Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best announced her retirement on Monday night following a City Council vote to slash the department’s budget in the name of racial justice.
The announcement: Best, the city’s first black female police chief, said her last day on the job will be Sept. 1.
“I want to thank Mayor [Jenny] Durkan for her continuous support through good times and tough times,” Best said in a letter to members of the Seattle Police Department. “I am confident the department will make it through these difficult times.”
Of Best’s retirement, Durkan said in a statement: “Her grit, grace and integrity have inspired me and made our city better. … These last months, I knew Chief Best was the person to lead our city through this challenging time, to reimagine policing and community safety.”
The defunding: Hours earlier, the Seattle City Council voted to cut nearly $4 million from the department’s remaining 2019-2020 budget of $170 million.
- The budget plan would eliminate as many as 100 officers from the force through layoffs and attrition, according to local news reports.
- The plan discussed deeper cuts that could approach the 50% next year, a threshold pushed by local activists and previously agreed to be several members of the City Council.
Seattle City Council President M. Lorena González said the partial defunding of law enforcement was in response to activists’ demands for “racial justice and investments in BIPOC [black, Indigenous and people of color] communities” and to the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
- According to Gonzalez, other city services could make better use of the money, including to take over some of the current responsibilities of law enforcement.
- The only dissenter in the City Council’s 7-1 vote was by socialist Kshama Sawant, who wanted greater defunding to “address the systemic racism of policing” and to invest in “Black and Brown communities.”
- Seattle was also exploring the creation of a public-safety department that could take on some other tasks currently handled by the police.
Defunding the police has been a top demand of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been at the forefront of months of nationwide protests against racism and policing.
- Police budgets have been reduced in across the United States, from Portland to New York City even as violent crime has surged in many of the same cities, including Seattle.
Best — along with some other city officials and residents and business owners — has opposed drastic budget cuts to the Seattle Police Department as unrealistic and “reckless.”
- “I do not believe we should be asking the people of Seattle to test out a theory that crime goes away if police goes away,” Best said last month. “That is completely reckless.”
- She and Durkan, who has yet to sign the budget plan into law, had suggested a reduction of police funding below 20 percent.
While Best did not elaborate on the reasons for her retirement, Durkan said the police chief was making the move in hopes of improving the department’s relationship with the City Council.
- The council had proposed a steep cut to Best’s salary, but backtracked on that measure on Monday.
Seattle protesters have also taken aim at Best — who cleared out their police-free zone in July amid growing violence and lawlessness there — over the department’s use of tear gas and other methods to control unrest.
- A group recently went to Best’s neighborhood outside the city to protest at her home, but they were rebuffed by neighbors with guns.