Comment: Demand to cut sheriff’s budget by half a nonstarter

Law enforcement reforms are necessary, but calls to ‘defund police’ ignore Snohomish County’s needs.

By Nate Nehring / For The Herald

Last week, the Snohomish County Council received a “Demand Letter” to “Defund the Snohomish County Sheriff” from the Snohomish County Defender Collective.

It is evident that changes are needed within the criminal justice system to address issues of racial disparities, police brutality and transparency. These are not new issues but they have been put in the spotlight recently as a result of the horrific murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Manuel Ellis and many others.

It is critical that public officials, law enforcement and the community as a whole come together to discuss and implement meaningful policy change if we are to take steps in the right direction. There are several reasonable proposals that have been made, but the Snohomish County Defender Collective’s demand of slashing law enforcement budgets in half is not one of them. Nor is there proposal to “cut ties with the Sheriff’s Office and local police departments.” These fringe proposals undermine legitimate efforts on criminal justice reform and they should not be taken as serious solutions. Instead, we should focus the discussion on pragmatic ideas such as reviewing use of force policies, increasing relevant training, establishing greater transparency, increasing accountability through community oversight and requiring the use of body cameras for police officers. Each of these have the potential to garner broad support and would benefit both law enforcement and the community they serve.

The needs of public safety and social services are not mutually exclusive. The letter from the Snohomish County Defender Collective inaccurately states that Snohomish County’s budget allocates only $3.17 million toward human services. In fact, Snohomish County’s annual budget allocates over $62 million towards human services. These investments have helped fund innovative efforts to support the most vulnerable among us, such as the Diversion Center, Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), the Carnegie Resource Center, and the Embedded Social Worker program to name just a few. These efforts have received statewide and even national recognition for their success, something which we can all be proud of.

In addition to human and social services needs, our community has public safety needs. Last week I received more than 800 emails from the public on the subject of law enforcement funding, the vast majority of which were opposed to reducing law enforcement budgets. I hear similar sentiments when speaking with residents who are appalled at this idea. A recent ABC News poll found that an overwhelming 64 percent of Americans oppose the “defund the police” movement. Defunding the police is not only a poor decision on its merits, it is also wildly unpopular with the public whom we are elected to serve. Public safety is the fundamental responsibility of local government and it will continue to be my top priority.

Defunding the Sheriff’s Office by 50 percent is not the answer. Instead, we should work with the community and law enforcement to accomplish meaningful, positive policy reform. I look forward to listening and engaging in meaningful discussions with communities of color, law enforcement and the greater public on how we can improve our policies to ensure equal justice and implement safeguards against police brutality. We can and must do better, and that begins with pursuing pragmatic solutions to the difficult issues facing our community.

Snohomish County Councilmember Nate Nehring represents the council’s 1st District. This commentary is Nehring’s opinion and is not intended to reflect the views of the council.

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