1. Starting January 1, King County will a new interim sheriff: Patti Cole-Tindall, previously an undersheriff in the King County Sheriff’s Office, will assume the role until County Executive Dow Constantine appoints a permanent sheriff in mid-2022.
Last year, county voters approved a charter amendment that sets up a process for appointing, rather than electing, the King County sheriff. Tindall will be King County’s first appointed sheriff in more than two decades.
Before joining the sheriff’s office in 2015, Tindall served as both the director of the county’s labor relations unit and interim director of the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight, an independent agency that investigates misconduct and systemic problems in the sheriff’s office.
At a press conference Tuesday, Tindall said that she doesn’t plan to apply for the permanent sheriff or for permanent chief of the Seattle Police Department, the two most prominent law enforcement job openings in the county. “I see my value in this appointed process as being there to help the permanent sheriff be successful,” she said. The county council, with input from a panel of sheriff’s staff, community members and local government representatives, is still reviewing candidates to become the permanent sheriff.
Constantine also debuted his proposal to provide hiring and retention incentives for sworn sheriff’s officers, which county council budget chair Jeanne Kohl-Welles introduces as an emergency amendment to the county’s 2022 budget today. The proposal would provide $15,000 to officers who transfer from other departments, $7,500 to new hires, and a one-time $4,000 bonus to every officer in the department. Constantine argued that while the sheriff’s office, which has 60 vacant officer positions, isn’t currently struggling to meet demand, the incentives might help attract and retain officers as a growing number of officers reach retirement age.
King County Police Officers’ Guild (KCPOG) President Mike Mansanarez told reporters he supports the hiring and retention incentives. His counterpart at the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, Mike Solan, voiced his skepticism about a similar hiring incentive program introduced by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan in October.
2. On Monday, the Seattle City Council approved a $7.1 billion 2022 city budget that provides new funding for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, preserves the JumpStart payroll tax spending plan while restoring the city’s depleted reserves, and keeps Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed budget for the Seattle Police Department largely intact, shaving about $10 million off the mayor’s initial $365.4 million proposal.
As budget chair Teresa Mosqueda emphasized twice on Monday, the budget the council adopted doesn’t require SPD to lay off any officers, nor does it eliminate any officers’ salaries. Instead, the council saved $2.7 million by assuming SPD will lose more officers next year than Durkan’s budget projected—125, instead of 91—and moving their unspent salaries out of SPD’s budget.
Durkan’s underlying budget proposal will fund several new programs using $19 million from 134 funded positions SPD does not intend to fill next year, including new technology projects and an expansion of the department’s popular Community Service Officer (CSO) program. In a series of compromise votes, the council opted to fund six new CSOs starting next summer; funded five of the seven technology programs Durkan proposed; and expanded SPD’s overtime allotment by $4.6 million, about 60 percent of what Durkan requested.
Notably, while both Durkan and the council proposed repurposing the salaries from vacancies that SPD can’t fill, the council turned down the chance to eliminate those vacant positions. Last Friday, outgoing council president Lorena González introduced a budget amendment that would have cut 101 vacant positions from the department; because each vacancy comes with a salary, the amendment would have freed $17.1 million for the council to spend on other priorities in future years.
Because Durkan’s budget proposal preemptively repurposed most of next year’s unspent salaries, González’s amendment would have made no practical impact on SPD’s operations in 2022. Her colleagues narrowly rejected the amendment, leaving SPD with far more positions than it can realistically fill in the near future, along with $19 million for the department to spend however it pleases.
Council public safety chair Lisa Herbold told PubliCola that “there’s no apples-to-apples comparison” between SPD’s 2021 and 2022 budgets. In the past year, the council transferred three civilian units—911 dispatch, parking enforcement and victim advocates—to new departments, and the smaller budget for SPD in 2022 reflects that change.
Ahead of the council’s vote on Monday, González took a moment to rebuke her colleagues for allowing SPD to build future budgets around unspent salaries from vacant positions—an accounting technique no other city department gets to use. “Alas, future councils will struggle with holding the police department accountable to spending within its limits,” she said, “in large part because the failure of my amendments will mean that the future mayor and chief will have the budget to hoard nearly $20 million during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.”
—Erica C. Barnett, Paul Kiefer