Consent decree, homeless response highlights of Mayor Harrell’s ‘State of the City’

Feb 15, 2022, 4:06 PM | Updated: 5:22 pm
Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell unveiled his 2023-2024 budget that plans to address homelessness, rising crime rates, and increased transportation infrastructure funding. (Seattle Channel)
(Seattle Channel)

The seams of running a city under the stress of a pandemic for two years were on full display Tuesday when Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell remotely delivered the first minute of his State of the City speech on mute.

After correcting the audio glitch, the mayor addressed a spectrum of topics, including: the next steps of the city’s pandemic response as King County reports consistently declining COVID case rates; balancing the paradox that is police reform as violent crime reaches unprecedented heights in King County; finding new opportunities to coordinate the city’s homelessness response via uniform thresholds and metrics for reporting results; and public-private partnerships to create tools to allow the public to better access entitlement programs and benefits.

Hiring more police officers and concluding the consent decree were the first subjects addressed. Harrell affirmed that Seattle Police Department will attempt to hire the 125 officers allocated for salary in the city’s 2022 budget.

“This will be the administration that ends the federal consent decree over SPD,” Harrell said.

Referencing communication with SPD’s criminal justice training department, Harrell announced that a “Seattle only focused class at the Police Academy” program in June will deliver 36 new officers. The city is also rolling out a new campaign for SPD recruitment, “consistent with the values I expect to see in our officers – the culture of the department, the engagement with community, the understanding that justice requires serving the people,” Mayor Harrell continued.

Along those lines, the city is exploring ways to help Seattle Colleges create a new program that “encourage[s] our Seattle Promise students and BIPOC communities to consider a career in helping protect their communities,” Harrell said.

That program is conceptualized along with creating a third public safety department in supplement to SPD and Seattle Fire Department, something which the mayor references in public address but has yet to be formally announced. He confirmed that he supports triage systems, such as Health One, in unburdening public safety departments from select calls which do not require an armed response.

On the subject of homelessness, Mayor Harrell stressed the importance of streamlining and simplifying the different bureaucratic structures which make up homeless outreach.

He mentioned that the city operates six different departments which track outreach and service coordination, and that in his six weeks since taking office, he has consolidated them into one.

“While individual staff strived to work together, overall systems were not coordinated,” Harrell said.

“This was unacceptable. We have since combined these efforts into one system, with cross departmental expectations of coordination, that will form the backbone of not only a transparent dashboard to track progress, but also — and more importantly — better help people move off sidewalks and into shelter and services.”

The mayor confirmed that homeless encampments in Woodland Park will be the city’s priority following the removal of camps at Broadview-Thomson, Ballard Commons, and Green Lake Park.

Other announcements included changes to the city’s work from home policy. With COVID numbers dwindling and 90% of Seattle residents vaccinated, Harrell announced that city employees will be expected to return to their offices in mid-March if they were previously working from home.

“I know that this transition will not be easy for everyone, but I am confident that our department directors and labor partners will lead this return-to-work effort in a thoughtful, safe, and compassionate manner,” Mayor Harrell added on the subject.

With regard to the city’s finances, the mayor implied that Seattle is headed toward an austerity budget as it faces a $150 million budget gap relative to next year’s spending

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“At this time, relative to 2023 spending, we will face a significant $150 million gap between our expected general fund expenditures and our general fund revenues, the result of a combination of factors, some longstanding, as well as pandemic uncertainty and use of one-time budget funding sources like American Rescue Plan Act dollars,” Harrell said.

“We will need to look at all our options, deciding between one-time and ongoing commitments, adjusting expenditures, revisiting existing funding sources, and looking at options for increasing revenues.”

“This work will be hard and it must begin now, which is why I’ve asked departments to immediately begin looking for savings,” he added. “While this is not as drastic as the Great Recession when I was on the City Council in 2008 and 2009, we can do this, we have done this, and it starts with transparency and a commitment to the basics, like public safety and human services.”

Read the complete State of the City here.

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Consent decree, homeless response highlights of Mayor Harrell’s ‘State of the City’