On Wednesday morning, Mayor Bruce Harrell announced a $2 million plan to recruit more cops.
Over the past two-and-a-half years, more than 400 have left the Seattle Police Department (SPD). That’s the smallest the department’s been in 30 years. The mayor and most of city council believe hiring more cops is an important part of the City’s public safety plan. The plan, which has dominated the City’s public safety conversation, overshadows commitments to implementing more unarmed alternatives to decrease police violence. But after months of debate over whether hiring incentives can grow the department, Harrell has set the stage for the council to approve his plan allowing SPD hiring bonuses of up to $30,000 for lateral hires and $7,500 for recruits.
In true #OneSeattle fashion, Harrell, in the words of Councilmember Alex Pedersen, “brokered” a compromise among councilmembers after more than six months of conflict with the body and the former mayor. The compromise includes a bill sponsored by Councilmember Lisa Herbold freeing up over $1 million in SPD funding. The money will be divided across moving expenses for new police officer hires ($650,000), a national ad campaign to market positions ($350,000), and a nationwide search for a permanent police chief ($150,000). Harrell counted this money in his plan at the press conference.
The compromise has already set the stage to fund the other half of Harrell’s plan. The council also approved Councilmember Sara Nelson’s resolution, which promised that the council would lift spending restrictions on anticipated 2022 salary savings, so that SPD can offer hiring bonuses. Lifting the restrictions allows the department to use money in their budget previously under proviso, leaving around $4.5 million in salary savings for the mayor.
Nelson didn’t seem too picky about how the executive spends that money.
“Frankly, whatever. I don’t really care what it’s used for,” Nelson said ahead of the vote in May.
In an email, Herbold thanked the mayor and the interim police chief for their plan, but maintained some of the concerns that slowed the council’s discussion in the first place. “Focusing on hiring police officers isn’t enough. Retention is important too, but not only paying officers appreciation bonuses, but making sure their workload is sustainable,” Herbold wrote.
Earlier this year, the Seattle Department of Human Resources (SDHR) found inconclusive evidence that hiring bonuses help attract cops. In a presentation to the council, talent acquisition director Keith Gulley warned that hiring bonuses would not address the larger issues that the City faces in retaining employees, which, according to the report, include noncompetitive wages, unsupportive working conditions, and limited promotion opportunities.
Herbold and Nelson valued this input to vastly different degrees. Nelson asked that the council mostly ignore the SDHR and its analysis, which she dismissively called a “two-page memo.” But for Herbold, the report signaled a reason to pump the brakes and look for other solutions.
To Herbold’s concerns, Harrell’s plan includes other methods better suited to bolstering retention. According to Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz, the department will retain cops by giving them more time off and implementing an education incentive plan. Diaz said SPD did not have a dollar amount for retention bonuses, because the City is still in negotiations with the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG).
Beyond retention, Herbold said re-envisioning public safety could yield a healthier police force. “We can’t keep asking police officers to direct traffic and help people in mental health crises when we don’t have enough officers to investigate sexual assaults or respond to 911 calls,” Herbold said.
While the Black Lives Matter movement hasn’t radicalized the council into abolitionists, Herbold said she wants to offload some police responsibilities to other departments, which the council has done with parking enforcement.
“Seattle is falling behind on its commitments to create policing alternatives, and those impacts are being felt by community members who are not getting the service they deserve and by police officers who are stretched too thin,” she wrote.