When he ran for Mayor, Bruce Harrell promised to find ways not to send a gun and a badge to every single little call fielded by the Seattle Police Department (SPD). But a draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the City and the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) that details the expansion of civilian work within SPD falls well short of fulfilling that promise. Instead of creating serious police alternatives that could save the City money and help alleviate staffing shortages at the department, the MOU outlines civilian roles that look more like personal assistants to cops and that protect cushy positions wholly unsuited for some of the City’s highest-paid employees.

According to the language of the agreement, which SPOG briefly posted online on Friday alongside a copy of the overall tentative collective bargaining agreement, the police union agreed to allow civilians and former law enforcement officers to help with about 18 different tasks normally performed by SPD officers. Among other things, SPOG graciously allowed civilians to handle the chores of delivering mobile fingerprint readers to cops, performing mail runs, and delivering messages (except death notifications). 

SPOG also agreed to allow civilians to review automated traffic safety camera violations, which capture people running red lights or speeding through school zones. Tapping non-sworn workers to do that job could actually be really helpful. In 2023, SPD cost the City about $4.3 million in revenue when its officers failed to review about 100,000 tickets over two years. At the time, SPD blamed staffing shortages for their failure. However, though SPOG said civilians can now help out with that task, the union stipulated that the City had to “preserve” five positions in that unit for cops. In March, SPD assigned just three officers to review traffic citations. On average, the City pays those officers $68 an hour, or $141,700 a year, to review photos and sign off on citations. 

SPOG’s insistence that the City allow the department to maintain at least five police officer positions for that job makes sense when you look at who SPD has stashed in that department in the past. Before the roster began listing him as an unavailable person, SPOG Vice President Officer Daniel Auderer spent some time reviewing parking tickets after video emerged of him laughing at Jaahnavi Kandula’s death. A look at recent rosters shows that several officers who worked in the photo unit either had an active OPA investigation at the time, appeared to be close to retirement, or both. The union's push to set aside five of these positions for bad apples and senior officers with six-digit salaries looking for busy work shows that the union values diversity in its administrative jobs over the City’s interest in keeping the community safe. 

Other restrictions throughout the MOU clarify that civilians in the department act as subordinates to the police, not as police alternatives. For instance, the agreement strictly prohibits civilians from responding to wellness checks on people dealing with mental illness and substance abuse disorders, the very calls supposedly meant to be handled by Seattle’s new Community Assisted Response and Engagement (CARE) team.

Non-sworn SPD staff can respond to some 911 calls, such as ones about noise complaints and missing persons, but only if a sergeant has screened the call first. Under the agreement, civilians can field calls without a sergeant's approval if they involve a landlord and tenant dispute so long as that dispute involves no confrontation or disturbance, emergency food and shelter requests, less than $750 in property damage, and features no related witnesses, suspects, evidence, or malicious harassment.

And just to wrap all of this up in a nice bow, the MOU emphasizes that employing civilians to do any of this work “will not prohibit officers from doing any of the functions identified above.” So the public can still expect to pay a median salary of $58 per hour for officers to carry messages, check the mail, and pick up lost property.