Council authorizes hiring bonuses for SPD officers

This afternoon, the City Council passed into law an ordinance that would authorize the Seattle Police Department to offer hiring bonuses to new recruits as well as “lateral hires” from other jurisdictions.

Last week the bill advanced out of committee, after Council members amended it. The original bill, as transmitted by the Mayor’s Office, only authorized hiring bonuses of up to $15,000 for lateral transfers. But Council member Gonzalez added language to allow SPD to additionally offer bonuses of up to $7,500 for new recruits. SPD’s hiring goal for this year is 104 officers, but it only expects 20 of those to be lateral transfers; thus the additional support for bringing in new recruits. Moreover, the existing pool of police officers is predominantly white, while in 2018 42% of SPD’s new recruits were from racially diverse communities, pointing out that efforts to diversify SPD to better match the community it serves will need to focus on new recruits. the Council hopes that the additional hiring bonus authorization will be an important tool to draw from a diverse pool.

Other changes the Council made to the legislation in a last-minute amendment before it passed:

  • Cleaning up the language so it’s clear that an individual may only receive one hiring bonus: if they receive a bonus and leave the department, they may note receive another to return.
  • The “sunset date” for the incentive program was extended from December 31 2019 to June 30, 2020, to ensure that there is a full year of the program to evaluate.
  •  SPD is now required to deliver two evaluation reports on the program: one in September 2019 to inform the Council’s budget process, and a second one in March 2020.
  • Officers receiving the bonus are required to make a written commitment to SPD for at least three years. If they leave before the end of the three-year period, they will need to pay back the hiring bonus on a pro-rated basis.
  • Half of the hiring bonus is paid in the officer’s first paycheck. The second half is paid upon the completion of an officer’s initial probationary period.

The ordinance passed by a 7-1 vote, with Sawant the sole vote against and Harrell absent.  In explaining her “no” vote, Sawant reminded her colleagues that last fall she proposed slowing down the hiring of SPD officers in order to reduce the department’s budget so that more money could be invested into affordable housing, and since she saw this bill as spending more on police hiring, she objected. Gonzalez pointed out that the bill is not, in fact, a budget action and is revenue-neutral, since SPD is not being allocated more money: the bonuses are being paid out of the department’s existing budget because hiring has lagged their budgeted pace (leading to an underspend).

In his comments before the vote, Council member Johnson noted the views held by some Seattle residents that the City Council is anti-SPD and has opposed hiring more officers. He said that he saw today’s ordinance as a sign that “we are doing our part.”

Council member Mosqueda made an oblique reference to another budget proposal from last fall, which would have cut funding for Seattle Municipal Court in order to increase funding for community-based organizations that help people stay out of the criminal justice system. Mosqueda said she supported putting more money into those programs (though not necessarily cutting the Municipal Court to do so) and into community policing, and so she was initially skeptical of the notion of putting more money into hiring police officers. But she complimented Gonzalez on the amended bill, saying that she had “struck a nice balance.”

Late this afternoon, Mayor Durkan issued a statement praising the Council for passing the resolution. She argued (as Council member Johnson also did this afternoon) that this will put SPD on a more level playing field with other jurisdictions as they compete for officers:

To compete for experienced officers, several law enforcement jurisdictions in the Puget Sound provide similar lateral incentives to the ones proposed in Mayor Durkan’s legislation. The Everett Police Department offers a $15,000 hiring incentive, and the Renton Police Department provides a $10,000 incentive in addition to 40 hours of sick leave and 40 hours of vacation leave upon hire. The King County Sheriff’s Office provides up to $5,000 in paid moving expenses, plus airfare and three nights’ hotel provided for out-of-state applicants. The Bellevue Police Department, Bremerton Police Department, Tukwila Police Department, and Bainbridge Police Department all provide a $5,000 hiring incentive.