POLICE FUNDING: New proposal in long fight over proposed budget cut amid ‘staffing crisis’

For the past two months, the City Council’s Public Safety and Human Services Committee, chaired by West Seattle/South Park Councilmember Lisa Herbold, has been considering a proposal to cut $5.4 million from the Seattle Police Department budget. Despite representing a relatively small part of the SPD budget, it’s loomed large in symbolism even more than effects. Today, on the eve of a possible committee vote, a new proposal – but first some backstory:

The $5.4 million was actually added to the SPD budget last December – as explained in the original council memo, $1.9 million in federal pandemic reimbursement, $1.9 million to cover spending on paid parental leave, and $1.6 million to cover increased separation-pay costs that accompany increased departures from the department. But, sponsoring councilmembers including Herbold originally argued, that money shouldn’t be needed because, said the memo:

• SPD would have had sufficient appropriation authority to cover the $5.4 million had it not overspent its overtime budget, due largely to over-deployment of officers during the largely peaceful demonstrations in the summer of 2020, including a deployment of officers that exceeded $10 million in overtime costs in less than 60 days; and

• That there would be salary savings in SPD’s budget achieved in 2021 due to higher than anticipated attrition that has already occurred in October 2020 and may continue to occur during November 2020 and December 2020.

So they instead sought to move the $5.4 million to the “participatory budgeting” process which has been under way, focused on the development of alternative public-safety responses.

At the committee’s last meeting March 9th, SPD and mayor’s office reps made their case for keeping the money in the budget. Deputy mayor Mike Fong declared flatly that SPD “is in a staffing crisis.” He and others recapped that the department lost 200 officers last year. We have reported, following Southwest Precinct leaders’ appearances at local community meetings, that the precinct serving West Seattle/South Park has lost a third of its staff. The precinct-by-precinct staffing reports in the March 9th agenda packet showed that SW Precinct patrol staffing dropped from 79 to 66 just in the last quarter of last year.

This is not because the staffing budget has been cut – but a variety of factors, including the perceived lack of City Council support, has led to departures, SPD says. And if this cut is made, the committee was told, the department could be in a staffing shortage “beyond mitigation.”

Already, the committee was told, the department has “minimum staffing days” more frequently citywide, as well as an increase in times when it’s on “priority call” status – times when they can only dispatch officers to the highest-priority calls, such as violent crimes. Response times are higher, with averages no longer meeting the 7-minute target. And with the redeployment of officers to the patrol ranks, they’ve lost “problem-solving teams,” like the Community Police Teams. But the SPD presentation didn’t just focus on what’s wrong currently – it also focused on how it’s not too late for a positive turning point, with the department still experiencing a record number of applicants for the openings it has – while warning that more officers “will leave if they see these continued cuts.” SPD also spelled out what it would do with the $5.4 million if it’s not cut, including technical support for the increase in online reporting.

At tomorrow’s committee meeting, a vote is possible – which would then send the measure to full council. But at this morning’s weekly council briefing meeting (one hour and 45 minutes into this video), when each councilmember provides a preview of the week ahead, Herbold announced she had come up with a new version of the bill to present tomorrow. We requested and just received a copy – see it here. It cuts less, moving $2 million to “participatory budgeting” instead of the original $5.4 million, and specifies other spending such as 5 mental-health responders to join SPD crisis responses, and also funds the civilian positions, technology improvements, and separation pay funding that SPD had requested, Herbold said..

In addition to announcing the new proposal, Herbold said that even if it – or another version – passes out of committee tomorrow, a final full council vote is likely to be delayed because those overseeing the consent decree have questions before final action. Tomorrow’s meeting is at 9:30 am; the agenda explains how to view it as well as how to sign up to comment.

30 Replies to "POLICE FUNDING: New proposal in long fight over proposed budget cut amid 'staffing crisis'"

  • Mike March 22, 2021 (7:10 pm)

    Please, we need a decent candidate to run against her. 

    • Oh no March 22, 2021 (10:58 pm)

      Agreed. This is getting so bad.  City leaders dragging us to a very very bad place with no return. I am SO incredibly sorry that I voted for her.  

  • flimflam March 22, 2021 (7:12 pm)

    even pre-covid, policing has been stretched thin – repeat offenders to deal with, no prosecution of many/most “low level” crimes – this approach helps absolutely no one in Seattle besides criminals.

  • 1994 March 22, 2021 (8:29 pm)

    The “participatory budgeting” process is itself having some wrinkles – check out The Seattle Times article from February 9 2021 by David Gutman. “The city’s contract to conduct the research, called the Black Brilliance Research project, is not actually with King County Equity Now. In order to sidestep requirements that the contract be put out for bid, it was awarded to Freedom Project, a Seattle nonprofit, who then subcontracted much of the work to King County Equity Now, Seattle City Council Insight reportedThat contract is now under examination by the Washington state auditor, Crosscut reported.”

