Last Friday and today, the City Council’s budget committee walked through three dozen potential amendments to SPD’s budget for the rest of the year, setting up a vote on those amendments on Wednesday. Here’s what’s on the table.
The amendments fit into six buckets:
- headcount cuts;
- transferring groups out of SPD into another part of city government;
- trimming other SPD expenses to fund community investments;
- cutting the Navigation Team;
- a “50% cut” package proposed by Council member Sawant;
- other miscellaneous changes.
Council members Herbold, Gonzalez, Morales and Mosqueda teamed up on a package of cuts to SPD headcount that would total about 100 positions. However, the cuts wouldn’t happen immediately; the city estimates that it will need at least three months to negotiate the reductions with the two unions representing SPD’s sworn employees (SPOG and SPMA). So all of the headcount-reducing amendments assume that the earliest the layoffs would happen is November 1. Further, they hedge that date by putting the potential payroll savings for the last two months of the year under a proviso: SPD can’t spend the money, but the Council can release some or all of it back to SPD for payroll expenses if the labor negotiations stretch into the last two months of the year.
The specific people laid off will be determined through labor negotiations: the labor agreements specify that layoffs are in reverse order of seniority, but the Council is requesting that SPD Chief Best request authorization to lay off individuals in a different order, either to eliminate the officers with the most complaints against them or to preserve racial and ethnic diversity in the department. Also, Best has authority under the City Charter to determine how to deploy officers, so while the Council can specify its preference for the units where positions are eliminated, it won’t have the final word. Nevertheless, here is where the Council wants to see headcount cuts:
- General reductions from unspecified units: 32 positions. Much of this could come from expected attrition, which SPD estimates to be around 25 positions by the end of the year.
- Eliminating the mounted unit (i.e. officers riding horses): 4 sworn positions, plus one stable manager.
- Reducing the Community Outreach group: 5 positions. Currently the group has 11 employees.
- Eliminating the School Resource Officer program: 5 positions. The Seattle School District has already informed the city that it is discontinuing the program.
- Reductions through “unplanned attrition”: 30 positions. While SPD has said that it expects to lose 25 officers through attrition (retirement and officers leaving to go to another jurisdiction), the Council is betting that the number will be more like 55. They are led to believe this because of news reports that a number of SPD officers have submitted job applications with other law enforcement agencies. However, the actual number who leave is impossible to predict at this time. As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, attrition dropped to zero in the department and for the first time in years SPD was fully staffed with sworn officers. It may be that other agencies find the same thing — or end up downsizing themselves.
- Eliminating the Public Affairs unit: 4 positions. This would wipe out the Public Affairs unit that fields press inquiries and feeds information to the public. Those requests would be redirected to the Public Disclosure unit, which handles all public disclosure requests. The Public Disclosure unit is already an under-staffed, overworked disaster, where requests usually take six months or more for a response. Axing the Public Affairs unit and pushing media and other requests to Public Disclosure will make it a genuine dumpster fire.
- Reducing the misnamed “Homeland Security” unit: 1 position. This unit is a catch-all for a number of miscellaneous functions, including overtime and event management. This amendment would reduce it from 11 positions to 10.
- Community Outreach Administration unit: 1 position. There is only one employee in this unit: a Captain who oversees the sworn officers in the Community Outreach unit. The captain position would be eliminated, but due to seniority rules he/she would be reassigned elsewhere and a low-seniority officer would be laid off (also reducing the budget savings by laying off a lower-paid employee).
- Reducing the Harbor Patrol: 2 positions. This would reduce the size of the unit from 30 positions to 28.
- Reducing the SWAT Team: 2 positions. This would reduce the size of the SWAT team from 29 employees to 27.
- Cut the SPD officers in the Navigation Team: 14 positions. This would eliminate all of the police officer positions assigned to support the Navigation Team.
Transferring units out
There are three proposals for moving all-civilian teams out of SPD into other parts of the city government:
- Victim Support Team: 11 positions. This includes ten advocates and one team coordinator. The positions would be moved to the Human Services Department and continue the same function.
- Data-driven policing: 5 positions. This team is responsible for “gathering, integrating, and analyzing data across systems for purposes of early intervention, including use of force, stops and detentions, Office of Police Accountability complaints, and other metrics, per the Consent Decree. The unit is also responsible for researching and preparing annual reports required under the Consent Decree.” The team would be moved to the Finance and Administrative Services Department (FAS). The stated intent of this move is to “build community trust” in the data reporting and analysis on SPD; advocates argue that having this effort under SPD control makes the data suspect.
- 911 call center: 142 positions. The call center would be moved under FAS as a temporary measure until a new department can be created to own it. The intent is to combat the perception that the 911 call center is overly reliant on police response because it is housed within the police department — though there is no evidence to support that claim.
Funding community programs
Council members Herbold, Gonzalez, Morales and Mosqueda also collaborated on a “package deal” of amendments, together finding an additional $17 million to invest in community-led organizations to start the process of creating alternative to the police for some public safety needs. The money would come from six sources:
- $36k from SPD by cutting its implicit bias training;
- $50k from SPD’s travel budget;
- $800k from SPD’s recruitment and retention program;
- $3.3 million from the recently-passed (and vetoed by the Mayor) COVID-19 relief ordinance, by reducing the allocation for administration expenses from $4.3 million to $1 million;
- $12.8 million from the city’s “rainy day” fund, which would zero out the fund balance (assuming the Council overrides the Mayor’s veto of the COVID-19 relief bill).
