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Moving Emergency Management out of the Police Department Defunds Police


by Eric Holdeman / July 13, 2020

Here is an official statement from the city of Seattle's website, As Part of Review of 2021 Budget, Mayor Durkan and Police Chief Best Announce Initial Actions to Transform the Seattle Police Department and Reimagine Community Safety

Here are some of the actions proposed to defund the Seattle Police Department: 

  • Management of the Seattle Police Department 911 Call Center, which is already staffed primarily by civilians, will be transferred out of the department. The Call Center currently takes 911 calls for both SPD and the Seattle Fire Department (SFD) and is composed of 140 civilian employees and 12 sworn officers. All 140 civilian employees will be transferred out of the department, and this will result in $34.2 million transferred out of the SPD budget.
  • The civilian parking enforcement division will be transferred out of SPD and moved into the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). The parking enforcement division is composed of 120 civilian employees, and this will result in $13.7 million transferred out of the SPD budget.
  • The Office of Emergency Management (OEM) – which prepares for, responds to, and staffs the City’s Emergency Operations Center when a major event occurs – will be transferred out of the police department. This includes 11 civilian employees and $3.3 million transferred out of the SPD budget. The Mayor and SPD will assess if OEM and the 911 call center should remain as standalone departments, be located in other departments, or be combined with a future organization focused on public health and harm reduction responses.
  • The Office of Police Accountability (OPA) will be transferred out of SPD. The OPA was already an independent office, but its budget was housed in SPD. This will result in $4.5 million transferred out of the SPD budget.

Some might call this a shell game to find a way to tally up a bigger budget number for dollars no longer in the police department. Of all the items above, the only function that is "specifically not a law enforcement function" is the Office of Emergency Management (OEM). In the past, OEM has been shuffled around to this or that department. When originally created and staffed (early 1990s) it was in an administrative department. 

A new "harm reduction department" isn't a bad idea. In emergency management terms, it would focus on prevention and mitigation -- which would be a refreshing change for the city of Seattle. Maybe they might try tackling the unreinforced masonry (URM) buildings that threaten to kill and maim low-income and minority populations who live there in order to have cheaper rents. 

Lastly, for anyone who is an emergency manager and has budgets to manage, you're thinking, "Only $3.3M in the OEM budget? Remember these are city of Seattle dollars only. It is a microcosm of our national penchant for states and cities relying on the federal government to fund their internal emergency management responsibilities. I expect that the Seattle OEM budget can have additional funds coming from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grants. 

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