  • namercury March 22, 2021 (8:31 pm)

    This a classic example of why our entire council and mayor
    should be replaced.  With respect to police funding council has only
    been responsive to what it considers to be politically expedient and totally
    unresponsive to public safety requirements.  Last year, before “Black
    Lives Matter” the momentum was to increase police funding.   In
    response to reactions from the extreme left, the council joined the chorus that
    the police over reacted.  The police were not perfect; however, I think
    their response was as good a could possibly be expected considering weeks and
    months of provocation that was not peaceful protest.  The council is
    totally responsible for total lack of support to SPD and it is not surprising
    that police are leaving SPD in droves because of total lack of support from the
    council.  Still the council does not seem to facing up to the fact that
    numbers of police is very inadequate to provide public safety.  They don’t
    seem to be facing up to that fact and seem to be taking no action to alleviate
    this dangerous situation.   

  • AMD March 22, 2021 (8:33 pm)

    What other city department gets to just ignore their budget, spend whatever they want, and then expect the city to just write them another check when they do?  What’s the point of a budget if they’re not required to stick to it?  Can you imagine if Seattle DoT went over their allotted budget because of added bike lane installations and the city just wrote them a $5 million dollar check to cover it?  Politics aside, there is NO reason public safety shouldn’t be subject to the same budget scrutiny that every other city department is.  NONE.  

    • Nigel March 22, 2021 (9:23 pm)

      Yes, because if the West Seattle High-Rise bridge failed, I wouldn’t want the city to adjust the SDOT budget. SDOT should be force to work within their original allotment. Just like if the Public Safety budget was overwhelmed by numerous protests and riots, I would expect the city to work within the original public safety budget. No exception whatsoever in any case, once a budget is set it should never be adjusted. /sarcasm

    • Kram March 23, 2021 (8:54 am)

      AMD: all of them. That’s what cities do. Are you new here? Look into the street car mess. Even ‘small projects’ like the Delridge street updates can’t stay on track. The rapid ride H line project is 10% over budget.  Should they stop? Your example of SDOT is about the worse example possible as they are over budget on many projects year after year. I realize Sound Transit is a different budget but they are billions over budget as well. Should they stop? There was over 2 billion dollars in property damage nation wide during
      the BLM protests. Millions in Seattle. Maybe the police are justified in
      paying overtime for such a unique time in our city this last year.

    • winniegirl March 23, 2021 (9:52 am)

      exactly.  Also, I’m wondering where all of these indignant people are when school budgets are cut.

  • Texas Tom March 22, 2021 (9:07 pm)

    Our utterly misguided city council has caused more damage to this city than all the protesters put together.  For shame.

  • onion March 22, 2021 (9:27 pm)

    Our entire city council and the citizens of Seattle need to show their support for the police department — which is not the same as supporting illegal and discriminatory police behavior nor the out of control police union. Ms Herbold and her council cronies are doing tremendous harm to law enforcement and social justice in Seattle. Wake up Ms Herbold!

  • StopCuttingDownTrees March 22, 2021 (10:57 pm)

    DEFEND SPD and DEFUND the City cLoWnCiL.

  • Millie March 22, 2021 (11:03 pm)

    The majority, if not all,  City departments go over-budget,  Just last week SDOT reported they needed an additional $9 million (?) in order to maintain the Ballard, University, and Lower Spokane Street Bridge.    If we truly kept track of Council meetings, we would find there have been many supplemental appropriation ordinances.   The situation we are currently in with the Police Department “Staffing Crisis/Budget” is due to the lack of  due diligence  on the part of Council Members and Mayor’s Office before making costly decisions.  So, YES, we need to elect Council Members able to work through all proposal options before obligating City funds.  This is also applicable in electing a new Mayor.

  • Matt March 22, 2021 (11:16 pm)

    We need to get these city council members out and get some folks that have some brains. Our city has been destroyed and not going to get any better. People are leaving as fast as they can and will continue to leave. We are not the experiment and should not be. More taxes, more drugs, more homeless, more crime, and now less police to protect us. Let’s get some people with some brains that care about our great city. This is ridiculous and beyond stupid. 

  • Peter March 22, 2021 (11:27 pm)

    I would have some sympathy for the plight of the poor, downtrodden Seattle police if they weren’t paying run-of-the-mill officers like corporate executives at my expense as a taxpayer. As it is, I have ZERO sympathy for obscenely overpaid police who refuse to do their jobs.

    • Me March 23, 2021 (6:01 am)

      What do you think is a fair salary for the work they do? They put their lives in danger daily. Most of them are not making the bloated overtime salaries you saw last summer. What’s a high enough salary to deal with danger domestic violence calls, death investigations, and truly horrific crimes (like the 8 year old Redmond boy who was killed by his father last month). Do you know the things they see and have to deal with on a daily basis?

      • AMD March 23, 2021 (9:28 am)

        Seattle police make more money than firefighters, who also put their lives in danger every day, and don’t go over budget just because a 5-alarm fire breaks out somewhere in the city.  They make more than electrical lineman who have jobs that are dangerous on a constant basis.  I don’t want to pit workers against each other in a race to the bottom of the pay scale, but they are compensated pretty well for the danger they face on the job compared to other dangerous jobs.  While investigating homicides and other horrific crimes is tough work, the crime is over by the time investigators get there, making those poor examples of on-the-job danger.  One of the reasons police over-react the way they sometimes do is a perception of constant danger where there statistically is little to none, which is fed by well-meaning community members constantly bringing up how everyone wants to kill cops every minute they’re on the job so it’s super dangerous.  That’s not reality.  As a taxpayer, I think my money would be better spent elsewhere than inflating salaries based on perceptions and politics.