The money would be spent in three ways:
- $3 million would be spent by the City Council to enter into contracts with community-based organizations “to research processes that will promote public safety informed by community needs.” The specific types of programs and deliverables are as yet undefined.
- $4 million would go to the Human Services Department for investments in programs such as its Seattle Community Safety Initiative and for scaling up gun-violence intervention and prevention programs. According to the city, the SCS Initiative is a partnership between Community Passageways, Urban Family, SE Safety Network Hub Boys and Girls Club, and YMCA Alive and Free Program.
- $10 million would go to the Human Services Department for scaling up community-led programs. The Council’s intent is that HSD would select one organization to be the “hub” and coordinate sub-grants to other community organizations that respond to 911 crisis calls, provide long-term support to criminalized populations, and interrupt and prevent violence and harm.
The Navigation Team
There are two competing proposals for gutting the Navigation Team. One by Council member Morales would cut all funding for the team in the Human Services Department, SPD, and FAS, and redirect all the funds ($1.8 million) to homelessness outreach and engagement. Another by Council member Sawant would go further and also eliminate the Parks Department’s funding for the Navigation Team; Morales left it in place based upon the feedback from stakeholders that the department’s litter and trash removal activity was considered helpful. So far Morales’ proposal seems to be carrying the day with her colleagues.
Neither proposal specified who wold be responsible for removing homeless encampments that posed hazards or obstructions — for example on a playground or blocking a sidewalk — once the Navigation Team was disbanded on September 1.
Sawant’s “50%” package
Council member Sawant proposed a much deeper set of cuts to SPD in order to achieve the 50% reduction that advocacy groups have demanded, and directs the funds to other programs. Her package includes:
- Cutting $3 million from SPD patrol operations to fund community-led research, an alternative funding approach to the one outlines in the Herbold/Gonzalez/Morales/Mosqueda package above.
- Cutting $125,000 from SPD patrol operations to expand a free parking program for employees of community organizations supporting the homeless.
- Cutting $80,000 from SPD patrol operations to staff and support the Green New Deal Oversight Board. The Board has not yet been appointed, in large part because Mayor Durkan has not yet hired a person to staff the Board. That position was caught in the city’s hiring freeze. This funding would be intended to unfreeze that position so that the Oversight Board creation could move forward.
- Capping the total amount of income that an SPD employee could make, including both regular pay and overtime, at $150,000 per year. It is unclear how much money this would save. Also, this change would need to be negotiated with the unions representing SPD employees.
- Cutting $700,000 from SPD patrol operations and adding it to SDCI for eviction defense and tenant outreach.
- Cutting $34.7 million from SPD across a number of units: patrol operations, special operations, criminal investigations administrative operations, and more. The money would be transferred to the Office of Housing for affordable housing projects.
Some of the other miscellaneous amendments thrown in for good measure include:
- Rewriting SPD’s budget so that each of the five precincts has a separate budget, which would allow the Council to impose its own budget allocation on each and subvert Chief Best’s ability to allocate (or re-allocate) resources across precincts.
- A proviso requiring the Mayor to deliver a report by September 30 on which SPD functions could be fully civilianized or transferred out of SPD.
- A proviso requiring SPD to deliver an expenditure report every two weeks to the City Council, as well as a report by September 15th on annual expenditures over the last ten years for contracts with law firms engaged to defend the city from claims brought against SPD or individual officers.
- Reducing FAS’s budget by $50,000 (out of anticipated payroll savings) and move the funds to HSD to contract with a community-based organization to develop a “911 response alternative.”
- A proviso that prevents any of SPD’s budget from being used “to support the prosecution of individuals for actions taken while participating in Justice for George Floyd protests, including but not limited to, collecting or transmitting evidence and providing testimony, except as required by court order. Funds may be used for the purposes of dropping charges, releasing arrestees, and clearing records.” This amendment was proposed by Sawant and got mixed review by her colleagues; while no one wanted to see peaceful protesters prosecuted, Council member Lewis still wanted to see prosecutions for acts of physical violence. Council member Mosqueda also questioned what would qualify as a “Justice for George Floyd protest.”
Wednesday morning, the Budget Committee will convene again and vote on these amendments. Based on the verbal support indicated by the Council members, it’s likely that the two groups of amendments sponsored by Herbold, Gonzalez, Morales and Mosqueda will be adopted: the 100 positions eliminated, and the funding for community-led programs. There wasn’t strong support for most of Sawant’s deeper cuts. However, the Navigation Team is probably gone except for the Parks and Recreation Department’s funding for litter and garbage cleanup, and most of the miscellaneous amendments will probably survive. It’s difficult to predict what will happen with the proposals to transfer groups out of SPD into other parts of city government; there was neither strong support nor vocal opposition.
To combat the inevitable criticism that the seven Council members who previously committed to defunding SPD by 50% are now backing away from that promise, the Council is also deliberating on a draft resolution that lays out a timeline through the end of 2021 of the stages of work that they see to deliver on a full reorganization of SPD. It contemplates several overlapping efforts: writing a 2021 budget his fall that funds key community-led startup investments; a community research and participatory budgeting process starting this month and running through next July; the City Council, Mayor and City Attorney jointly developing necessary legislation, including amendments to the City Charter to be placed on the November 2021 ballot; and next fall a 2022 budget process that creates a new Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention and makes associated budget changes.
Whether that satisfies the advocates protesting for a 50% cut in SPD is yet to be seen.
I hope you found this article valuable. If you did, please take a moment to make a contribution to support my ongoing work. Thanks!