Last week, the Seattle City Council passed its supplemental 2023-2024 budget without any clear solutions for the looming 2025 budget shortfall but with about $385 million allocated for the Seattle Police Department (SPD), or about 24% of general funds. The Council made no mid-term adjustment to SPD’s staffing budget, despite the department failing to meet any of its staffing projections from 2023. SPD vowed to hire a record number of officers next year, and the Council allowed the department to keep all the funds for this potential influx of officers, all while other City workers continue to fight to bump their pay increase from 1% up to 2.5%.

Overall, the council allowed SPD to keep funding for all of its remaining unfilled and likely unfillable vacant positions (aka “ghost cops”), finagle money for a dubious gun-shot detection program called ShotSpotter, and increase funding for overtime next year. 

This year the Council passed a “supplemental budget,” which means they just tweak the City budget they already decided last year for 2023-2024. That budget was already “quite favorable” to the department, to borrow the phrase SPD Finance Director Angela Socci used in a briefing with SPD leadership in 2022. Last year that “favorable” budget included funding for all working officers, as well as funding for all the positions SPD planned to fill, while eliminating 80 “ghost cops” but leaving about 200 remaining, which created a sizable slush fund in the form of “salary savings.” 

Ahead of 2023, SPD projected hiring 82 officers, but it ultimately hired just 46. That gap, combined with some unexpected officer departures, created $4.5 million in sworn officer savings for 2023. For 2024, SPD projects hiring 120 new officers, or more than double the number it hired last year. Even if SPD filled all those positions, SPD still projects $8.1 million in salary savings for 2024 from its ghost cops.

In 2022, Defend the Defund’s BJ Last pointed out that the Council’s failure to take away funding for ghost cop positions would result in SPD buying extra stuff and then calling that stuff budget-neutral, which is exactly what SPD did this year with the controversial ShotSpotter program. In budget negotiations, the Council approved SPD’s $1.5 million to fund the dubious surveillance program while also rejecting a proposal from Council Member Kshama Sawant to redirect that money toward behavioral health services. 

The Council briefly toyed with the idea of reducing the ghost cop budget by about a million dollars, but Council Member Alex Pedersen discouraged this idea, saying he wouldn’t want to “micromanage” SPD over a million dollars. But Last said a million dollars could have prevented a cut to services for tiny house villages and non-congregate shelters.

“Council members will argue about funding food banks and services and then turn around and throw money at SPD without blinking an eye,” Last said. 

For the 2023 budget, the council also allowed SPD to raid civilian staff funds to pay for sworn officer overtime. This year the cops blew past their $31 million overtime budget, spending $9 million more than anticipated. To help fill that gap, SPD said it would use salary savings from unfilled officer positions. However, about one-third of the nearly $7 million in salary savings they used came from unfilled civilian positions within the department, including $1.5 million in savings from unfilled parking enforcement officer (PEO) positions. 

The parking enforcement division returned to SPD this year after a brief period under the leadership of the City’s transportation department, apparently just in time for SPD to rob their piggy bank. In its budget briefing, SPD said it would fill its PEO positions by the end of 2024. Meanwhile, the Council also funded an agreement to pay cops double the amount PEOs make for directing traffic at public events. That agreement increased funding for SPD by about $4 million.

The council also gave SPD $250,000 to contract with Truelo, a software company that uses artificial intelligence to analyze police body camera footage. Both the American Civil Liberties Union and the Seattle Police Officers Guild criticized the technology when SPD’s contract with the company came to light earlier this year, so SPD canceled the contract. But now, Truelo is back. Some people think the software could help to review rarely examined body camera video and catch cops behaving badly, and others argue the program creates privacy violations that won’t result in any additional accountability for cops.

In other accountability matters, the Council approved a budget item for hiring a deputy director of the Office of Police Accountability, who joined the department in October. Council also approved an additional employee-and-a-half for the Office of Inspector General to review SPD’s use of surveillance technologies.