Mayor Jenny Durkan's 2022 proposed budget to increase SPD funding—where does that leave Seattle's LGBTQ+ community?

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Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan — Photo courtesy of the City of Seattle
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan — Photo courtesy of the City of Seattle

On September 27, 2021, Mayor Jenny Durkan released her 2022 proposed budget—part of which includes increasing Seattle Police Department funding, with hopes of growing the department. The proposal includes funding to hire 125 new officers, which would create a net gain of 35, assuming 90 more officers depart by the end of this year. What does this new budget mean for the vibrant LGBTQ+ community in Seattle?

The proposed budget
According to the proposed budget document, the SPD was found to be following the 2012 court-ordered reforms. "In May of 2020, the City and SPD asked the court to terminate the sustainment period, stating SPD had fully demonstrated a culture of continuous improvement and innovation by meeting all of the court's requirements. Following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police officers, and the ensuing civil rights reckoning demanding a new model of community safety, the City and SPD asked to withdraw the termination order and committed to a community-led process of re-envisioning public safety," the budget document states.

The proposed budget for SPD was based on findings from the Community Safety Work Group and the SPD Functional Analysis Interdepartmental Team, which engaged in community outreach and found that some people were interested in a greater patrol presence in addition to developing stronger relationships between the officers and the neighborhoods they serve.

The response to feedback from the community includes increasing the Community Service Officer Unit. CSOs are civilians who assist residents and businesses relating to noncriminal calls; they engage with the community and support programs for at-risk youth.

The department also wants to initiate a new Specialized Triage Response within the Seattle Fire Department's Mobile Integrated Health (MIH) program; $2 million is to be put toward this program. The MIH would respond directly to noncriminal and nonmedical 911 dispatch calls and would not include a sworn police officer.

The Regional Peacekeepers Collective is another area of focus, which connects at at-risk youth (in this case, victims or perpetrators of gun violence) to referral programs from Harborview Medical Center, the King County prosecuting attorney's office, and community-based organizations.

Since the start of 2020, SPD has experienced a net loss of over 193 officers. According to the document, even with a high decrease in tasks, "patrol staffing would only be brought back up to minimum levels necessary for maintaining adequate response times." To address this need, the budget includes $1 million in hiring and retention incentives for officers. If the city council approves this budget, the number of officers will be raised to 1,230 by the end of 2022, although the 2021 budget included 1,343 officers—a number that was not reached.

The budget also includes growing the Office of Police Accountability—which operates under the Office of Inspector General for Public Safety and investigates police misconduct—by hiring a video content creator who will analyze audio and video content specific to OPA cases. The 2022 budget allows for $161,701 toward the additional OPA investigator position.

Policing in Seattle
During the summer of 2020, the SPD abandoned the East Precinct following one week of clashes with Seattle Black Lives Matter protestors over the death of George Floyd and police brutality. Protestors set up a safe and police-free zone in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, commonly known as CHOP, short for Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or CHAZ, the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.

The Black Lives Matter protests turned violent when SPD threw tear gas, flash bang grenades, and sprayed mace at crowds. The CHOP/CHAZ zone welcomed marginalized BIPOC and LGBTQ+ community members, and individuals even distributed food, picked up garbage, and created chalk-street art. Part of the CHOP/CHAZ organizer's list of demands included defunding and abolishing the Seattle Police Department.

On September 30, 2020, the ACLU—one of the nation's largest civil rights and civil liberties organizations—filed for a second motion of contempt (alongside Korematsu Center and Perkins Coie) against the City of Seattle for using weapons on protestors as a crowd control method. The organization claimed that, during the summer of 2020, the SPD violated a preliminary junction that prohibits the use of chemical weapons against protestors. The motion included documented incidents such as advancing on protestors without any warning or provocation, in addition to using pepper spray and tear gas on members of the community.

On October 21, 2020, the Seattle LGBTQ+ Commission released a statement to the mayor and city council, calling for the immediate resignation of Mayor Jenny Durkan for "failing to uphold and protect the human rights of the people in Seattle." The statement asserted that the worst police violence in Seattle occurred within CHOP/CHAZ.

"Given the long history of reproductive violence against the LGBTQ+ and Black populations, that this happened repeatedly in the traditionally LGBTQ+ neighborhood of Seattle at a series of protests for Black lives is particularly egregious," reads the Commission's statement, referring to the fact that tear gas has effects on reproductive health, particularly for people with uteruses. Since the release of the commission's statement a year ago, Jenny Durkan has neither resigned nor defunded the Seattle Police Department.

Effects of policing on the LGBTQ+ community
The United States has an extensive history of mistreatment of the LGBTQ+ population, with the most infamous police brutality incident occurring in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn. American police departments have a reputation for profiling, entrapping, discriminating against, and harassing the LGBTQ+ community; LGBTQ+ POC, LGBTQ+ youth, and Transgender individuals are most impacted by law enforcement violence.

The Anti-Violence Project, an organization that empowers the LGBTQ+ community to end forms of violence, released statistics regarding policing and its effects on the LGBTQ+ community. According to the organization, those who are Transgender are almost four times as likely to experience police violence in comparison to those who are cisgender. In comparison to cisgender victims of crime, Transgender victims are seven times more likely to experience physical violence while interacting with police officers. Transgender POC are six times more likely to experience physical violence from police officers compared to those who are white and cisgender.

These police practices of profiling, discriminating against, and harassing the LGBTQ+ community—especially the LGBTQ+ BIPOC community—weaken community trust while reducing the number of crimes reported, which may contribute to a lack of support and resources for the victims.

What are your thoughts on the 2022 proposed budget? Do you think a stronger SPD presence will be more beneficial or harmful to the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities in the city?