Seattle police chief quits after city council votes to strip funds

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This story was originally published by BBC on Tuesday, Aug. 11.

11 August 2020

Seattle’s chief of police has announced her resignation on the same day that the city council voted to reduce the police budget and lay off officers.

Carmen Best’s decision comes amid pressure on police after George Floyd’s death, unrest in Seattle and budget shortfalls due to the current pandemic.

Chief Best became the city’s first black police chief in 2018, leading a 1,400-member force.

The US military veteran joined the Seattle Police Department in 1992.

She will stay on until 2 September.

Budget cuts

On Monday, the city council voted to cut more than $3m (£2.3m) from the police’s $400m annual operating budget. The cuts are expected to lead to the loss of about 100 police officers, but fall short of the hopes of anti-police brutality Black Lives Matter protesters who have called for a 50% reduction.

Seattle City Council President M Lorena González said it was necessary to rebalance the police budget, due to a loss of government tax funds caused by the economic downturn, and the demands of Black Lives Matter protests – some of whom have called for “defunding” the police and instead using the money to bolster social services.

The new budget also reduces the police chief’s salary from $294,000 to $275,000 per year.

After the measure was approved in a 7-1 vote, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan – who could still veto the cuts – denounced the decision.

“It is unfortunate Council has refused to engage in a collaborative process to work with the Mayor, Chief Best, and community members to develop a budget and policies that respond to community needs while accounting for – not just acknowledging – the significant labour and legal implications involved in transforming the Seattle Police Department,” she said in a statement after the vote.

The Downtown Seattle Association also condemned the cuts, saying: “In defunding SPD, the council moved with speed and pettiness rather than with precision and thoughtfulness.

“Decisions critical to public safety require stating the desired results and working with the community to figure out how to get there. This Council focused largely on an abstract pledge and not a concrete plan.”

The group has previously been among the most vocal critics of the city’s autonomous protest zone, a six-block area where protesters kept city police from entering.

The so-called Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone was set up amid nationwide protests against racism and police brutality since the death of George Floyd in police custody in May.

It was dismantled by police on 1 July after several shootings inside the occupied area.

Media caption:Aerial shots of the autonomous protest zone

What did Chief Best say?

“I am confident the department will make it through these difficult times,” Chief Best wrote in a resignation letter on Monday to her colleagues.

“You truly are the best police department in the country, and please trust me when I say, the vast majority of people in Seattle support you and appreciate you,” she continued.

“I look forward to seeing how this department moves forward through the process of re-envisioning public safety. I relish the work that will be done by all of you.”

Media caption: Police clear protesters from Seattle’s self-governed zone

She is expected to be replaced by Deputy Chief Adrian Diaz on 2 September when she leaves.