Digging into Seattle's SPD and Public Safety Budgets

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Notes from the Emerald City
Digging into Seattle's SPD and Public Safety Budgets
By Amy Sundberg • Issue #36 • View online
All things Seattle budget related

Seattle Budget Meetings
Today was the last of the Seattle Select Budget committee meetings on issue identification related to the 2022 budget.
This first thread is on alternatives to police response and the criminal legal system:
Amy Sundberg
Good morning! I'm here live tweeting at today's Seattle select budget committee meeting where they're about to discuss issue identification for alternatives to police response and the criminal legal system.
The second thread finishes up the alternatives conversation and then covers the SPD presentation:
Amy Sundberg
Okay, we're back with Seattle's select budget committee, finishing alternatives to police response and the CLS. We're talking about subsidies for electronic home monitoring.
The City Council has a bunch of decisions related to public safety to make regarding next year’s budget. Here are some things to watch for:
CM Mosqueda sounds dedicated to clawing back as much as possible of the JumpStart funding the Mayor used in the proposed 2022 budget; she wants to implement the JumpStart spending plan passed by the Council last year and avoid future spending cliffs. Unfortunately, this seems to entail taking $27.2m of PB, leaving $30m to spend in 2022 rather than the much larger $57.2m in the proposed budget; some large amount from the Equitable Communities Initiative so they’d have exactly $30m to spend in 2022; and possibly some money from the HSD community safety capacity building program so they’d have exactly $10m to spend in 2022. This means we’re seeing the above priorities be pitted against JumpStart spending plan priorities. For anyone who is generally in favor of both sets of spending, the effect is a bit dampening, to say the least. Of course, for the former priorities, any additional money beyond the ongoing annual amount would need to be spent on one-time projects and investments.
There is a lot of question as to which alternatives to police response should be funded in the new budget, as well as disappointment expressed by CMs that more investment isn’t already in the budget in this area. The new Triage One program, which is being proposed to be housed in SFD, will not be able to be implemented until December 2022, which is still fourteen months away; if it were instead to be housed in CSCC, it would take even longer. Other alternatives being considered by CMs include contracting with an outside community organization for these services or beginning a new different pilot project within CSCC. CM Lewis in particular is in favor of experimenting with a few different approaches in 2022 and then deciding in future budgets which efforts to scale up or down. Several CMs agreed on the urgency of this work.
There was also a bit of discussion about administrative responders, which would be civilians who answer certain calls to take reports, for example for minor traffic accidents or damages/burglaries when the insurance company requires a police report be filed. This could potentially be a body of work taken on by the CSOs or another group. And of course, there’s the perennial question of where the CSOs should be located: within SPD or within the new CSCC.
CM Herbold suggested they might be able to take a different approach to moving certain bodies of work outside SPD. Because there is such a staffing shortage at SPD at present, this may be creating extenuating circumstances that create a different legal framework for having civilians do certain tasks because the City is otherwise unable to get the work done at all. This could have potential implications for parking enforcement officers, community service officers, and even for things like how much work the fire department does in Harbor Patrol compared to SPD.
Response times to 911 priority one calls have been going up, but it turns out the number of sworn officers responding to calls hasn’t changed between this year and last year. (This is because Chief Diaz has moved a number of officers onto patrol duty to make up the difference.) That indicates the greater response times might not be because of SPD’s staffing woes, but rather because of management problems, the way responders are being deployed, increased traffic, increased number of calls, etc.
The SPD appears to be saying they want to spend around $1m on technology to do even more analysis on the NICJR report about which 911 calls could be responded to by people other than police officers. They anticipate having a risk analysis done on the 29 call types that are being considered “low hanging fruit” by the end of quarter one of 2022…so a bit more than five months from now.
There continues to be a somewhat antagonistic relationship between SPD and the Council in that Greg Doss from Central Staff, when discussing technology investments for which SPD wants to spend salary savings, said that SPD appears to be telling the Council what they’re going to do rather than asking. They’ve already entered into some commitments regarding these technology investments even though they haven’t yet received budgetary authority for them. In better (?) news, it does appear SPD might not overspend their overtime budget in 2021, although given that we’re still in a pandemic, that isn’t perhaps as big an achievement as it would have been in other times, especially when we also consider the fact that other city departments aren’t generally in the habit of overspending their budgets and then asking for more money after the fact.
Then there is the issue of SPD’s salary savings spending plan. In the proposed budget SPD will have 1357 sworn officer positions funded, but will only be able to actually fill 1223 of those positions (and that’s if they can meet a very ambitious hiring plan, hiring more officers in 2022 than they have in any of the last ten years, and have the lower attrition rate in 2022 they’ve estimated). This will result in an estimated salary savings of $19m. The Council has to decide, first, whether to continue funding those additional 134 sworn officers positions that will remain empty in 2022. If they do, then they have to decide whether to approve of SPD’s plan of how to spend this salary savings, including on another squad of CSOs; $1.1m on hiring bonuses in an ongoing program; and $5m on various technology projects. Additionally there is the issue that funding for the proposed Triage One team and the Peacekeeper’s Collective is currently coming from this salary savings; this means that if SPD staffs those unfilled positions in the future, there will no longer be a funding source for those two programs.
Meanwhile, some details pertaining to sustaining and/or expanding the pre-filing diversion program seem to depend on the upcoming election for City Attorney. The City Attorney, for example, gets to decide when to charge somebody and how much diversion to practice. CM Lewis once again pushed for the Council to pass legislation to require the City Attorney to maintain a diversion program. The City Council could also theoretically pass legislation to decriminalize certain crimes (although not those on a state level), which may save money that could then be spent on the diversion program.
The next budget committee meetings are on October 26-28, starting at 9:30am, when the CMs will be discussing their proposed amendments to the 2022 budget. There will be time for public comment at the beginning of each of these three meetings.
More Resources on these Budget Discussions
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Amy Sundberg

This newsletter covers Seattle politics and policy with a particular focus on police accountability and criminal legal reform, while also referencing relevant news in Washington State and beyond.

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