Tag: hiring incentives

Fizz: One in Six Officers Were on Extended Leave Last Year; City Agrees to Alternative Responder “Pilot”; Council Moves Police Hiring Bonuses Forward

1. The City Council’s public safety committee voted 4-1, with Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda voting “no,” to approve a package of police recruitment and hiring incentives that will include hiring bonuses of up to $30,000, four new recruitment-related positions (a recruitment manager, two recruiters, and an administrative staffer), and $150,000 to search for a new chief of police.

Sara Nelson, Alex Pedersen, Andrew Lewis, and committee chair Lisa Herbold voted for the legislation, originally proposed by Mayor Bruce Harrell.

According to a staff analysis, the hiring bonuses alone—$7,500 for new recruits and $30,000 for trained officers who transfer from other police departments departments—will cost around $3.8 million over four years, including around $1.5 million in 2022, $289,000 of that for the hiring incentives alone.

Before voting against the plan, Mosqueda noted that studies have consistently found that financial incentives have little impact on recruitment and retention, and have the potential to harm morale among officers working alongside newcomers recruited with large up-front payments. “What they’ve said is what they need is not additional money, but a place to bring people” in crisis, Mosqueda said. “A PR firm for SPD won’t help that. A hiring incentive approach won’t help that. Marketing won’t help that. [And] $150,000 for a police chief search won’t help that.”

The full council will vote on (and likely pass) the legislation next Monday.

2. Tuesday’s meeting also gave the council a look at SPD’s 2022 budget and staffing levels. Although the department lost 109 officers due to “separations” (resignations and retirements) in the first half of the year—significantly more than either SPD or council staff projected—there may actually be more officers on the streets by the end of 2022 than there were in 2021.

That’s because an unusually high number of officers went on extended leave starting immediately after the protests against police violence in summer 2020. Many more officers joined them after the city instituted its vaccine mandate in October 2021. Although these signposts are only indicators—SPD doesn’t provide information about why officers go on leave—the spikes in the chart correspond closely to those two events.

Historically, between 30 and 70 officers (out of a force that numbered close to 1,400) would be on extended leave at any given time; at the end of 2019, for example, 49 officers were on extended leave and unavailable for service. Typically, officers on extended leave are burning up their paid leave before they retire, since they can’t cash it out; after the vaccine mandate went into effect, some officers who did not want to get vaccinated went on leave as well. The numbers don’t include officers who are on administrative leave related to misconduct allegations.

After the city’s vaccine mandate took effect, 181 officers, or 16 percent of the police force, were out on extended leave.

The number of officers on extended grew slightly through the first half of 2020, in the early days of the COVID pandemic—a time when SPD was reluctant to grant leave to first responders. That number exploded in the months that followed the protests, nearly tripling between March and the end of 2020, when 137 officers were out on extended leave—more than 10 percent of the force. The number shrunk slightly, then exploded again, to 181, in the fall of 2021, after the vaccine mandate took effect. During that period, 181 officers, or 16 percent of the entire police force, were out on extended leave.

Since then, the gap has begun to close as some of those officers return to work after long periods off, at least temporarily offsetting losses from officers leaving the force.

A reduction in the number of police officers doesn’t translate to savings on a one-to-one basis, for a couple of reasons: Each officer who leaves SPD gets separation pay, which comes out of the budget, and fewer officers generally translates into more overtime costs. Currently, the city has paid out two-thirds of all the separation pay it budgeted for this year, and that only accounts for officers who left through the end of May. SPD is also spending more than anticipated on overtime, including patrol hours and staffing outside events; currently, the department is on track to go between $2 million and $3 million over its budget for 2022.

The department has been reluctant to scale back staffing at events like Mariners and Seahawks games, where officers direct traffic and provide security. At Tuesday’s meeting, Police Chief Adrian Diaz said SPD has “had to say no to many special events” because of understaffing and the need to dedicate officers to “emphasis patrol” areas like Third and Pine downtown and 12th and Jackson in the International District.

3. The discussion about overtime bled into a conversation about alternatives to policing—an issue Lewis has begun bringing up at nearly every SPD-related briefing. The basic question: After promising for more than two years to transfer some responsibilities, such as responding to low-risk 911 calls, into civilian hands, why has Seattle fallen so far behind other cities like Albuquerque, Denver, and Houston?

SPD, as we’ve reported, has argued that it needs to do a complex risk analysis before relinquishing control over any of the calls it currently handles, and Harrell’s office has generally concurred, laying out a lengthy timeline that could result in a transfer of some call types some time in 2024.