        • Me March 23, 2021 (11:13 am)

          There is quite a bit of danger involved in being a police officer. Many are injured daily. Those things don’t make the news. And I agree that firefighters have a very tough job and should make good money as well. There are more officers killed each year than unarmed citizens killed by police officers- there’s some data for you to look into if you want to make an argument as to which narrative public perception is fueling. And if you want qualified candidates, you have to pay decent. If you want to slash salaries it will be much harder to find good candidates to do the job. 

    • Me March 23, 2021 (6:07 am)

      Also, supporting the police doesn’t mean you support police brutality. The majority of these officers are just trying to do their jobs and they do need our support.

      • drM March 23, 2021 (1:15 pm)


    • Anne March 23, 2021 (8:54 am)

      Just how much exactly should a police officer get paid in your opinion?  Police don’t need your sympathy-but one day you might need their help-& guess what? They’ll give it. Maybe like the Boulder Colorado  Police Officer Talley, father of 7, who ran right into that grocery store yesterday & died trying to help.

  • Frank March 22, 2021 (11:31 pm)

    Get her out. I know at least 10 officers that are moving to Arizona. This situation is only going to get worse and nobody will want to work for Seattle Police. It a very bad situation and we better fix it soon and that starts wth new and better leadership. Not someone with an agenda and has no idea what they are doing. Very sad to see what our great city has become. Truly very sad!

  • SeaSpade March 23, 2021 (8:51 am)

    Can’t imagine why Jenny doesn’t want to continue with her cushy job.  (this is sarcasm folks).

  • JVP March 23, 2021 (8:55 am)

    Our policing needs to be reimagined, and the union’s power needs to be checked. They also need to be supported, it’s a hard, necessary and dangerous job, and we need more of them to keep our city clean and safe. It really feels sketchy out there in too many places. What’s so hard about understanding both sides of this situation? Our city council is playing politics, not trying to solve problems.

    • Suds March 23, 2021 (6:35 pm)

      There’s certainly more than enough blame to go around, it’s not one side or the other that has solely caused this level of dysfunction. Look at the sad state of the city council and their reactionary policies and social experimentation on a city wide scale, rather than knowing how to do the blocking and tackling of running a major city. Look to the severely reactionary policies and statements of the Seattle Police Guild. Out of step with modern times? Indeed. And lastly, look at who put the council in power.  WE DID! 

  • anonyme March 23, 2021 (9:34 am)

    You don’t achieve better health through starvation.  Thanks to our mayor and council, many of the good cops have either left or are planning to.  Overtime is largely due to understaffing – which has now been made much worse.  Look at what happened in Boulder yesterday and tell me that cops don’t deserve $35,000 per year (starting wage).   How fast do you think the response would be if such a thing happened here, with officers having to come from Issaquah, or beyond?  There are problems with policing for sure, but nothing that the flakes on the city council are capable of dealing with in a logical way.

  • 1000amys March 23, 2021 (10:53 am)

    This is an interesting article. We were recently in a situation where what we really needed was a mental health crisis response, and instead we got at least five armed police officers. (I was told that officers could request the mental health team, but they did not). I’m hearing stories about police unable to respond to crimes in progress, yet apparently at that moment there were zero crimes happening in the city so we got armed police when we didn’t need them. This seems strange. I really would have preferred someone unarmed and trained in de-escalation, which is exactly why I want to shift some funding to those folks instead of police officers. 

    • Me March 23, 2021 (11:16 am)

      We definitely need social workers but that will be very dangerous for them. They don’t know what situations they’re walking into. What if it turns violent? What are they supposed to do? A female social worker was recently killed downtown but that barely made the news. 

  • Lara March 23, 2021 (11:39 am)

    As the wife of a police officer, I can attest to how far a little support/appreciation goes. While it might seem unnecessary to some for them “just doing their jobs”, this past year has been extremely challenging. They suffer from verbal abuse (weekly now, daily this summer) and get flipped off quite a bit still. This is in addition to the lack of support from everyone around them. This is happening in our neighborhood, which I always believed was a good place to live. I’m not always so sure anymore. And if you don’t have anything nice to say, please don’t respond to this. Thank you. 

  • anonyme March 23, 2021 (12:18 pm)

    The idea that the funding for response to mental health crises should come out of the police budget is a bit like saying that Covid response should come at the expense of cardiac care.  Both are needed and necessary; the fact that both are underfunded does not mean one should be cut in favor of the other.  This will improve nothing, but will only make the entire system less effective.  It’s also common for a mental health crisis to turn violent or even deadly; think Josh Powell.   It’s equally difficult to pre-judge such situations.  Who will be to blame when a social worker is unable to handle a crisis, and there is a long wait time for a police response due to unavailability?  The entire system needs careful re-assessment, not just knee-jerk responses to poorly thought-out slogans made into policy.

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