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Failure to Defund the Seattle Police Department

Updated: Mar 12, 2023

One of the primary issues with our current political climate is the lack of communication. I often find myself prioritizing my anger and hatred over listening to other perspectives. While these emotions are justified, I also imagine that our society could be in a much better place if we thought our opinions through.

To be clear, I fully support defunding the police. I believe in relocating police funding towards organizations that will take on responsibilities that the police are unqualified to handle. However, the defunding of the Seattle Police Department has been an unjust process that exemplifies issues of performative activism and the consequences of an unwillingness to listen and learn. It is crucial to address this failure when moving forwards with future plans to defund the police.

Essentially, the Seattle City Council voted to cut the Police Department’s budget, without a vision on how to move forward, nor how to reallocate this money towards organizations that would lessen the burden on police officers and invest in marginalized communities. According to The Guardian, the cuts reduced the salary of Seattle’s chief of police Carmen Best along with her staff, and laid off 100 of the department’s 1,400 police officers. Carmen Best, the first African American to lead the department, chose to resign following this announcement. She lamented, “The idea of letting, after we worked so incredibly hard to make sure that our department was diverse, that reflects the community that we serve, to just turn that all on a dime and hack it off without having a plan in place to move forward, it’s highly distressful to me... It goes against my principles and my conviction and I really couldn’t do it.”

Furthermore, the Seattle Police Department is now more unstaffed than ever. Even before the cuts, the department's small size was always a concern due to exponential population growth in Seattle. According to the Seattle Times, in 2019, only 1,419 officers were to serve a population of 764,000 residents. For comparison, in places such as Washington DC, the police department employed 3,809 in 2019, to serve about 705,000 residents. The police to resident ratio for Washington DC is three times as large as Seattle. The recent cuts have not only laid off many officers, but have also resulted in downsizing. The director of the Crime and Justice Research Center at Seattle University, Jacqueline Helfgott, argues that understaffing will require police overtime- which is both expensive and would also defeat the budget cuts in the first place. She goes on to state, “...I think the approach should be to take a step back and consider the police to be one agency among many in the community, and that all have to work together...To focus on one agency — the police — and defund that agency without anything in its place … that’s my concern.”

Again, the idea was to use that funding for other organizations that would lessen the burden on police officers and invest in helping and rehabilitating individuals, instead of resorting to corporal punishment. But now, I am strongly against the fact that the Seattle Council’s mistakes are being used against the movement as a whole when it could have been a leader in defunding the police and showing other places how it is a step in the right direction. The protests in Seattle in light of the Black Lives Matter movement are inspiring, but Seattle’s Council did not take responsibility for making this vision happen. It feels like these budget cuts were made just for the sake of saying they were made, without a full outlook on how it is supposed to better its community.

Although it is incredibly important to discuss federal policies and big picture visions for the future, the changes that we are searching for are in local governments and local elections. As a resident of Seattle myself, I feel disheartened by the irresponsible course of action that Seattle has taken, despite fully agreeing with the movement's intentions. The failure resulting from defunding Seattle’s Police Department shows the consequences of choosing blind hat32red over collaboration, communication, and education. I hope that over time we can resolve these issues because I believe that defunding the police is a necessary course of action.

- Lora Kwon

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