The Seattle City Council passed $3.8 million in hiring incentives for the Seattle Police Department (SPD) to recruit new police officers over the next two and a half years. Mayor Bruce Harrell requested the bill, which was sponsored by Public Safety and Human Services Committee Chair Lisa Herbold. Harrell aims to increase the police force by 500 over the next five years.
Under the new law, passed on Aug. 16, Seattle will offer new cops $7,500 and lateral transfers up to $30,000, based on experience. It will also give existing officers a $1,000 bonus if they refer someone who is successfully hired by SPD.
The vote, which follows a contentious two-year-long debate about SPD funding, was divided along ideological lines. Six councilmembers who tend to lean more moderate or conservative voted for the bill, while three more progressive councilmembers — councilmembers Tammy Morales, Kshama Sawant and Teresa Mosqueda — voted against the measure.
In the late spring and summer of 2020, tens of thousands of Seattle residents protested the police treatment of Black Americans following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin. In Seattle, protestors rallied around the call to reduce funding for SPD by 50 percent. That call was embraced by seven out of nine councilmembers at the time, six of whom are still in office.
Since the protests, the City Council has decreased the budget for the SPD by roughly 20 percent. However, the department has money left over in its budget because of open positions. According to Harrell’s figures, the number of SPD officers dropped from 1,281 to 954 between the summers of 2019 and 2022.
The drop in sworn police officers has led to millions of dollars in SPD “salary savings,” money that is allocated to the department but has not been spent. The activist group Decriminalize Seattle has called for the money to be invested in other projects, arguing that more police officers won’t make communities safer.
Harrell wants to reinvest the money in the department. The bill, signed by Harrell on Aug. 18, will allocate a portion of these funds to the bonuses as well as to hire four new staff to help with recruitment.
This is not the first time Seattle has offered bonuses to incentivize police officer recruitment. In fall 2021, outgoing Mayor Jenny Durkan authorized temporary hiring bonuses to hire more officers. However, an analysis from the Seattle Department of Human Resources showed that the bonuses did not lead to a significant increase in SPD applicants or hires. It remains to be seen whether the bonuses or new recruiter positions will successfully recruit new personnel.
Aside from hiring more cops, some city councilmembers are also looking at non-police crisis response options, such as the Support Team Assistance Response (STAR) in Denver, Colorado. A recent Stanford study showed that STAR had significant success, but as of now Harrell’s administration has not prioritized replicating it in Seattle.
Read more of the Aug. 24-30, 2022 issue.