Seattle residents concerned about public safety and timely police responses should keep an eye on the Seattle City Council this week.
On Tuesday, council members are expected to take up Mayor Bruce Harrell’s proposal to rebuild the Seattle Police Department after several years of disarray and dissolution.
The number of Seattle police officers available for deployment was 956 at the end of May 2022, the lowest number since at least 1991, when such statistics were counted.
Harrell’s plan includes one-time hiring bonuses of $30,000 for an experienced police officer from another department and $7,500 for a new recruit, among other provisions.
Such incentives are common in police departments around the region, and this is not a new concept for Seattle. In 2019, the council approved an SPD hiring-incentive package that lasted about a year.
After the 2020 murder of George Floyd, a council majority went beyond calls for greater accountability and training for cops. Seven of nine council members signed on to demands to defund Seattle police by 50%: Teresa Mosqueda, Lisa Herbold, Dan Strauss, Andrew Lewis, Tammy Morales, Kshama Sawant and M. Lorena González, who left office after unsuccessfully running for mayor last year.
Last week, Harrell’s police hiring package passed the Public Safety and Human Services Committee on Aug. 9 by a vote of 4-1: council members Alex Pedersen and Sara Nelson were joined by Herbold and Lewis. Mosqueda was the lone “no” vote.
The legislation needs at least five votes at full council on Tuesday to pass.
More robust hiring and recruitment won’t immediately solve all of Seattle’s public safety problems. Interim Chief Adrian Diaz predicted that it will take five to 10 years to return SPD to pre-pandemic staffing levels.
Nonetheless, this is an important moment. Positive city council action will go a long ways to show prospective recruits that Seattle wants thoughtful and compassionate cops, and that they will be supported by the politicians.
With this one bill, council members can reset the narrative, and begin to fulfill the requirement in Seattle City Charter to maintain adequate police protection in all parts of the city.