First look at Council’s proposed cuts to SPD

Tomorrow the City Council will discuss proposals to change SPD’s 2021 budget. There are 22 items on the list, including requests for reports and “statements of legislative intent” that don’t actually change the budget. Plus there are some revisions to cuts or transfers that are already in the Mayor’s proposed budget. It took a bit of work to sort it all out, but here’s a first look at the numbers.


There are no arbitrary across-the-board cuts to the department; Council member Sawant said earlier this week that she proposed a 50% cut, but it failed to find any co-sponsors among her colleagues (she needed two co-sponsors to get it on the agenda). What remains are a number of surgical reductions and transfers.

Several of the changes relate to the creation of a new civilian-led Community Safety and Communications Center (CSCC) instead of the Mayor’s proposal to create a Seattle Emergency Communications Center, a new home for SPD’s 911 call center and the Office of Emergency Management. In addition to the 911 call center, the Council is also proposing to transfer out of SPD to the CSCC the Parking Enforcement Officer unit and the Community Service Officers. The Mayor had proposed sending the Parking Enforcement Officers to SDOT and leaving the CSOs within SPD. (yes, once again the Mayor and the Council are not even close to being on the same page; they can’t even agree on a name for the new department, let alone which units should be in it)

The Mayor’s budget also recognized that attrition in 2020 is higher than expected and SPD will end the year less than fully staffed. The Council is proposing to claw back savings from those unexpected vacancies and a corresponding reduction in overtime — as well as the hiring authority for the vacant positions (70) so that SPD can’t move money around and refill them.  Also, the Council is looking to direct SPD to conduct out-of-order layoffs for an additional 35 sworn officers, and to move SPD’s external contract for mental health providers to HSD. Finally, the Council wants to trim SPD’s budget for travel, training, and discretionary purchases.

With all that, here are the top-level numbers:

  • SPD’s adopted 2020 budget (before mid-year rebalancing) was $409.1 million.
  • The Mayor’s proposed 2021 SPD budget is $359.8 million.
  • The Council is considering reducing it by another $21.5 million.
  • That would leave it at $338.2 million, a 17.3% decrease from 2020’s adopted budget.
  • The final approved headcount for SPD (sworn + civilian) would be 1730, a 20.9% cut from the 2020 adopted budget’s 2187.

That’s still a long way from the 50% reduction to SPD’s budget that certain members of the community have demanded. But the various community-led efforts to replace SPD functions with community-based investments are still in their early stages, so this is setting the stage for more SPD cuts and transfers in 2022. Nevertheless, the Council can find plenty to do with $21.5 million in the 2021 budget, as it has a long wish-list of items it wants to fund.

It’s important to emphasize that none of this is final. The Council is just starting to debate the merits of these proposals; some will change, and some may be dropped entirely or kicked down the road until more work can be done on them. I’ll also add a caveat emptor here: the budget is very complex, and neither the Mayor nor the Council are showing all their work, so doing the forensic accounting on this is an exercise in approximation more than precision. It’s nearly guaranteed that I’ll be updating this article with corrections in the days to come.

You can find the full list of the Council’s proposed changes to SPD’s budget in tomorrow’s agenda. The discussion should take up the bulk of the afternoon session, starting at 2pm — though public comment will only be held at the morning session.

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  1. First, I assume that SPD personnel can retire early in comparison to other city employees, for instance those at the Library or City Light. If this is correct and as the Mayor and City Council shift people out of SPD, will people be able to take their original retirement plan and date with them? (I realize this is an in-the-weeds question, but if I were affected, I would like to know.)

    1. It’s a good question. Sworn SPD officers have their own retirement system; I believe civilian SPD employees participate in the same retirement system as the rest of the city employees so their benefits would transfer with them. So it’s really an issue only for sworn SPD officers who then take a civilian job.

      Though it’s also an issue for the HSD employees who are slated to have their jobs move over to the new regional homeless authority next year. That is yet to be worked out.

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