Council committee greenlights $1 million to lure more cops to Seattle

The Seattle Police Department’s fully-funded hiring plan still isn’t leading to new officers. The Seattle City Council is trying to entice officers with bonuses. (Seattle Police Department)

The Seattle City Council’s Public Safety Committee yesterday voted unanimously to advance a bill releasing $1 million in Seattle Police Department (SPD) payroll savings to pay for incentives to hiring to increase the number of sworn officers. The move comes after a wave of retirements and transfers during the pandemic depleted the ranks of the SPD. The bill and accompanying resolution are due to go to the full Council on May 24.

In a statement, Mayor Bruce Harrell welcomed the bill’s progress and promised to release “his more comprehensive recruitment strategy to City Council and the general public before the summer, along with other specific funding recommendations for consideration.” by the board for approval.

The Public Safety Committee also heard a report from Harrell Public Safety Director Andrew Myerberg and other SPD staff providing a risk assessment and analyzing opportunities to civilize more department functions. The SPD has resisted city council efforts to further civilize the city’s emergency response, which could help them settle for fewer officers and focus on higher-priority calls. Using a barrage of acronyms and jargon, the SPD insisted most appeals cannot be civilized – reiterating their estimate that around 12% could be appropriate for kicking out of the department – and demanding more time and study.

Councilman Andrew Lewis pushed back on the conclusion, noting that Denver has launched a civilian response pilot program and has two years of data that the SPD could review and consider as a model for implementing its own program.

“Denver, Colorado has been doing this for two years. Denver has answered 2,700 calls without incident or problem, which are routed through 9-1-1. They found a way to triage these calls during their pilot project. Have they gone through a data analysis project similar to this one? Why haven’t I heard from any of the panels in the last two years a site visit or analysis or discussion from anyone in Denver about how they are responding to these calls? »

SPD chief operating officer Brian Maxey said they had studied the model but downplayed its applicability and moved to a co-responsor model adding a mental health professional or a social worker or similar in addition to a police response. Maxey also posited that the Denver program largely responded to calls that police would not have, but Lewis disputed that, citing statistics from the pilot showing that more than 80% would have elicited a police response. Lewis said having agents cover so many calls that could be handled by others robs the department of its ability to deploy its resources more wisely.

“There is an opportunity cost when we have SPD officers doing what others can do, given the current personnel crisis we face and given the allocation of resources,” he said. Lewis said. “Every time I go to a Mariners game and see SPD officers directing traffic, I’d much rather that extra shift be burglary patrol in the small business district, isn’t it? this not. Whenever I see officers augmenting Parks employees for an encampment pullout when we know the Seattle Defenders Association is capable without the need for those police resources, I think I’d rather see those officers walking a little… »

During the 2022 state legislative session, a bill that would have allowed non-commissioned officers to direct traffic died largely due to opposition from law enforcement groups, pointing to the fact that the police are often the biggest obstacle to reducing the tasks that the police are required to perform. .

A clear political victory for a Council member

Following the meeting, council member Sara Nelson hailed the unanimous vote on the million-dollar hiring incentives a victory, calling public safety a serious crisis in which a few new officer recruits could make a dent.

“I proposed this resolution because violent crime and property crime are skyrocketing during the most severe staffing shortage in Seattle Police Department history,” Nelson wrote in a statement after the vote. . “We don’t have enough officers on the street to deal with this public safety crisis. We must use every means at our disposal to hire more officers – quickly! — and my resolution calls for the development of a staffing incentive program to expedite the SPD’s recruiting efforts. All other jurisdictions in our region have hiring incentives in place and Seattle must do the same in order to compete for a limited pool of applicants.

Nelson and Public Safety Chairwoman Lisa Herbold had clashed at a previous committee meeting and council briefing, with Nelson claiming Herbold was unfairly blocking his legislation and was ‘deeply disrespectful’ of council chairwoman Debora Juarez, who has been absent for the past two board meetings.

