By Paul Kiefer
During a public safety budget hearing last Thursday, Seattle City Council public safety committee chair Lisa Herbold suggested a wider role for an agency that’s received relatively little attention during the recent debates about reducing the size and role of the Seattle Police Department: SPD’s Parking Enforcement Unit.
The idea of expanding the role of parking officers to include duties currently performed by armed police comes as the city council deliberates on Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed 2021 budget, which includes only minor cuts to SPD’s budget. At a public hearing Tuesday night, dozens of residents asked the council to amend Durkan’s proposal to defund SPD by at least 50 percent, in line with what protesters and advocates have been demanding for months.
After raising the issue of overtime spending for SPD staffing at special events, Herbold said she was “grateful to [parking enforcement officers] for signaling their willingness to take on that work.” She pointed to a letter written by the Seattle Parking Enforcement Officers’ Guild to council members expressing interest in expanding their duties to include not only a greater role at special events, but also an array of other roles currently filled by more highly paid sworn SPD officers. As Herbold noted, SPEOG also said that they would prefer to move into the proposed new Department of Public Safety, rather than the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), as Durkan has proposed.
The concept of the Department of Public Safety originates in a resolution the council passed in August recommending the creation of a “civilian-led Department of Community Safety & Violence Prevention to remove certain functions from the Seattle Police Department.” However, the absence of any concrete foundations for the department has become a sticking point in the ongoing budget discussions. The budget Durkan transmitted last week limited budget cuts to SPD on the grounds that the city has not yet developed alternatives to police, while the council contended that developing those alternatives will require shifting money from SPD’s budget.
In the letter to council, the parking officers offered to take over array of “services that were formerly provided by sworn SPD officers” ranging from managing red light violations to responding to car prowls, minor accidents, illegally parked RVs and abandoned vehicles. Currently, those types of incidents make up roughly 20 percent of the calls for service to which SPD responds; traffic incidents alone account for nearly 15 percent of all calls. While parking enforcement officers can’t replace SPD at to every traffic- or car-related incident, the guild argues that they can take on a sizable portion of SPD’s workload, which would in turn significantly reduce interactions between civilians and armed police officers.
Union president Nanette Toyoshima, who wrote the letter to council, said Durkan’s proposal to move parking enforcement into SDOT caught her unit off-guard. “We only learned of this potential move through Twitter and a press conference,” Toyoshima said, referring to Mayor Durkan’s July 13 announcement that she intends to move a variety of civilian units out of SPD, including parking enforcement and the 911 call center. “It was a bit of a rude awakening after over 50 years with SPD.”
She said the guild had no complaints about being housed in SPD, but that they were also responsive to the public push to civilianize some roles held by police. “No matter where we’re moved—to a new [public safety] department, to SDOT, or if we stay in SPD —we’re interested in being part of the solution,” she said. Continue reading “As Public Demands for Police Cuts Continue, Parking Enforcement Officers Could Take On Greater Role”