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Against backdrop of deepening SPD officer exodus, council debates dueling public safety plans

Apr 26, 2022, 3:08 PM | Updated: May 6, 2022, 9:01 am
Seattle police, COVID...
Bicycle police clear the streets for a women's rights demonstration. (Credit: Cindy Shebley via Flickr)
(Credit: Cindy Shebley via Flickr)

The Seattle Police Department (SPD) continues to lose officers, and the Seattle City Council is not in agreement on how to rework its hiring program to add more police.

Two proposals exist: one, spearheaded by Councilmember Sara Nelson, lifts a budget provision that allows SPD to use funds for new and lateral hire bonuses. The other, backed by Lisa Herbold, public safety chair, opens up city dollars to pay for an SPD recruiter as well as relocation expenses associated with moving SPD recruits into the city.

Both proposals repurpose money that otherwise would have been spent on SPD officer salaries: SPD has lost approximately 400 officers since 2020, a net loss of 255. The current budget is expected to have $1.4 million in salary savings due to difficulty recruiting and keeping officers, but the staffing struggles are worse than expected. Actual salary savings are now projected to be over $4 million.

In 2021, the council budgeted for 125 new SPD hires. Current estimates place that figure closer to 98.

“I think all of us can agree that we do have a hiring crisis with the Seattle Police Department,” Councilmember Andrew Lewis said.

Underpinning Tuesday’s debate is a report from the Seattle Department of Human Resources (SDHR) that fails to confirm hiring bonuses under the former Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s administration resulted in a meaningful number of new hires: “SPD did not experience an increase in hiring since implementing a hiring incentive into their process in October 2021,” the SDHR response to the council request for an executive recommendation on resuming SPD hiring bonuses reads.

As Seattle continues to lose police, new report finds mixed results for hiring bonus program

Ultimately, the debate between the two wings of the council is informed by their budgetary constraints. Central staff estimate that a two-year hiring bonuses program under Nelson’s proposal would cost $538,000 in 2022 and $1.3 million in 2023; Herbold’s could cost up to $650,000.

“At the end of 2022, this money will revert back to the general fund, and those funds will be assumed as part of our starting balance for 2023,” Teresa Mosqueda, finance chair, said.

“My concern here is that the resolution and the expenditure that we’re talking about mean a reduction in the spending, meaning that they would be taken from other programs and other investments for 2023 and 2024. If passed … I am raising questions here today about using critical public resources for a possible investment in a policy that has not yet been proven.”

SPD hiring bonuses debate sparks overhaul to how City of Seattle recruits talent

Mosqueda made those comments referencing the SDHR memo, written with the endorsement of Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell. It characterizes hiring incentives as a “short-term strategy,” and, despite it being a prevalent recruitment strategy among other police departments throughout the I-5 corridor, “must be weighed against other situations where this approach has potentially inherent drawbacks and equity issues for both the employer and employees,” the memo continues.

Reasons it provides for hiring bonuses failing to represent a long-term solution include not addressing wage inequities, potential lack of job training, and affecting the morale of other officers or City employees from separate departments.

“The potential for breaking trust is greater now, with many of the current City employees in … hard-to-fill jobs working on the front line during the pandemic,” SDHR continues.

“The executive [Harrell] is not recommending a bonus program, but they are supportive of … SPD and other departments who are trying to hire [for] important city business,” Herbold continued.

“This money is for public safety … given the absolutely critical nature of our deteriorating public safety situation and historic staffing shortage. We’ve got a perfect storm here that needs to be dealt with,” Nelson responded.

Neither proposal reached a vote Monday. Nelson’s resolution is scheduled for another discussion and potential vote in the PSHS Committee on May 10.

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Against backdrop of deepening SPD officer exodus, council debates dueling public safety plans