Seattle Police Chief On Proposed Budget Cuts And Calls For Reforms : Updates: The Fight Against Racial Injustice The Seattle City Council supports a 50% cut to the police budget. Police Chief Carmen Best says that would be a "reckless maneuver" right now and says many reforms are already underway.

Seattle Police Chief On Proposed Budget Cuts And Calls For Reforms

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

How do you reimagine a big city police force in the middle of a pandemic, ongoing protests and possibly facing a massive budget cut? Well, that is the challenge facing our next guest. Carmen Best is chief of the Seattle Police Department.

Chief Best, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

CARMEN BEST: Thank you, Mary Louise. I'm glad to be here.

KELLY: Glad to have you with us. Let's start with that possibly massive budget cut. As you know, the city council in Seattle has indicated it would support a 50% cut - five zero - to your budget. What is your reaction? What would be the impact on your force?

BEST: Well, I think the impact would be absolutely detrimental not only for the police department but for the community that we serve. At this point, we are working really hard to make sure that we can maintain adequate levels of staffing and adequate levels of service. And cutting - just lopping off 50% of our officers I would think at this time would be a reckless maneuver. And I'm hoping that people will, you know, calm down and look at ways that we can have a real plan in place of how we might transfer some of the responsibilities and services to other areas. But it can't just be done overnight.

KELLY: It's not clear, though, that this would necessarily mean lopping off - to use your word - 50% of your officers. I mean, one of the ideas in play is try shifting money from your department and spending it on alternatives to the current system. So take dealing with homelessness out of the hands of police and send it to other community services that could handle it perhaps better. I mean, why not try that?

BEST: I think that's a great idea, actually, and we'd love to do that. But what they're talking about, just to be clear, is making that budget cut effective in 2020 and 2021. So it's a pretty immediate response - is what they're looking at. This is - these budget conversations are - they happen on a routine basis with - consistent with allocation of funding. So the idea generally of making sure that we are, you know, having adequate resources and a plan in place before that budget takes effect is really important to me.

KELLY: I want to turn to the protests. People around the world watched the protests in Seattle, watched the police precinct in Seattle get taken over by protesters who then camped out for weeks. This became known as the CHOP. Conservatives, including President Trump, looked at that and said order has broken down in Seattle. Did it?

BEST: You know, I would say this - that a number of people went into the area coming on the heels of - on May demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. And certainly, it was unexpected. But as time went on, it became much more volatile and much more lawless in the area. And it was pretty self-evident that we needed to regain the area and retain our presence in the precinct. So...

KELLY: I mean, I think that's the point that conservatives are making - that it was lawless, that it was a police-free zone.

BEST: At some point, it did become lawless. Those are the words I used.

KELLY: Do you agree with the central demand or one of the central demands of protesters that Seattle police, while you've carried out a lot of reforms, haven't reformed enough?

BEST: Well, you know, all of that is subjective. Our organization has done everything we were asked to do by the federal judge and the federal monitor to meet all the requirements of the reforms - de-escalation training, crisis intervention training, implicit bias training, force review boards. You know, the things that people are crying out for across the nation as reforms, we've already done it. So in that regard, we're there. But I have to acknowledge and recognize that there's more to do with the real-time situations that are occurring 'cause every time an African American man dies at the hands of injustice, the reforms seem to take a back seat to the consternation, if you will, when they see it.

KELLY: Yeah. So in the few seconds we have left, No. 1 thing on your agenda to get right going forward.

BEST: Well, I want to make sure we have the right staffing model and that we're able to continue providing public safety to the community that we serve.

KELLY: We will leave it there and look forward to continuing the conversation with you.

Carmen Best, chief of the Seattle Police Department, thanks very much for your time today.

BEST: Thank you, Mary Louise. I appreciate it.

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