As Seattle residents reel from one of the deadliest weekends in recent memory, Mayor Jenny Durkan is sounding the alarms. She says the city needs more police, a message she’s been reticent to deliver publicly due to toxic politics and a militant activist base.
Thanks to a defund movement that is still alive and well, the Seattle Police Department is down nearly a third of its force. And the city is left without the law enforcement support it needs to keep residents safe. Combined with prosecutors who lean into far-left views that the criminal justice system is racist, so they won’t prosecute, criminals are running wild with little fear of consequences for their deadly behavior.
The painful reality is the situation is likely to get much worse before we see relief. It’s not even clear yet if residents are ready to acknowledge the crisis. Several anti-police voices head into Tuesday’s primary with winds at their sails. And Durkan is a lame-duck Mayor as she announced months ago that she wasn’t running for reelection.
Durkan’s message is not only too little, too late, but it’s falling on deaf ears as the Seattle City Council continues its defunding efforts. Next week the Council is expected to reroute some $14 million from the Seattle Police Department budget.
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“As a city, we cannot continue on this current trajectory of losing police officers,” Durkan warned during a Monday press conference. “Over the past 17 months, the Seattle Police Department has lost 250 police officers which is the equivalent of over 300,000 service hours. We’re on path to losing 300 police officers.”
The city is closer to 300 than the mayor is letting on.
Officers that are leaving and still on the payroll are not included in staffing data. As of May, there were over 100 officers unavailable for deployment, according to an internal document I acquired. Many of the officers on the list, sources confirmed, are burning through vacation and sick time that they earned. The fear is that up to half of those officers will not return to work.
How bad is the staffing crisis? Seattle has the lowest deployable staff since the 1980s. If the current rate continues, the department will have lost one-third of its force since last year..
While officers started to abandon the department before the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., the problems accelerated with the defund movement and the rise of Black Lives Matter. Police endured months of attacks – literally and figuratively – from Antifa and BLM radicals and the City Council.
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If it wasn’t regular Molotov cocktail attacks or attempts to seal officers shut inside a building while criminals outside try to burn it down, it was councilmembers vowing to fire white officers over contrived diversity concerns and baseless conspiracy theories suggesting police were responsible for the riots. The budget cuts and the insufferable and demeaning bad faith criticisms pushed police out of the city or out of the profession entirely.
And as the police mass exodus worsened, Seattle experienced a dramatic and historic rise in crime.
Seattle saw a 26-year-high homicide rate last year. This year, the city is on pace to exceed 2020 stats. Last month was the deadliest June in at least 13 years, showing a 125% higher homicide rate than June 2020. And Seattle saw five gun homicides, including a drive-by shooting, throughout just one weekend.
Interim Chief Adrian Diaz told me on my Seattle-based radio show on KTTH that gangs and the homeless are two of the leading contributors to the surge. And when you don’t have enough staffing to proactively police — to be a presence in the community — it gives criminals more opportunities to victimize. After all, criminals rarely murder others when they think cops are nearby.
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Durkan could have spent the last seven months sounding the alarms. She could have done more externally to explain to the community what the defund movement’s attack on police is doing to this city. But she mainly stayed silent as anti-police activists used the social justice movement to pursue a “reimagining” of police in Seattle.
These activists claimed the department uses too much force, purposefully targets communities of color, and is a system of oppression that must be dismantled. And they had the ears of far-left city councilmembers.
Councilmembers immediately pledged to defund the police by 50%. They vowed to lay off officers based on skin color, promising a mechanism that allows them to fire white veteran officers to ensure a more diverse staff. They also adopted the anti-police rhetoric of the city’s abolitionist voter base. They stayed silent as police faced physical assault, pretending it wasn’t happening.
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The Council ended up defunding 18%, angering the city’s recalcitrant Left. But council members pledged they weren’t done.
Next week, city insiders believe the council will reroute about $14 million from the budget. That money comes from salary savings from the officer departures. They could use it for recruitment efforts or to cover the necessary overtime hours the department has had to use to make up for the low staff. Instead, the council will spend it outside the SPD.
The specifics remain unclear, but it is rumored that the council will push it into community programs or their new civilian-led 9-1-1 response pilot program, where they will send social workers to respond to some emergency calls.
Despite Durkan’s sudden warnings about what defunding the police has done to Seattle, not only is the council ignoring the lame-duck Mayor, the situation in the city may get worse.
Police abolitionist Nikkita Oliver is the leading candidate to take over an at-large city council seat in this upcoming election. Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, a defund supporter who was caught on video defending a man threatening to murder cops, is likely to sail through her re-election easily.
The Seattle City Attorney’s race may see a police and prison abolitionist in Nicole Thomas-Kennedy take on incumbent Pete Holmes. He rarely prosecutes criminals and is responsible for a big part of the city’s crime problem. Imagine what the city would look like if an abolitionist who has vowed to cut the City Attorney’s criminal division and stop prosecuting most misdemeanors gets into office.
And with one exception, the top-tier candidates running for Mayor all oppose the necessary SPD budget increases required to tackle the rise in crime.
Frontrunner Bruce Harrell, a former city councilmember, pays lip service on using police, but only in undefined, reimagined roles. Current council president Lorena Gonzalez claims guns and the NRA are the problems. Former state lawmaker Jessyn Farrell, meanwhile, blamed the rise in violence on “economic stressors.” Housing activist Andrew Grant Houston, who raised the most funding from the city’s publicly funded elections program, wants to cut the police budget by fifty percent.
One candidate for mayor, Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller, is pushing back.
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“The only thing the Seattle City Council has accomplished by defunding the police is make Seattle less safe,” Sixkiller tells me. “The City Council’s reckless embrace of a slogan rather than a plan has resulted in every category of crime increasing by double digits, a record number of shootings, and 250 cops leaving Seattle.”
While Durkan is right to warn about the city’s direction, voters haven’t yet decided if they agree with her concerns. It’s unclear how many more murders are necessary to catch their attention.