Earlier this week the City Council took the first steps toward staffing up the newly-formed Community Safety and Communications Center, a civilian-run department intended to house community safety functions at arm’s length from sworn police officers. But negotiations with unions are slowing the pace of moving staff into the new organization.
In early March, Mayor Durkan officially appointed an Acting Director for the CSCC: Seattle Fire Department Deputy Chief Chris Lombard. With a skeleton administrative staff in place, Lombard began preparations for moving the first two groups into his organization: SPD’s 911 call center, and the city’s parking enforcement officers (PEOs) who also currently report up through SPD. To enable that required a key piece of bureaucracy: obtaining a new Originating Agency Identifier (ORI) from the federal government. Every 911 call center must have its own ORI, and SPD’s cannot be transferred over. The CSCC received its ORI on April 26.
During last fall’s budget process, the City Council established the CSCC with its own budget and articulated its intent to move the 911 call center and PEOs over to it; but recognizing that it would take time both to obtain the ORI and to negotiate terms of the transfer with the unions representing both groups, they set a June 1 target for the move. As that date quickly approaches, it appears that the 911 call center is ready, but things are not yet resolved with the PEOs.
Last fall the Durkan administration proposed that instead of moving the PEOs to the CSCC, they should be transferred to SDOT. That is consistent with precedents in many other municipalities; SDOT and Durkan still favor moving the PEOs there, and according to a memo from the Council’s central staff, observed “that no other municipalities have detached parking enforcement from a public works, transportation, or police reporting structure.” SDOT also pointed out that the PEOs have an ongoing partnership with SDOT’s Curbside Management Team. And apparently there is still division among the PEOs themselves, with the rank-and-file employees favoring the move to the CSCC but their supervisors (who are represented by a different union) continuing to have concerns. According to the memo, the PEOs are interested in the opportunities to expand their responsibilities as part of the CSCC, including traffic control for special events; however, that not only involves collective bargaining with their labor representatives, it also involves negotiating with SPOG and SPMA, the unions representing police officers and supervisors, since it would be taking work away from them. Those negotiations continue to drag out, and they are unlikely to be resolved by June 1.
Last fall, the Council requested three reports from the Durkan administration: one on what would be required to expand the PEOs’ responsibilities; one on the cost of using PEOs for traffic control during special events; and one on the cost of merging the SPD and SFD call centers, which are run separately today. City Budget Director Ben Noble has requested extensions for all three reports because of the delays in negotiating terms with the respective unions.
Nevertheless, this week the Council took up a bill that would officially transfer the 140 employees of SPD’s 911 call center and the 120 Parking Enforcement Officers to the CSCC. It was a difficult conversation for the Council, muddled a bit by a budgeting side-issue because the Council only granted SPD budget authority to pay them through June 1 — with the assumption that by then they would have moved over to the CSCC. That is easily resolved, but it served as a distracting detail as the Council wrestled with whether to move the PEOs over to the CSCC now, or continue trying to drive to consensus with the rank-and-file and supervisors as to whether CSCC or SDOT is the best home for them.
In the end, the Council voted 2-1 to move the bill out of committee with a recommendation to pass it; Councilmembers Herbold and Lewis voted “yes,” Council President Gonzalez voted “no” (she stated that she preferred to see the PEOs moved to SDOT), and Councilmembers Morales and Sawant abstained without comment. Because the vote was not unanimous, it will proceed to the full Council with a “divided report,” and wait an extra week before it can be voted upon; now the soonest the Council with schedule a vote is Monday, May 24. In the meantime, conversations and negotiations will continue with the PEOs, their union representatives, and the other stakeholders in the hope of finding a clear path forward.
In time, the Council and Mayor expect that other groups will also move over to the CSCC, potentially including the Community Service Officers, crisis intervention teams, and mental health providers.
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