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caption: A Seattle Police vehicle sits parked at Hing Hay Park in the heart of Seattle's Chinatown-International District Thursday, March 18, 2021.
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A Seattle Police vehicle sits parked at Hing Hay Park in the heart of Seattle's Chinatown-International District Thursday, March 18, 2021.

Seattle Solidarity Budget coalition opposes funds for what it calls 'soft cops'

A coalition of progressive groups in Seattle will oppose Mayor Bruce Harrell’s proposal to pay for 26 additional rangers in the city’s parks.

In a press conference Thursday, the Solidarity Budget coalition, which led the effort to cut Seattle Police Department funding in 2020, highlighted priorities for their members in Seattle's upcoming budget meetings.

The coalition will urge its supporters to advocate for everything from safe lots for people who are homeless to park their vehicles, to safer bike and pedestrian infrastructure in South Seattle.

The Solidarity Budget coalition said one of its highest priorities will be to keep people out of King County jail, where four people died by suicide in the past year.

Angélica Cházaro is with the member group Decriminalize Seattle. She said during the budget process they’ll press for resources for people who are homeless, and for safer streets.

“There is a public safety crisis in Seattle. But it’s not the one that you’ve been hearing about on the news,” she said. “It’s a crisis of having one of the deadliest jails in the country. It’s a crisis of our unhoused neighbors dying at record rates. Not to mention the unacceptable deaths of pedestrians and cyclists.”

Cházaro and other coalition members condemned any funding for what they called “soft cops,” including the proposed park rangers in that category.

“When we say, ‘Defund SPD and fund community needs,’ we do not mean fund responders who may not be armed but who will also act to funnel people into jail or into other coercive settings,” Cházaro said.

If approved by the city council (acting as the Seattle Park District Board), Harrell’s proposal for the Seattle Park District would nearly double the district’s levy, to between $115 million and $118 million in 2023. In announcing the funding proposal, Harrell said the park rangers would “enhance safety and promote voluntary compliance of park rules.”

Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold said the council and mayor have also agreed to launch a new crisis response unit in the next several months. She said they haven’t decided which agency would house the unit, but she views SPD’s community service officers as one possible option to perform wellness checks and other non-emergency calls.