When the City Council started digging into the Seattle Police Department’s $409 million annual budget last month, having pledged to redirect much of the money to community solutions, a crucial truth quickly emerged.
To defund the police, like many Black Lives Matter protesters have demanded since an uprising began in May, the council would need to slash spending on personnel; more than 80% of SPD’s budget this year was allocated to employee compensation.
Council members took some initial steps Monday, voting for 2020 budget amendments meant to shrink Seattle’s force by up to 100 officers and reduce the wages of about a dozen commanders for the rest of this year. They also passed an amendment that would require SPD to file monthly reports about employees making more than $150,000 this year.
But what the council members have yet to review is an employee-by-employee breakdown of police pay. Those records, requested from City Hall by The Seattle Times, shed additional light on how the department spends taxpayers’ dollars.
The median gross pay among SPD’s more than 2,000 employees last year was about $153,000, not including benefits, with 374 employees grossing at least $200,000 and 77 making at least $250,000, according to a Times analysis.
Note: All employees, including civilians (such as parking officers and 911 dispatchers) and employees who worked less than full time or less than the full year, were included in that analysis. Median gross pay was higher among sworn employees (officers, sergeants, lieutenants and captains) and among employees who worked more hours. For example, the median for officers who worked at least 1,000 hours was $167,000.
Twenty employees — all of them officers, sergeants or lieutenants — grossed more money than police Chief Carmen Best in 2019, even though the department’s top boss had the highest base rate: $140 per hour.
The gross pay numbers cloak some details, because they combine regular and overtime pay; SPD uses overtime to staff emphasis patrols, sports events and other special events, such as parades and protests. It spent more than $34 million in overtime pay in 2019.
Last year’s gross numbers are also somewhat skewed, because members of the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) received lump-sum retroactive raises from 2015-2018, when they worked under an expired contract.
The retroactive payments help explain why SPD’s median gross pay rose from about $105,000 in 2017 and $104,000 in 2018 to $153,000 in 2019, and why 20 employees leapfrogged Best in gross pay from 2017 to 2019. The median retroactive payment for a SPOG member last year was $34,640.
The new contract SPOG signed with the city in 2018 included cost of living raises of 3% for 2015, 2016 and 2017, 3.65% for 2018 and 3.85% for 2019.
Mayor Jenny Durkan lobbied the council to approve the contract, touting the deal as an opportunity to secure reforms, such as body-worn cameras and a civilian inspector general, and also to reward and retain police officers who had gone several years without raises. The council voted 8-1; among current members, M. Lorena González, Teresa Mosqueda, Lisa Herbold and Debora Juarez voted yes, while only Kshama Sawant voted no.
The pay records requested by The Times demonstrate how exactly the dollars in the contract added up last year. Seattle shelled out almost $37 million in retroactive base pay and more than $7 million in retroactive overtime pay.
For example, SPD’s top earner was patrol officer Ron Morgan Willis, hired in 1995. He made $128,716 in base pay last year while racking up $214,544 in overtime pay, $33,628 in retroactive base pay and $37,656 in retroactive overtime pay. In total, he grossed $414,543 in 2019.
Willis is a patrol officer who also serves as an “adjunct trainer,” working with SPD’s training unit “on an overtime basis,” according to Kelsey Nyland, a spokesperson for Mayor Jenny Durkan.
SPD has added training sessions in recent years to comply with a 2012 court agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice that required Seattle to curb excessive force and biased policing. But the city hasn’t added more officers to its training unit, Nyland said. Instead, SPD has relied on officers working overtime “to staff these shifts,” she said.
SPOG’s contract allows officers to work overtime while on vacation, the spokesperson added. An officer who works a 12-hour shift on a vacation day can receive 12 hours of overtime pay and eight hours of regular pay.
Provisions also allow cops in certain cases to be paid an hour of overtime for a short phone call or to be paid three hours of overtime for less actual work.
Willis was “not available for an interview at this time,” Sgt. Lauren Truscott, an SPD spokesperson, said in an email Thursday.
Reining in overtime
Willis wasn’t alone in piling up overtime. More than 160 SPD employees made at least $50,000 in overtime last year, not counting retroactive payments.
SPD’s annual overtime expenses have about tripled since 2006, and overtime hours worked have increased 53%, from about 260,000 to 398,000 hours, according to the department.
A 2016 audit ordered by then-police Chief Kathleen O’Toole concluded the department had no realistic budgeting for overtime, no adequate monitoring, no reviews to identify unnecessary overtime and inadequate billing for overtime at special events hosted by private entities, such as the Seahawks.
The department has made a number of policy changes since the audit. Still, the line item has continued to climb. In 2015, the department spent about $24 million on overtime. This year, it budgeted about $30 million.
Several months of 2020 remain, but the money is already gone, council members heard recently. To help close a revenue gap created by the COVID-19 crisis, Durkan in June said she’d cut $8.6 million in SPD overtime. The department spent $6.3 million in overtime for Black Lives Matter protests between May 29 and June 9, and more previously for other purposes.
Some Seattle police officers earn more money working off-duty security gigs.
Staff reporters Daniel Gilbert and Manuel Villa contributed to this story.
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