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.