1. The Seattle Police Department is, once again, falling fall short of its annual hiring goals, and would have to increase hiring by nearly two-thirds to hit the goals it has set for 2024, despite receiving full funding for its recruitment and retention plan, which included recruitment bonuses of up to $30,000, last year. City Council central staff presented the numbers at a council budget committee meeting last week. At the end of the year, according to current projections, SPD will have lost another 27 net officers, once both new hires and departures are factored in.
During last year’s budget deliberations, in which the council eliminated funding for 80 vacant and unfillable positions, SPD predicted that by the end of September, it would have hired 82 new officers, out of 120 total this year. Instead, the department had hired just 46. Of those, just six were fully trained “lateral” hires from other departments—24 fewer than SPD predicted.
Despite losing officers year after year, SPD continues to predict robust hiring; next year, for example, SPD says it expects to hire 120 new officers and lose 120, for a net gain of 15 officers. If the city funds this plan and the department fails to hire all 120, that money will be left over for other, unrelated priorities—which is exactly what happened this year.
Mayor Bruce Harrell’s 2024 budget proposal for SPD uses $8.1 million in salary “savings” from unfulfilled 2023 hiring projections to pay for $6.3 million in unanticipated overtime—necessitated, SPD says, by the staffing shortage. That leaves $1.8 million in free-floating revenues, which the mayor has proposed spending on new surveillance technology, including a gunshot detection system the council rejected last year.
However, Burgess misunderstands Jane Jacobs’ point about the need for ‘eyes on the street’ when he claims that 24-hour camera and audio surveillance will “complement” the city’s efforts to make Seattle’s sidewalks feel safe for everyone. Jacobs advocated for “wholesome” and “casual” oversight of city sidewalks, not 24/7 remote surveillance by police.
Several council members took exception to providing SPD with an ongoing slush fund that is expected to grow year after year as positions stay vacant but funded. Councilmember Lisa Herbold said she planned to propose a proviso, or spending limitation, on SPD’s salary savings, an idea that prompted Councilmember Sara Nelson to counter that SPD could finally hit its recruiting targets this year, so “now is not the time to be discussing reducing money” for the department.
Much of the city’s spending on overtime was to pay for police to direct traffic at events, including concerts (Beyonce, Taylor Swift), sporting events, and visits from politicians, including President Biden, Police Chief Adrian Diaz told the council.
2. The aforementioned gunshot-locator system is back on the table again after the council rejected it last year, and most of the council now seems to be on board. What has changed? Nothing, materially, unless you count the fact that the mayor’s office now plans to add CCTV camera surveillance to the mix—and the fact that former council member Burgess, rather than the mayor’s recently ousted niece Monisha Harrell, is now the deputy mayor overseeing police and public safety.
Burgess, a longtime public-safety hawk who argued for tough-on-crime policies as a council member, said he was inspired to take another crack at Shotspotter—an audio monitoring system that alerts human audio experts when it detects any gunshot-like sound—while driving to a shooting in the parking lot of a Safeway store in Rainier Beach earlier this year.
“I asked the chief, ‘What else should we be doing to suppress this gun violence which is increasing dramatically in our city?'” Burgess told the council. “And we had a conversation about the various interventions we could employ, including cameras in specific places. And I think that was kind of one of the beginning points of the conversation.” (Shotspotter is the most commonly used gunshot locator system, so the name is used generically to describe all such systems.)
In August, SPD signed a $2.6 million contract with the Seattle marketing firm Copacino Fujikado to create an “SPD recruitment brand” and produce video, online, radio, and social media ads for the department.
“Gun violence… happens all over the city, but it is very concentrated in very specific places,” Burgess said. “And we’re keenly aware of that. And those places deserve the city government to do what we can to stop that gun violence. The same with human trafficking.” Initially, depending on cost, SPD plans to place the cameras and acoustic devices on Third Avenue downtown, Belltown, and/or Aurora Avenue North, but the cameras could move depending on need, according to the mayor’s office. Harrell’s office has asked for an “omnibus” approval of the technology, so that once it passes a mandatory review and receives a Surveillance Impact Report, the systems can be moved to other neighborhoods without an additional review.
Civil liberties and racial justice advocates have argued that focusing surveillance on specific neighborhoods and communities puts police on high alert in those areas, leading to unnecessary stops in communities that have long been subject to overpolicing.
Shotspotter has been around for decades; closed-circuit cameras have been around even longer. There’s little evidence that cameras have any impact on violent crime, although they do seem to deter some thefts; multiple studies have found little to no evidence that Shotspotter works to reduce crime, prevent crime, or solve crimes after the fact. (Notably, many recent Seattle shootings have happened in locations that were under camera surveillance.)
“Mayor Harrell grew up in the CD and attended Garfield High, where there was another shooting last week leading to a lockdown, so I trust he’s listening to the community and wouldn’t be putting this forward again unless people living in the areas where people are dying really want this,” Councilmember Sara Nelson said.
Councilmembers Andrew Lewis and Dan Strauss, who have each tried to shake off a soft-on-crime image as they run for reelection, both said they now support funding Shotspotter, which they opposed last year, along with CCTV surveillance. Lewis, who represents downtown, compared the proposal to other “place-based strategies” like the Third Avenue Project, which is overseen by Purpose Dignity Action, the same group that operates LEAD. “I think that that this is a really innovative way for us to try to enhance, with limited resources, our presence in some of these areas,” Lewis said.
Nelson, meanwhile, said she needed no further convincing that Shotspotter is needed, citing the support of three Black women who lost children to gun violence, as well as Harrell’s personal roots in the Central District, as evidence that Seattle’s Black community supports the plan. “Mayor Harrell grew up in the CD and attended Garfield High, where there was another shooting last week leading to a lockdown, so I trust he’s listening to the community and wouldn’t be putting this forward again unless people living in the areas where people are dying really want this,” Nelson said.
3. The police department is turning to ads and other paid media in an attempt to woo new and transferring officers. In August, SPD signed a $2.6 million contract with the marketing firm Copacino Fujikado to create an “SPD recruitment brand” and produce video, online, radio, and social media ads for the department. The firm, which is based in Seattle, has previously produced marketing campaigns for Sound Transit, the Downtown Seattle Association, and Visit Seattle, among others.
4. In his memo supporting Shotspotter, Burgess quoted pioneering urbanist Jane Jacobs, who wrote in The Death and Life of Great American Cities about the need for mutual surveillance among many people co-existing on busy, vibrant neighborhood streets—a co-existence she assumed would also include police.
However, Burgess misunderstands Jacobs’ point about the need for “eyes on the street” when he claims that 24-hour camera and audio surveillance will “complement” the city’s efforts to make Seattle’s sidewalks feel safe for everyone. Jacobs advocated for “wholesome” and “casual” oversight of city sidewalks, not 24/7 remote surveillance by police. In fact, in that same 1961 book, Jacobs warns about overpolicing on the sidewalks near public housing projects, writing that the problem wasn’t lack of police, but lack of legitimate, legal reasons for people to be on the sidewalk. “No amount of police can enforce civilization where the normal, casual enforcement of it has broken down,” she wrote.