911 call center moves to new civilian public safety agency, while SPD budget cut still on hold

This afternoon the City Council passed an ordinance transferring the employees of SPD’s 911 call center to the newly-created Community Safety and Communications Center (CSCC), a civilian-led sister organization to the police department. But after a last-minute amendment, SPD’s parking enforcement officers were left in place until consensus can be reached on the right place to move them.

Last fall the Council created the new CSCC, and as SCC Insight wrote two weeks ago it expressed its intent to move the two groups out of SPD and over into the new organization by June; to that end, it only granted SPD the budget authority to pay them until that deadline. The 911 call center had to wait until a new national call-center identified number, called a URI, was issued for the CSCC; but it turns out the parking enforcement officers (PEOs) had a thornier issue.

The original proposal from the Mayor’s Office would have moved the PEO’s to SDOT rather than to the CSCC, following precedents in other cities. But rank-and-file PEOs expressed the desire to move to the CSCC instead in the hope that they could potentially pick up more responsibilities, such as traffic control during events. However, the PEO supervisors preferred to move to SDOT, and since they are represented by a separate union from the rank-and-file, that left the two unions at odds over the best path forward. The City Council, for its part, doesn’t want to risk its labor-friendly image by being forced to side with one union over another, so it is sitting on the sideline waiting for the two to (hopefully) work it out among themselves.

To maintain the status quo, today the Council also passed an update to its previous budget proviso so that SPD can continue to pay the PEOs through September. That buys the unions some time to get on the same page.

Meanwhile, the second controversial bill that emerged from the public safety committee on May 11, the potential $2 million cut to SPD’s budget (originally a $5.4 million cut), was a no-show on the Council’s agenda today. You may recall that it was advanced out of committee by a 2-3 vote: Herbold and Lewis voted for it, and Gonzalez, Morales and Sawant voted against. The “divided report” from the committee meant that it needed to wait an extra week before the full Council could take it up, and as such today’s meeting was the first opportunity for it to appear on the agenda.

The problem, it appears, is that only seven of the nine Council members were present today, with Gonzalez and Juarez having excused absences. A bill requires five votes to pass the full Council, and with Sawant and Morales already on the record as hard “no” votes, that left no room for error: Herbold needed all five of the remaining Councilmembers on her side. Rather than play those odds, she apparently decided to wait a week (or perhaps more) until all nine Councilmembers are in attendance. Look for the bill to reappear on the agenda next Tuesday, June 1.

One of the reasons it still might not pass is that the court-appointed police monitor has come out against it — and also apparently against any size cut to SPD’s budget, even to recover unspent salary savings due to the high attrition levels in the department. And even if the budget cut does pass the Council (and the Mayor doesn’t veto it), Judge James Robart, who oversees the SPD consent decree, has signaled that he will not look favorably upon SPD budget cuts. Robart has already found the city to be out of compliance with the consent decree with regard to police accountability issues, and it’s within his power to find it out of compliance on its other obligations. That is a further setback that most of the Councilmembers would like to avoid, especially the two running for office this year (Gonzalez and Mosqueda).

If the bill doesn’t pass, however, that doesn’t mean it’s all-clear for SPD to spend all of its budget. Rather, it would simply maintain the status quo, with $5 million of salary budget locked down under one budget proviso, and an additional $2.5 million set aside under another that was intended to force SPD to enact “out of order” layoffs. The Council has abandoned its ambitions for out-of-order layoffs due to state laws that would minimize their impact (the laid off officers would be first in line for rehiring in future years). At some point this year the Council will need to decide what to do about the $7.5 million held back under provisos, but that is unlikely to be a pressing issue until December when SPD is spending the last of its budget — and perhaps not even then if officer attrition continues to trend high.

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