Yesterday morning Seattle had its last Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting before the summer break. The Mayor’s proposed new Director of the OPA, Gino Betts, was present for a drive-by introduction, and he will be back before the committee for a Q&A and committee vote on his appointment on September 13, which would potentially tee up the Full Council vote on his appointment for September 20, conveniently right before the madness of budget season is upon us. You can read his appointment packet
But the real interest of yesterday’s meeting was Greg Doss’s quarterly update
on SPD’s staffing, finances, and call response times. Surprising nobody who has been paying attention, there have been 109 separations of sworn officers from SPD in the first six months of 2022, at odds with SPD’s previous projection that there would be 94 separations for the ENTIRE YEAR. Yes, you read that right. There have been 30 hires so far in the first six months of 2022, which doesn’t exactly put SPD on track for reaching their hiring projection of 125 for the year either.
These numbers mean there will be significantly more salary savings for 2022 than anticipated. However, SPD thinks they will burn through all this extra salary savings and might need even more money by the end of the year, primarily because of overtime spending, although also because of the costs of the hiring incentives bill the committee discussed at this meeting.
In a particular feisty moment, CM Lewis agreed that we don’t have the capacity to stand up alternative responses in the next few months because we should have taken the actions other cities took two years ago, a fairly safe political shot at now departed Mayor Durkan. The Council’s continued frustration at the lack of alternatives is palpable, although CM Herbold reported the joint workgroup on the subject between the Mayor’s Office and Central Staff has finally begun, and it sounds like the Mayor’s Office may be softening towards the idea of trying one or more alternative response pilots, an idea that has been memorialized in the latest consent decree filing.
As for the hiring incentives legislation being discussed, it was more of the same as has already been discussed this year, offering hiring bonuses for new recruits and lateral hires as well as providing money for more HR staff/support for SPD, more marketing, and the police chief search. It’s just now a slightly higher amount than previously discussed. One cannot help remembering CM Nelson’s comments earlier this year that it didn’t matter what the money was spent on as long as they did something, and this bill definitely feels more like a performative “Look! We’re doing something!” than a tangible, data-backed plan to actually improve public safety in Seattle. Indeed, rumors have been circulating that hiring bonuses or no, it could easily take ten years to return to pre-pandemic SPD staffing levels, meaning alternative plans are going to be needed to address public safety regardless of where on the defund spectrum any particular elected official may fall.
The legislation passed 4-1 with CM Mosqueda casting the only nay vote. In order to display “urgency,” the legislation will probably be voted on next week at Full Council on August 16 even though it would normally be delayed due to the split vote (otherwise the vote wouldn’t be until September because of the Summer Recess). You can read another account of the meeting here