Mayor Harrell ends SPD hiring bonuses; council approves retroactive recruitment dollars

Mar 1, 2022, 4:56 PM | Updated: Mar 2, 2022, 7:58 am
hiring bonuses...
(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

Division among the Seattle mayor’s office, police, and the city council climaxed Tuesday with the end of a months-long saga involving the payment of hiring bonuses to the Seattle Police Department and emergency dispatch.

Last year, in the midst of fears that SPD’s number of active officers was dropping to alarming rates, former Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan ordered in November that SPD could provide $10,000 new hire bonuses and $25,000 for lateral hires. The Seattle City Council voted to sunset that order with the new year, signaling their interest in approaching the recruitment strategy with the new mayoral administration.

Mayor Durkan, city council could be primed for another showdown over SPD hiring

As of February, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell has stopped the program.

“In early February the Harrell administration directed the departments to immediately cease offering the bonuses,” Councilmember Lisa Herbold wrote in a public statement.

Mayor Harrell was asked about hiring bonuses in a Tuesday appearance on KIRO Newsradio, emphasizing his interest in changing the culture around recruitment, and how Seattle’s police officers fit into his vision of “one Seattle.”

“Part of what I have to do is I have to change the narrative for the city,” Harrell told Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin. “People will work for an employer that they like and they respect, not one that would demoralize them. That is part of my job. So when I talk to the officers, rank and file, command staff, I say, ‘come join this team.’ We love Seattle; we believe in one Seattle, a ‘one Seattle’ that is safe, vibrant, happy, thriving.”

An SPD spokesperson confirmed with MyNorthwest that the department stopped offering hiring bonuses in February.

“SPD appreciates the council vote today to reconcile the previously offered incentives,” an SPD statement on Tuesday’s council bill reads. “We look forward to future opportunities to discuss ways to improve staffing, including potential proposals around incentives.”

Councilmember Herbold confirmed in council session Tuesday that the mayor’s office is reviewing the policy and expects to make an announcement on potential future hiring bonuses for public safety officers in mid-March.

Although the program is no longer effective, an outstanding issue remains in how to allocate the funds for bonuses offered after the new year. While the council’s legislation effectively terminated the program post-Dec. 31, Durkan issued a directive at the end of last year to bypass the end date and continue to offer the hiring bonuses.

“Based on consultations with legal Counsel, it has been concluded that the City Council’s actions to limit the Emergency Order were not effective,” Durkan’s December order to interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz reads. “Thus, you should continue to hire and implement the terms of the Order, until incoming Mayor Harrell or the City Council effectively act extend or alter the terms of the Order.”

Councilmember Herbold claims to “not know” what Durkan meant when she referenced legal counsel in her directive. Herbold alleges it does not reference consultation with then-City Attorney Pete Holmes.

“The directive from the former Mayor claims the Council’s action to limit the executive order wasn’t effective. This is inaccurate. She claimed that she had legal counsel to confirm her position and the City Attorney has assured us that they provided no such advice,” Herbold’s public statement reads.

“Section 10.02 of the Seattle Municipal Code governs civil emergencies, including the authority of the Mayor to issue proclamations of civil emergency. SMC 10.02.020 (B) grants the City Council the power to modify or reject the order.”

Cleaning up a loose end to the drama, the council voted Tuesday to unanimously approve those hiring bonuses offered directly by Durkan outside of the council’s authority.

The ordinance allocates $220,000 to pay the hiring bonuses for 14 911 dispatchers and five SPD officers brought on in January.

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Mayor Harrell ends SPD hiring bonuses; council approves retroactive recruitment dollars