Council advances authorization for SPD hiring bonuses, with some changes

This morning, the City Council voted out of committee a bill authorizing the Seattle Police Department to pay hiring bonuses, as a new method to help it meet its hiring goals.

The bill, as originally proposed by the Mayor’s Office, authorized hiring bonuses of up to $15,000 for “lateral transfers” of trained officers from other law enforcement jurisdictions. But an amendment offered today by Council member Gonzalez extended that to include hiring bonuses of up to $7,500 to new recruits. Gonzalez’s reasoning was to make sure that aggressive lateral hiring of more senior police officers (a large percentage of whom are white men) didn’t set back the diversity efforts in SPD that aspire to maintain a police force that matches the demographics of the community it serves.

Gonzalez’s amendment does a few other things:

  • It specifies that a police officer may only receive a hiring bonus once, which would prevent an officer bounding back and forth between two departments continuing to collect hiring bonuses.
  • It places an expiration date on the authorization of December 31, 2019. The program will be funded in 2019 within the existing SPD budget because the department is running behind on its hiring goals and is thus under budget on salaries. However, money would need to be specifically allocated for the bonuses in the 2020 budget.
  • To that end, the amendment requires SPD and the City Budget Office to devise a set of metrics to determine whether the hiring bonus program is working, and submit a report in September before the start of the Council’s budget development process.
  • ┬áIt directs SPD to include the new metrics in the quarterly reports is it already required to deliver to the Council on how well it’s meeting its hiring goals.
  • It requires SPD, the City Attorney, and the City Budget Office to devise a method (including potentially a written agreement) that “would ensure that recruits and lateral officers who accept a hiring incentive make a commitment to the department that lasts no fewer than five years.” In practice, this is tricky: an employer can’t force an employee to remain for five years. But there are two common methods for incenting a long-term commitment: either pay the bonus in installments over time, or add a “clawback” provision to the agreement so that if the employee leaves before a certain date then she or he will be required to repay the hiring bonus either in full or pro-rated based on length of employment. Ben Noble, City Budget Director, said that he agreed with those approaches and that he would move quickly to come up with a proposal.

Noble said that the executive branch is working on some additional amendments, mostly to further wordsmith Gonzalez’s amendment. However, he did say that they want to extend the program expiration data from December 2019 to June 2020, so that they would have a full year of data to determine the program’s effectiveness.

The Council adopted Gonzalez’s amendment, and unanimously passed the amended bill out of committee. It will come before the full Council on either March 4th or 11th, depending on how quickly Noble can finish his amendment and the City Attorney’s Office can complete a legal review.