Council Considers Backing Out of SPD Funding Fight

SPD West Precinct

By Paul Kiefer

With less than a week of budget deliberations to go, the Seattle City Council will consider a trio of amendments on Thursday that could quash the ongoing battle with Mayor Jenny Durkan over the details of the Seattle Police Department’s 2022 budget.

The amendments would fully or partially walk back a plan, introduced by council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda, to reduce Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed SPD budget by $10 million. Within hours of the plan’s debut last Tuesday, both Durkan and mayor-elect Bruce Harrell condemned the plan as an outright “cut” to SPD’s budget; at a press conference the following day, interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz claimed that the council’s proposed reductions would effectively “eliminate” more than 30 officers from his department’s ranks.

Mosqueda’s initial budget proposal would not have actually resulted in layoffs or reduced SPD’s existing budget. Instead, it would have reduced the size of Durkan’s proposal by not allocating funds for salaries for positions that the council doesn’t believe SPD will be able to fill next year and by reducing Durkan’s proposed budget for officer overtime by $3.2 million.

While Durkan and SPD estimated that just 94 officers would leave the department next year, Mosqueda’s budget proposal assumed a loss of 125 officers, including at least a dozen unvaccinated officers who will likely lose their jobs by January. If Mosqueda’s assumption is correct, SPD would lose as many officers as it plans to hire in 2022, leaving the department with 31 more vacant positions—and $2.7 million more in unspent salaries—than Durkan anticipated.

The most sweeping proposal, sponsored by Councilmember Alex Pedersen, would leave Durkan’s plans untouched, re-introduce funds for hiring incentives and the CSO program expansion, and adopt the mayor and police chief’s more optimistic hiring and attrition projections.

Mosqueda’s proposal would also have maintained, rather than expanded, funding for SPD’s Community Service Officer (CSO) program—a civilian unit that handles outreach and some non-emergency calls. Her plan also nixed $1.1 million set aside for SPD to pay hiring incentives to new officers in 2022, which Diaz says are necessary to attract recruits in a region where hefty hiring bonuses are becoming the norm.

A final, less-controversial reduction would come from SPD’s technology budget, preventing the department from launching two new software projects in 2022: a body-worn video analysis system used to assess racial disparities in policing and a wearable biometric monitor that would track police officers’ vital signs to flag officers at risk of using excessive force or acting erratically because of stress.

The three amendments on Thursday’s agenda would each restore at least one component of Durkan’s original SPD budget proposal; because they are mutually exclusive, only one can pass.

The most sweeping proposal, sponsored by Councilmember Alex Pedersen, would leave Durkan’s plans untouched, re-introduce funds for hiring incentives and the CSO program expansion, and adopt the mayor and police chief’s more optimistic hiring and attrition projections, To keep the budget balanced, the amendment would remove $10 million from the city’s revenue stabilization fund and return it to SPD.

With support from Councilmember Debora Juarez, Pedersen also introduced a scaled-back version of his proposal to add funding to SPD, restoring $5.3 million of the SPD funding Durkan proposed. The amendment would fund officer hiring incentives, and stakes out a middle ground between Durkan and Mosqueda’s attrition estimates: in addition to the 94 departures Durkan’s plan assumed, Pedersen’s amendment accounts for the loss of the 12 unvaccinated officers.

A third amendment, sponsored by Councilmember Andrew Lewis, would accept Durkan’s hiring and attrition projections while leaving every other proposed reduction in place, returning $2.7 million to SPD. “I think it is true that attrition probably will be a little higher than what the department is saying,” Lewis said. “I would rather plan for those contingencies now,” he said, rather than adding money to SPD’s budget next year if fewer officers exit the department than the council expects. If SPD falls short of its hiring goals, Lewis added, the council can restrict the department’s staffing budget so that SPD can’t repurpose unspent salaries without the council’s approval.

Lewis said his amendment isn’t designed to avert a veto from Durkan. “What we’re really talking about is what some people in the community are upset about: attrition, hiring incentives, and the CSOs,” he said. Lewis anticipates that other council members will introduce separate last-minute amendments that restore money for the hiring incentive program and CSO expansion. From his perspective, a few tweaks to Mosqueda’s proposal could be enough to address the core of the public backlash. “If Councilmember Mosqueda had just declined to add $4 million to SPD’s budget, as opposed to $10 million, I don’t think we’d be in this position,” he said.

But the prospect of a veto from Durkan still hangs over Thursday’s council meeting, and while the changes to SPD’s proposed budget represent only a fraction of the city’s spending, they’ll be in the spotlight.

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