Council updates SPD budget, says “yes” to several of police department’s proposals

Today the City Council’s finance committee finally got down to voting on a proposal from the Seattle Police Department on how to spend $15 million of salary savings accumulating due to the high officer attrition over the past year. And in the end it gave the department much, but not all, of what it wanted while also funding a few of the items on its own community safety wish-list.

As reported last week, in late July SPD sent the Council a memo providing updates on staffing and budget for the department, detailing that it had already lost 100 officers this year, and projecting out over $15 million in salary savings in 2021 due to unfilled positions. The memo also proposed a plan for how to spend those savings in this year’s budget, spanning across three categories of investments:

  1. investments to help the department cover the costs and mitigate some of the impacts of the high attrition ($6.5 million);
  2. investments in other areas that would strengthen the department without adding more sworn officers: funding unfilled civilian positions left open during the pandemic; some technology projects; hiring and retention incentives; a mental health professional to work with officers; and a set-aside for potential COVID-19-related “hazard pay” compensation ($7.24 million);
  3. investments in civilian community safety programs outside of SPD:  SFD’s proposed Triage One program; a new, more flexible 911 dispatch system for the Community Safety and Communications Center; and an investment in the King County Peacekeepers gun violence prevention program ($1.54 million).

That would leave about $64,000 of the salary savings unspent, which SPD would be free to use within the spending restrictions of the budget line-item where the money resides.

Coming into today’s meeting, Councilmembers Herbold and Mosqueda had crafted a budget amendment (attached to a mid-year bill making a long list of tweaks to the city’s 2021 budget) that gave SPD some of what they wanted: about $5 million for the attrition-related category, $1.85 million for the items that would strengthen the department, and $5.14 million for non-SPD community safety investments. In that last category, the bill would retain all of the proposed investments, and add four more: a $3 million addition to the existing $12 million RFP for community safety organizational capacity building; $500,000 for the Department of Finance and Administrative Service to build out larger and better evidence-storage facilities for SPD; a new position in the city’s IT department to handle public-document requests for SPD emails; and a new position in the Office of Professional Accountability to handle public document requests, instead of OPA relying on SPD’s staff to handle them. The bill also cut a $68,000 position intended for hiring a new training program coordinator for recruits that would start them building connections with the community before they went off to the state law enforcement academy. The Herbold/Mosqueda plan left a balance of $3.29 million in salary savings that SPD would have some flexibility on spending.

In today’s meeting, Councilmember Herbold made two further amendments, adding back in two cuts: $2.25 million for three high-priority SPD technology projects, and the pre-academy training coordinator ($68,000). So the final bill, as passed out of committee today, looks like this:

  1. attrition-related: $4.17 million;
  2. strengthening the department: $5 million;
  3. non-SPD community safety investments: $5.14 million.

That leaves a balance of $1.1 million for SPD to use flexibly on some, but not all, of the unfunded items in its proposal — because $1.1 million won’t cover all the costs, and because a couple of the items would require the City Council to move money between budget line-items.

Here’s a quick comparison of SPD’s original proposal (from its memo, which explains the individual line-items), the Herbold/Mosqueda proposed amendment (labeled as Amendment 8), and the effect of Herbold’s two additional changes:

Source: City Council Central Staff

SPD originally asked for $3 million in extra overtime budget to account for the increased number of large events happening through the remainder of the year, which weren’t accounted for in its original 2021 budget because the economy opened up sooner than expected. But the Council, both wary of increasing SPD’s overtime budget (a sore point for many years) and worried about the delta variant of shutting down events again, only gave SPD half of that: $1.5 million. The department could choose to spend more of the remaining $1.1 million of salary savings on overtime, but to do so it will need to leave the money unspent until nearly the end of the year.

The money isn’t quite freed up for SPD to spend yet: the bill now goes to the full City Council for its final approval at its next meeting on September 13th (after its August recess, and its observance of Rosh Hashanah on September 6th). Activists who want to take away as much money as possible from SPD will not be happy — including Councilmember Sawant — will not be happy with the committee’s actions today, but it will still likely garner the necessary votes to pass.

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