However, in the city’s latest quarterly report to the monitor overseeing the federal consent decree with SPD, the city attorney’s office reported that the city, “in the short term, will explore and execute potential pilot programs for diversified 911 response systems, as well as evaluate whether existing resources can be redeployed or more efficiently deployed on staffing projects like Special Events to increase SPD or alternative response to priority three and four calls in the near term, without engaging in costly expenditures in the face of a prospective budget deficit.”

This marks a change from the city’s previous position that a pilot can only happen after a lengthy data analysis. Lewis, Herbold, and others on the council have argued that SPD is already not responding to low-risk Priority 3 and 4 calls, so it doesn’t take work away from officers to deploy unarmed responders to some of those calls.

Report Says Hiring Incentives May Not Work; 11 City Appointees Kept Hanging for Lack of Council Quorum

1. The Seattle City Council has discussed introducing a hiring incentive program to help fill critical vacancies in the city’s workforce—a discussion dominated by some council members’ concerns about a staffing shortage at the Seattle Police Department and the end of a short-lived hiring incentive program for police officers and 911 dispatchers earlier this year.

According to a memo from Seattle’s Human Resources Department, however, the city’s staffing shortages extend well beyond SPD, and financial incentives alone may not be enough to address them.

Durkan’s program allowed both SPD and the Community Safety and Communications Center, which handles 911 dispatch, to pay new employees who transferred from other departments up to $25,000, and new recruits up to $10,000. The report found that SPD “did not experience an increase in hiring since implementing a hiring incentive into their process in October 2021,” but that the CSCC did. A separate report about an earlier (and smaller) hiring bonus from 2019 found that about 18 percent of applicants said the hiring bonus was one reason they applied.

The report warns that the 2021 program wasn’t in place long enough to suss out trends—a fact City Councilmember Sara Nelson, who has proposed re-instituting the bonuses for police, emphasized during the council’s weekly briefing on Monday. ” I do not believe that hiring numbers are an indication of whether or not that that program was a success, because the SPD hiring process is, at minimum, six months long,” Nelson said.

In an email to her colleagues on Sunday, Nelson said that according to interim police chief Adrian Diaz, the number of new recruits dropped from 17 in January (when the incentives were in place) to just 6 in March. Nelson also wrote that media reports about the expiration of the incentive program “may have caused applicants to apply elsewhere.”

Overall, the report concluded, the main things keeping people away from city employment are structural problems that aren’t fixed by one-time payouts—things like a lack of access to full-time, permanent jobs, limited promotion opportunities, and “uncompetitive wages.”

Across all city departments with staffing shortages, the SDHR report pointed to another structural reason for the shortage of qualified candidates: An outdated job classification system with minimum qualification requirements that frequently have little bearing on whether an applicant can do the job.

2. Last Friday, Seattle City Councilmember Tammy Morales was forced to cancel a committee meeting at the last minute for lack of a three-person quorum—scuttling two scheduled presentations from city departments and sending 11 would-be appointees to the city’s Arts Commission and Community Involvement Commission home without appointments. Of the five members of Morales’ Neighborhoods, Education, Civil Rights and Culture committee, only one—newcomer Sara Nelson—showed up.

Of course, showing up at a council meeting, only to be turned away, is less of inconvenience in the virtual era.. And the problem of making quorum hasn’t come down to the wire like this since the council changed its rules to bar committees from meeting with fewer than three members (and prohibit non-committee members from counting toward a quorum) at the end of 2019, when now-Mayor Bruce Harrell was council president; committees often canceled because not enough people can attend, but not usually at the last minute.

Still, the situation was embarrassing enough that it led Morales to apologize to the 11 appointees (whose appointments will move forward at Tuesday’s full council meeting without going through Morales’ committee) and implore her colleagues to show up at meetings when they’re supposed to.

“These appointments are an important part of conducting the people’s business, which is what we all signed up to do. Whether it’s high-profile policy work or the more routine work that really keeps the gears of government moving, we have an obligation to show up and do the work,” Morales said. “I do have a lot of appointments in my committee. Some of them are a couple years old, and so I’d like to move through them. And we do have lots of legislation coming through as well. So it’s important that we actually be able to hold these meetings and be able to vote.”

Prior to 2019, there was no quorum requirement for council committee meetings, which sometimes led to an odd spectacle: A single council member proposing legislation, seconding the proposal, and approving the proposal, all over the course of a few seconds.

