Councilmember Sara Nelson pushed for the City Council to release as much as $4.5 million on hiring bonuses for potential new Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers at the April 26 Public Safety & Human Services Committee meeting, occasionally speaking over Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who chairs the committee.
Herbold has offered up a $650,000 proposal to pay for moving expenses for new officers and a recruiting position to bring new officers in, which, PubliCola reported, addresses to requests from the Mayor’s Office.
The Mayor’s Office has not asked for hiring bonuses, and a previous program in 2021 that offered hiring bonuses for frontline staff at SPD and the Community Safety and Communications Center (CSCC) showed little effect at the police department but a sizeable increase in applicants at CSCC, according to a city report.
However, the report read, the “limited timeframe” meant that they couldn’t come to a determination if the bonus program was successful and “further exploration would be required.”
Nelson argued that the limited program wasn’t enough to come to a conclusion and that the money had already been budgeted.
“What drew me to put this forward … was the fact that we are clearly dealing with a public safety emergency. We don’t have enough officers on the street to deal with it and we need to use every tool in our toolbox to accelerate the hiring of our officers,” Nelson said.
The proposal followed a presentation by staff outlining what the police department describes as a shortage of officers. The money that Nelson points to is cash that was previously budgeted for salaries but hasn’t been spent due to the department recruiting a smaller number of officers than they had expected.
Between January and March, SPD lost 43 officers and hired on 13. Interim Chief Adrian Diaz told councilmembers that the overall shift in staffing led to deployable officers and detectives being moved from specialty units to respond to 911 calls in an attempt to keep 911 response times down. However, he said, “[E]ven when people do need 911 services, we’re not able to respond in an adequate amount of time.”
Nearly all patrols are working some level of overtime, Diaz said.
“I’m getting less officers to be proactive in some of the longstanding work that needs to be done as well on the streets,” Diaz said.
Overall numbers of patrol officers are down from 694 in September 2020 to 545 in March 2022, and certain specialty teams are also decreased, according to staff.
The year 2020 was an outlier, said Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, pointing to comparable staffing levels of officers responding to 911 calls, specifically in 2014 and subsequent years. Mosqueda, who chairs the council’s budget committee, noted that SPD’s funding mostly comes from the city’s general fund, which is being spent down faster than money is coming in.
“One of the most important things that we’re dealing with as a city right now is the ability to respond to the urgent crises, plural, affecting our community across Seattle, and trying to make sure we have both the resources to respond to the wake of the pandemic that folks need from the shadow pandemic and to make sure that we’re investing in core government services,” Mosqueda said.
In 2020, amidst the protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd, councilmembers took a harder look at SPD funding and specifically what calls could be moved out of SPD’s purview immediately. SPD found that many as 12 percent of current 911 calls could go to non-uniformed officers, Mosqueda said, while other data showed that 49 percent of 911 call types, which constitute 80 percent of the call volume, could be responded to by someone other than a sworn officer.
Read more of the May 4-10, 2022 issue.