A truce appears to have been reached, with Nelson adding an amendment allocating an additional $350,000 for outreach and publicity to Herbold’s bill freeing up $650,000 for moving expenses. Nelson’s resolution also outlines the intention to release more of the salary savings in the form of additional hiring incentives later in the year. However, it’s unclear whether most of his Council colleagues will agree with exactly what Nelson has in mind amid a budget shortfall. Labor rules require the city to negotiate retention bonuses through a collective bargaining agreement, which means they won’t be possible until the city and the Seattle Police Officers Guild reach an agreement. These negotiations seem to be at a standstill for the moment.

Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda, who voted against Nelson’s resolution in committee, noted those budget concerns in her comments and said the SPD should stick to existing funds without completely lifting the proviso on wage savings. The good news on that front is that the deficit has come down significantly in the city’s recent projections from the previously projected $148 million.

Last year, Mayor Jenny Durkan set a goal of hiring 125 new police officers and curbing the attrition rate to achieve a net gain of 35 officers. So far, those rosy projections don’t seem to materialize.

“The council allocated enough money in the SPD’s 2022 budget to hire 125 new officers, but they’ve only hired 13 so far this year,” Nelson said. “Meanwhile, officers continue to part ways with the department. This disastrous trend will leave a projected $4.1 million in unspent funds by the end of the year, and I believe the best focus of that money is on recruiting incentives and support.

By contrast, Herbold argued that the link between one-time hiring incentives and an increase in police recruitment is inconclusive and that the city should focus on replenishing all critical positions, not only to the police.

“My work with the mayor’s office on this has been focused on doing something to address the recruitment issues now, not just for police hiring, but also for critical but hard to fill municipal jobs. such as carpenters, truck drivers and civil engineers,” Herbold said in a prepared statement. “A report released by the executive indicates that traditional hiring bonuses have a ‘limited impact on retention’ and have ‘potential inherent disadvantages and equity issues for employer and employees.’ Councilman Nelson’s resolution gives the SPD time to develop a staffing incentive program that may or may not end up including traditional hiring bonuses; we won’t know until we get a proposal from the executive. I look forward to reviewing it when delivered by the executive.

While previous meetings on the topic of hiring incentives had heated up, the mayor’s office described the collaboration as fruitful.

“These two thoughtful proposals complement each other,” Mayor Harrell said. “In the short term, Councilmember Herbold’s order directs the city’s human resources department to develop a policy to provide relocation benefits for a broader range of citywide positions that are difficult to hire, priority being given to the police. The Seattle Police Department would have access to $650,000 in salary savings to pay relocation benefits for Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers and to hire an SPD recruiter to attract qualified professionals to Seattle. Councilman Nelson intends to propose a friendly amendment to the ordinance, which would increase the SPD’s publicity and outreach budget by $350,000, as well as support the police chief’s national search process.

Mayor Harrell was concerned that officers felt unwelcome and unsupported in Seattle, which several former employees indicated during exit interviews. It is difficult to quantify feelings of alienation and underappreciation. However, if money talks, most officers are well supported. The median gross salary topped $152,000 for SPD officers in 2019, far outpacing most other public employees, and 374 officers earned more than $200,000 in gross pay that year, according to analysis by Seattle. Times.

“We know that it is not possible to achieve incentives alone to achieve national best practice staffing levels for SPD. Progress requires a holistic effort rooted in our shared commitment to making it a place where agents feel welcome and supported – and where everything neighbors feel safe,” Mayor Harrell said in a statement. “I hope that between the efforts of these two Council members and following vigorous political debate, we can work together towards what we all seek: a safe and healthy Seattle.”

“People are dying! Council Member Nelson added in committee.

Doug Trumm

Executive director

Doug Trumm is the executive director of The Urbanist. An urban writer since 2015, he dreams of making the streets pedestrian, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a massive timber construction frenzy to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our next climate catastrophe. He is a graduate of the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. He lives in East Fremont and loves exploring the city by bike.

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