3. This week’s “Seattle Nice” podcast probes the question: What are the boundaries of “advocacy journalism“? Former KOMO reporter Jonathan Choe was fired last week—not for his on-camera harassment of homeless people or relentless mockery of mutual aid volunteers (who he insists on referring to as “Antifa”), but for live-tweeting a Proud Boys rally and encouraging his viewers to “mingle” with them and learn “more about their cause and mission.” Continue reading “Report Says Hiring Incentives May Not Work; 11 City Appointees Kept Hanging for Lack of Council Quorum”

Little Appetite on Council for Fighting Durkan’s Police Hiring Bonus

"Lateral hire" sign for Spokane Sheriff's Office in Times Square
Photo via @SpokaneSheriffOffice on Twitter.

By Paul Kiefer

Last Friday, outgoing Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan signed an executive order offering hefty hiring bonuses as recruitment tools for the Seattle Police Department and the city’s 911 call center.

The order was a blunt tool for accomplishing a policy goal the mayor has pursued for months. In July, the city council declined to consider a bill drafted by her office that would have restored a hiring incentive program for SPD halted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and in early September, the council narrowly voted against a pair of proposals—introduced by Councilmember Alex Pedersen, with Durkan’s support—to offer hiring and retention bonuses for police officers.

The mayor’s order will allow SPD to pay officers who transfer from other departments up to $25,000, and new recruits up to $10,000, for the rest of 2021. The CSCC will be able to offer the same bonuses. Those figures are substantially higher than the hiring incentives offered to new police officers in 2019, when lateral transfers received $15,000 and new recruits received $7,500.

For the members of the city council who resisted the mayor’s previous attempts to reestablish the hiring incentive program, Durkan’s executive order appeared reckless. “It’s not clear whether the funding in this year’s budget is sufficient to allow this program to begin operating as envisioned,” said council public safety chair Lisa Herbold during the council’s briefing on Monday.

According to Durkan spokesman Anthony Derrick, the city will fund this year’s hiring incentives using $1.1 million in unspent police salaries that SPD hasn’t yet diverted to cover other expenses—a sum that would allow SPD and the 911 call center to hire around 44 experienced staff, 110 new recruits, or some combination of the two. As of late September, SPD had hired 57 officers in 2021, with plans to hire an additional 28 by the end of the year. The 911 call center, now housed in the city’s new Community Safety and Communications Center, hopes to fill 30 vacancies as quickly as possible, including 10 that opened after the city’s vaccine mandate took effect in October.

From the council’s perspective, the decision to spend the leftover $1.1 million could have budgetary repercussions even if SPD and the 911 call center don’t spend the full amount on hiring incentives. When the council discussed how to redistribute SPD’s unspent salaries earlier this year, it resolved to leave the $1.1 million as a reserve to cover unexpected costs, a decision informed by Durkan’s last-minute request in December 2020 to add more money to SPD’s budget after the department spent more on overtime than the council had approved.

For now, SPD hasn’t signaled that it will ask for a year-end addition to its budget like it did last year. But for a council worn down by months of debate about how to discourage the department from spending beyond its means, the prospect of losing the only contingency fund because of the mayor’s executive order is concerning. The launch of Seattle’s newest sports franchise, the Kraken hockey team, could accelerate SPD’s overtime spending over the next two months, adding to the risk that the council could face a repeat of 2020’s last-minute police budget crisis. In her comments on Monday, Herbold mentioned that the council may have “learned its lesson” about leaving dollars unassigned in the SPD budget.

Hiring incentives for police officers have become commonplace in Western Washington. Officers who transfer to Bellevue’s police department receive a $16,000 bonus; in Renton and Lynnwood, the bonus for lateral hires is $20,000. Combined with the starting salary for new, fully trained officers at SPD—a base of more than $83,000, compared to between $68,000 and $78,000 at other nearby agencies—the hiring incentives mean that Seattle police officers will remain the best-paid in the region, with brand-new officers making close to six figures. In 2019, hiring incentives seemed to help SPD boost its recruitment figures after a dip the previous year, rising from 68 new hires in 2018 to 108 in 2019.

Mike Solan, the president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG)—the union representing most sworn officers in SPD—is skeptical that the incentives will work this year. “Dangling money to recruit new or lateral hires won’t get the job done,” he wrote in a letter to Durkan on Saturday. “Seattle cannot simply hire enough people to balance the loss of so many officers as other agencies across the country are competing for those same jobs.”

Despite objections from the city council’s labor relations policy committee, which establishes the city’s bargaining position during union contract negotiations, Durkan also offered to pay SPOG members to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Negotiations between the union and the city about the impacts of the vaccine mandate are still ongoing.

The council is still considering whether to approve more than $1 million in the city’s 2022 budget to continue the hiring incentive program. In the meantime, few council members seem eager to enter a political battle with Durkan over her executive order.