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Seattle loses 20% of police force amid year of protests

▶ Watch Video: 260 Seattle cops leave force following defund police movement, budget cuts

The Seattle Police Department is struggling under the backlash of recent police reforms. The state of Washington has just enacted a dozen police reform laws, following nearly a year of protests over police brutality.

According to one social justice group, more than $840 million were cut from U.S. police budgets in 2020.

This has caused a shortage of police in Seattle. The police chief tells CBS News that 260 officers, which is almost 20 percent of the force, have left in the past year and a half.

Officer Clayton Powell has served nearly 27 years on the streets of Seattle. He said it was his goal to stay on the force for 30 years, but even though he is three years away from that goal, he’s retiring early.

“The support that we had in my generation of policing is no longer there,” Powell told CBS News’ Carter Evans.

Last summer’s protests over the killing of George Floyd led to violent clashes with Seattle police. Powell said the stress on officers was compounded by city leaders’ decisions to abandon a police precinct and letting demonstrators, some armed, occupy an entire neighborhood for a whole month. As a result, Powell said he and other officers had rocks, bottles, and in some cases, cinder blocks thrown at them, and they had to “stand there and take it.”

“When you see businesses get destroyed and families lose their livelihood because of that destruction and we can’t do anything about it. We’re not allowed to intercede,” he said.

City leaders allowed the police-free zone after protesters were repeatedly hit by tear gas but closed it down after weeks of violence. City Councilwoman Tammy Morales voted for a 13% cut in the police budget in November — and $5 million of funding cuts are still on the table for the police department.

“We spend about $400 million a year on the police department, and as a city, we don’t spend on the kind of things that could really support neighborhoods: Affordable housing, neighborhood planning, small business development,” Morales  said.

The money the council cut from police will be re-allocated through a still-undefined process involving community members.

“If the crime rate goes up, is that acceptable?” Evans asked. 

“So if we’re investing in communities the way we should be, then we can begin to address that,” Morales said.

After the council cut the police budget, the department’s then-chief Carmen Best retired early in protest. Interim Chief Adrian Diaz took over. He said it concerns him to see so many officers leave the department.

“You know, it does because we saw our shootings go up. We saw our homicides go up,” he said.

While Officer Powell objects to how the city is treating its police force, he says as an African-American man, he understands the outrage over the murder of George Floyd and others.

“That could be me. That could be my son. That could be a relative. That could be a friend… there needs to be an understanding of how things got to be the way they are,” he said.

“But defunding the police, is that the way to do it?” Evans asked.

“No. If anything, you need more funding,” Powell said.

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