Washington

After months of fraught negotiation, Seattle council fully funds SPD’s staffing plan

Seattle City Council voted 8-1 to approve its 2022 budget, fully funding the police department’s staffing plan in the process.

In the end, the council approved SPD for 125 new officers in 2022 and $26.4 million in officer overtime. Further approval was granted for 26 positions with Community Safety and Communications Center (CSCC), as well as millions of dollars in funding for various triage and community based violence prevention programs.

“The Council has made significant investments in community safety in this budget,” Councilmember Lisa Herbold said in a news release. “It is clearer than ever that the unprecedented fear, pain, and isolation of the COVID pandemic are leading to negative mental health impacts for all of us. That’s why our investments in mental health and substance use disorder support are critical to preserve safety in our homes and communities.”

A primary point of contention was with the potential for trimming total salaried positions which the department is afforded. Council President Lorena Gonzalez had sponsored a now-failed amendment to the budget which would have curtailed those positions by 101.

That aspect of the budget deliberation was a point of confusion and tension between SPD and the council, after interim Chief Adrian Diaz wrote in a statement last week that the council would “vote on whether to eliminate 101 police officer positions.” Gonzalez later criticized the statement as a mischaracterization of the situation, given that the legislation would have removed positions which have already been vacated, and would not have affected SPD’s staffing plan for 2022.

SPD reported earlier this year that it had accrued some $15 million is unspent payroll due to staff attrition. Abrogating those 101 positions would have preemptively avoided a similar situation in the future, with the council and mayor’s office clashing over how to use the unspent resources.

Explaining Seattle council’s proposed police budget, plans to address staffing

Another item related to police funding up for discussion was how to modify, accept, or reject Mayor Durkan’s order to ramp up SPD hiring bonuses.

A number of competing amendments were on the table, with Councilmember Sawant looking to completely reject the order (with regard to funding SPD, not 911 dispatch), and other more moderate wings of the council looking to scale back the order while meeting immediate staffing requirements.

Ultimately, the council elected to approve Councilmember Herbold’s amendment which recognized the short term success of the emergency order, with Herbold stating in sessions Nov. 19 that the dispatch has seen “an increase in new hires” as causative result of the new hiring bonuses.

However, her amendment will end the order as Durkan leaves office, signaling that the council wishes to establish a working relationship with Mayor-elect Harrell before making long-term decisions with regard to hiring bonuses to meet the needs of a department which repeatedly reports staffing shortages.

That amendment was approved by the slimmest of margins, four to three, with two voting in abstention. With its passage in budget committee, the council avoided a vote on Councilmember Sawant’s more firm declaration of opposition to the amendment.



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