On Tuesday, the Seattle City Council approved a budget item to fund a new agreement with the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) to allow civilian parking enforcement employees to direct traffic at large public events, such as fairs, concerts, and football games. In exchange for letting the City tap other workers to serve as traffic cones, taxpayers must pay cops who volunteer to work these events an additional $225 per shift, which will cost us an extra $8 million in police overtime over the next two years.
The Mayor and some council members touted the new agreement as a way to supplement and diversify the City’s public safety resources, but the deal also provides insight into the ongoing SPOG contract negotiations. With this compromise, the City is signaling its willingness to increase police funding and to grant SPD significant control over civilian police alternatives, all without pushing for any accountability or oversight measures in return. The Council plans to vote on the full agreement in December.
Most work around special events involves conducting traffic, and in 2017 the City Auditor suggested that such a menial task shouldn’t fall to SPD officers, who account for some of the City’s highest-paid employees.
When the Council first raised the idea of using Parking Enforcement Officers (PEOs) to supplement that work, then-Interim Chief Adrian Diaz acknowledged that the mandatory overtime required for the jobs made “our officers tired” and took them away from actual police work. But at the same time, he balked at the idea of shifting a portion of that work to PEOs, citing legal requirements established by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that do not exist. At a budget hearing Monday, Council staff said DHS generally holds SPD responsible for security around stadiums, but the requirements give SPD the flexibility to use civilians for certain roles, echoing The Stranger’s own reporting from last year.
Of course, even if Diaz had gotten on board right away, the City would have still needed to negotiate the idea with SPOG, or else risk the police union filing a labor complaint for “skimming” work from its members. Those conversations evidently happened, as last week the City’s Labor Relations Policy Committee announced a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the police union. That MOU addressed civilian staffing for these special events, outlined the City’s Dual Dispatch pilot program, and allowed for the expansion of the City’s downtown Park Ranger Program to all City parks.
The MOU, which lasts from this October through the end of 2025, gives SPD the ability to create special event staffing plans that allot a certain number of positions for officers and a certain number of positions for civilians, such as PEOs. SPD can increase the number of civilians working events if too few officers volunteer. As part of the agreement, the City promised to hold quarterly meetings with the police union so members can flag any problems or concerns about event staffing plans, such as complaints about not allowing enough cops to moonlight as traffic cones. SPD must also consider “in good faith” any of SPOG’s specific suggestions related to the plans, such as suggestions to use more cops to direct traffic.
The City placed zero conditions on the $225 shift premium for officers who end up working events, not even setting a minimum number of hours cops need to work to qualify for it. The bonus shakes out to essentially paying cops almost double time during special events. For example, if an SPD officer volunteered to work a five-hour overtime shift for a Mariners game, that officer could go from earning $60-$78 per hour to $105-123 per hour, depending on the officer’s pay scale.
SPOG justified the premium by arguing that the City needed to encourage older officers to volunteer to work events, otherwise SPD’s seniority system–which SPOG created in its contract–would lead to newer officers shouldering most of the burden of getting paid double time to work baseball games.
The other way of looking at it: The union convinced the City to staff events with more expensive employees. PEOs, who will not get a $225 bonus for working games, make a starting salary of about $29-$34 an hour, which puts their overtime rate at between about $43-$51 an hour. That’s far lower than SPOG members.
The MOU also gives SPOG ironclad control over the City’s Dual Dispatch pilot program. The City first proposed the pilot as a police alternative, but the final program falls far short of that. The City set a cap hire of 24 Community Crisis Responders (CCRs) to respond to two types of 911 calls: person down and welfare checks. The 911 dispatch center sends the CCRs and officers to these calls at the same time in separate vehicles. If an officer arrives at the scene first, then they can tell the CCRs not to come. If the CCRs arrive first, then they must wait for an officer to assess the situation, and the office must give the CCRs approval to make first contact with the people involved. During a Monday budget hearing, Council Member Lisa Herbold pointed out that an officer can make that assessment in whatever way the cop “deems appropriate,” and without necessarily going to the scene. Still, that’s a lot of police involvement for a police alternative.
While voting on the MOU Tuesday, Council Member Teresa Mosqueda argued that the City made a mistake in hashing out an MOU amidst the ongoing collective bargaining between SPOG and the City. The City handed over an additional $4.5 million next year, and a total of $8 million over the next two years, all without knowing the final price tag of the new police contract. (Meanwhile, the City expects to cut $1.5 million in services to tiny house villages and non-congregate shelters, and the budget still includes no additional funding for LEAD, a pre arrest diversion program) Mosqueda said the City could have used parts of the MOU as leverage in the negotiations over police accountability requirements, though Herbold and Council President Debora Juarez argued that the MOU had nothing to do with police accountability.
But yeah, SPOG gave up basically nothing as part of this MOU. The City gave SPOG a significant voice in how many civilians SPD puts on special events, gave SPD significant control over the dual dispatch program, and allowed SPD to maintain the right to conduct emphasis patrols in parks even while expanding the City’s Park Ranger program. Then the City gave SPOG millions in additional funding on top of the department’s already bloated overtime budget. I can’t point to a single benefit or budget reduction for the City, aside from the benefit the City sees in supplementing police staffing numbers and adding Park Rangers to more City parks.
Editor's note: This story was updated to include the date of the Council's vote on the full agreement.