In the difficult and winding path of Seattle police reform, parking enforcement officers have become a political football.

It’s time to stop playing budget games and put parking enforcement where it belongs, within the Seattle Police Department.

In November 2020, then-Mayor Jenny Durkan and all nine City Council members approved moving the city’s Parking Enforcement Officers out of the Seattle Police Department. It was a performative gesture aimed at placating defund-police activists who wanted to reduce the police budget.

Trouble is, parking enforcement vehicles and uniforms still feature SPD logos, leaving the average resident to believe the officers work for law enforcement and not transportation. Whatever the intended message, it was lost on the public.

Then there was the snafu involving 200,000 parking tickets that had to be voided or refunded after it was discovered parking officers had not been granted the authority to write citations. It cost the city between $4.5 million and $5 million.

Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office said there were no substantive changes in how parking enforcement officers prioritized or administered the law at SDOT. Office space, payroll, information technology and equipment remained at SPD.

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Given all this, Harrell’s proposed budget sensibly transfers these workers back to SPD. Such a move would avert $5.5 million in overhead and overtime expenses through operational efficiencies.

In the process to pass a final budget next month, Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who serves as chair of the budget committee, introduced an amendment that would keep parking enforcement in SDOT while a newly formed task force determined the best permanent home for the unit, whether in SDOT, SPD or somewhere else.

The City Council ought to reject that idea and stick with Harrell on this one.

Enough time and money has been wasted drawing up new organizational charts for parking enforcement officers. The real challenges for police reform remain recruitment, better training, accountability and statewide reforms that make it easier to fire and discipline bad cops.

Progress has been made on all fronts but more work needs to be done. Forget tinkering with budget gimmicks and meaningless feel-good measures. Put parking enforcement officers back in SPD and focus on making sure Seattle has the most professional and responsive department in the nation.