Hold your horses, Jenny. Herbold wants to deal with hiring incentives in the budget
Hold your horses, Jenny. Herbold wants to deal with hiring incentives in the budget. Seattle Channel screenshot

Mayor Jenny Durkan threw the City Council a curveball late on Friday when she issued an emergency order to give huge hiring bonuses to cops in the thick of budget season.

“When residents call 911, they expect an officer to show up – and when they call the 911 emergency line, they expect that someone will answer the phone. Hiring, recruiting, and training takes months, and we need to act now to ensure we can have trained and deployable staff,” Durkan said in a press release Friday.

Hundreds of officers have left SPD since last summer’s historic call for some form of police accountability, reform, or abolition following yet another racist, state-sanctioned murder. Durkan’s emergency order allows the Seattle Police Department and the Community Safety and Communications Center (CSCC) to offer hiring incentives of up to $25,000 for lateral hires and up to $10,000 for new hires.

The council is supposed to “endeavour to act” on emergency orders within 48 hours of their issuance, but it’s not a constricting timeline. The council may accept, amend, or reject the emergency order. They can also ignore it, which would functionally serve as an acceptance.

Durkan has upped the ante since her budget proposal from the end of September, when she gave SPD a small refund and suggested hiring bonuses of $7,500 for new hires and $1,500 for lateral hires. She allocated $1.09 million in the 2022 budget to do all that.

In the council briefing Monday morning, Public Safety Chair Councilmember Lisa Herbold pointed out that Durkan’s 2022 budget proposal did not include bonuses for the CSCC, the recently established office designed to scale back SPD’s responsibilities and redirect more calls to non-police responders. Herbold flagged the shortage of 911 dispatchers as an issue the council must consider as they amend the mayor’s budget and said she wanted to use bonuses for 911 dispatchers as an “effort to study whether or not hiring bonuses make sense for other positions in the city.”

“The inclusion of the increase of the cost of the bonus for both lateral hires and new hires and adding the bonuses for 911 call-takers at the CSCC means that the mayor's own proposed budget falls far short of the likely cost of her proposed 2022 budget program,” Herbold said. “And it's not clear whether or not funding in the 2021 budget is sufficient to allow the program to begin operating as envisioned.”

This council has approved hiring bonuses before. In 2019, the council, which had not yet been picketed at their own homes to support the defund movement, passed legislation to authorize hiring bonuses of up to $15,000 for lateral hires and $7,500 for new recruits.

The most recent attempt to provide hiring incentives did not go well. When the Seattle Police Department found itself with a $15 million budget surplus as a result of officer attrition, Councilmember Alex Pedersen proposed using $3.3 million to address retention issues and give $15,000 bonuses for lateral hires. Only Councilmember Debora Jaurez supported his amendment. Then he tried again, this time proposing a more modest $1.1 million to keep cops at SPD. This proposal got council members Dan Strauss and Andrew Lewis on board, but it was ultimately rejected 5-4. The council opted to move $5.2 million out of the department.

At the time, Herbold, who voted no twice on Pederson’s hiring bonuses, said she would support these measures during budget negotiations if the council gave other short-staffed departments similar incentives, according to The Urbanist.

In the Monday briefing, Herbold held to her position.

“I really feel like we should be dealing with this issue as part of the budget process,” Herbold said. “I stated as much a couple months ago, and hope that that's how we help you move forward.”

The council will take a bit longer to respond, but over the weekend, the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild made it clear that the pot-sweeteners in Durkan’s executive order wouldn’t be enough, even though the bonuses would amount to over a quarter of the yearly income for the median household in Seattle.

The statement from SPOG’s board of directors said that “dangling money to recruit new or lateral hires won’t get the job done” because, as SPOG President Mike Solan explained, “many former police employees left for lower paying agencies just to escape Seattle’s toxic political climate.”

Council President Lorena González asked her colleagues to “spend some time with the emergency order” and to direct their questions to central staff by the end of the day.

“I apologize for the quick timeline, but it is very necessary for us to turn this around quickly if the majority of the council appears to want to take specific action,” González said.