
But that’s not the plan the City Council likes so much.
The plan under consideration was developed by Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now. Both are coalitions of many groups which can be politely described as both diverse and totally unfamiliar with how policing actually works.
In broad terms, the plan calls for:
- Replacing current 911 operations with a civilian-controlled system;
- Ramping up community-led solutions to crime and wrongdoing;
- Funding a community-created roadmap that envisions a city without policing;
- Investing in housing for all.
Before I say anything else, I personally regard the Council’s serious consideration of this proposal to be conclusive proof that someone is lacing the coffee creamer at City Hall with lysergic acid.
I am not sure what the groups’ beef is with Seattle’s 911 dispatchers but it’s hard to see how moving 911 operations is going to improve anything or free up funds for anything else. The city still has to pay for it and a private business would either cost more or provide a lower level of service. Perhaps the city could farm it out to one of those call centers in the Philippines.
How about “ramping up community-led solutions to crime and wrongdoing.” The city of Seattle is required to enforce all of the laws of the State of Washington. The law requires that enforcement be carried out by a duly-authorized law enforcement officer. State law requires that such law enforcement officers, community-based or otherwise, meet certain requirements and at least a minimum amount of professional training or equivalent experience as a sworn, certified, or licensed law enforcement officer. Anything else is a neighborhood watch or vigilantes, neither of which are authorized to enforce laws.
Real community-led solutions to crime and wrongdoing don’t require a penny in funding except to rent a meeting space now and then and maybe some coffee and doughnuts. It’s the community acting in concert for the benefit of all. Nobody gets paid.
Besides, if they’re going to throw money at it, what happens when the community of Madison Park decides their community-led solution involves the construction of fences and gates and hiring private armed security guards? Hey! It’s as legitimate a community-led solution as anything else and at least the guards have to be licensed by the state. We’re talking taxpayer money and the folks of Madison Park probably have the money to drag a lawsuit over inequitable distribution of funds all the way to the Supreme Court. Don’t forget, all Seattle citizens are entitled to protection.
My favorite is “funding a community-created roadmap that envisions a city without policing.” Why spend money on it? The people of Seattle won’t have to imagine it; they’ll be living it — or quite possibly leaving it.
How does one go about creating a roadmap that leads to the land of milk and honey? Is the city really going to pay for people to sit around a bong or have opium dreams that Samuel Taylor Coleridge would envy?
Before you can imagine a city without police, you first have to figure out how to have a city without criminals. Sure, you can repeal all the laws, but I don’t think anyone will be happy with the results.
Last, but certainly not least, we come to the payoff: Investing in housing for all. Between sources that include Microsoft, more than $750 million has currently been pledged to build affordable housing this year. That’s enough to build 25,000 tiny houses at about $30K each or about 7,500 small conventional homes. If the city spends wisely, it should be able to find a general contractor, settle on a basic design, and build lots of cookie-cutter houses, differing only in exterior paint color. To save on real estate costs and look really cool, the city could build one of Palero Soleri’s arcologies, sort of like Arcosanti in Arizona, but more weatherproof.
The city has already spent millions and millions on affordable housing. But the city’s housing costs have soared, up 69% in just the past ten years. Seattle already has one of the highest minimum wages in the United States and residents are struggling to pay the rent on an apartment. A fair percentage of the city’s residents need affordable housing; how’s it going to be allocated?
I have a feeling that none of this was considered when this plan was hatched.
Nonetheless, Teresa Mosqueda, a member of the Seattle City Council and chairperson of the budget committee, loves the plan.
“The proposal outlined by Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now is the North Star for our moral compass. It is the institution of policing itself that must be dismantled.”
It may be the North Star for their moral compass; it’s an astronomical singularity for everything else.