Seattle City Council committee stalls on further cuts to Seattle Police Department’s 2021 budget

SPD Sworn Separations, 1998-2020

The Seattle City Council’s Public Safety and Human Service Committee has considered a new replacement in the long, politically dense debate over the Seattle Police Department’s 2021 budget after spending too much last year.

The problem arises from two previous actions by the Council. In August 2020, the council passed a resolution in which it declared that it would “not support any budget changes to increase the SPD budget in order to offset overtime expenditures over and above the budget for 2020 or 2021”.

When the SPD tabled a $ 5.4 million shortfall in severance pay, parental fee reimbursement and overtime reimbursement for officials working at COVID-19 test sites late in the year, the council voted to to cover the shortfall in their fourth quarter budget.

While this vote technically didn’t violate their earlier decision not to increase the SPD budget, the council noted that the department would have been able to cover its own deficits if it hadn’t spent too much on overseeing over the summer Protests.

“The SPD would have had sufficient appropriation powers to cover the $ 5.4 million had it not exceeded its overtime budget, mainly due to the overuse of officials during the largely peaceful summer 2020 demonstrations, including one Use by officials that exceeded $ 10 million. ” Overtime costs less than 60 days, “the city wrote in the original memo for Council Bill 119981.

Now that $ 5.4 million is back on the table in the form of cuts to the current SPD budget for 2021, the money would be used for ongoing participatory budgeting efforts to focus on police alternatives for public safety. However, the SPD has made significant efforts to keep that money in its current budget, following a report highlighting the impact of staff shortages on the department.

In a memo sent to the city guides, the SPD reported that it had lost 186 civil servants in the past year, more than in any other year that has ever been recorded. According to Deputy Mayor Mike Fong, the separations have led to a “staffing crisis” that has resulted in longer 911 response times and diverted 100 officers from reconnaissance and prevention tasks to the 911 response unit.

“We are not budgeted or staffed to maintain an acceptable level of security in the city,” Fong told the committee on March 9.

SPD Sworn Separations, 1998-2020

SPD memo on CB 119981

The report found that the SPD had failed to achieve its goal of a seven-minute response to priority 1 calls (the highest level in events such as assault, domestic violence, break-in, shooting, suicide, etc.) for seven consecutive months over the past year. Response times for these calls peaked in June at about the correct minutes.

The federal police monitor appointed by the US Department of Justice under the assent decree also expressed concern about the cuts proposed by the council and whether that would deter the city from complying with the mandate.

“Concerns have been expressed about the possibility of various cuts to the SPD budget that will affect the ability of the City of Seattle to meet a number of requirements of the Consent Decree in 2021 and in the future,” police monitor Antonio Oftelie wrote in an to the City posted memo officials on March 22nd.

These concerns prompted Councilor Lisa Herbold, who chairs the committee, to propose a replacement draft on Monday evening to compromise.

“While I’ve seen this as a way to hold the SPD accountable for their overtime spending, I wasn’t rigid when it came to hearing the bill myself, which I would consider necessary for the SPD spending,” said Herbold during the Tuesday meeting.

The replacement bill would invest US $ 2 million from the SPD in participatory budgeting and provide US $ 5.7 million in other areas of expenditure, including financing the filling of eleven open civilian positions in the SPD and the hiring of five more positions for mental health Health workers, technology investments, and the rental of additional evidence storage.

Thus, the bill would not result in fewer or more patrol officers as the police force was set in November 2020 when the council passed its final budget for 2021 and the proposed cuts come from the salary savings of officials who have left the department.

Councilor Andrew Lewis advocated the replacement bill, stressing that expanding the program for community service officials would increase public safety efforts independent of law enforcement, although that program is still housed within the police department.

“”[The bill] This will impact key civil and public health services on the ground that can help ease our transition to a public safety system that highlights these types of services, “said Lewis.”[Community service officers] are former practicing social workers, they are a workforce who together speak nine languages ​​fluently. They are former youth counselors, they are former union organizers, and these are the people we’re going to get more of under the Substitution Act. “

However, some council members expressed dissatisfaction with the substitute law, saying it was based on previous promises made in the resolution not to fund overtime expenses and set a precedent the department could potentially overuse.

“The department decided last year to exceed its overtime budget. I think we need to pull that $ 5.4 million out of the department and leave the SPD to budget within the remaining savings instead of sending a message saying that overages are acceptable are.” Councilor Tammy Morales said, “You have made your budget decisions and, like any other department, should now operate within those limits.”

The bill was passed 3: 2 by the committee, with Councilors Morales and Kshama Sawant opposed. They wanted the original version of the bill, which included the $ 5.4 million cut.

The issue will be submitted by the next meeting of the Public Safety Committee on April 13, as the committee awaits further feedback from the Federal Monitor.