Two years into sustained calls for police reform across the country in response to the killing of George Floyd, residents pleaded with the Seattle City Council, which once committed to divesting from the city‘s police department, to vote against spending over $1 million in police hiring incentives and recruitment efforts.
“Tomorrow marks the second anniversary of the police killing of George Floyd, yet this afternoon, the council is spending its time figuring out how to incentivize hiring more police, without having done anything in the last two years to hold police more accountable,” said Howard Gale, an organizer of police oversight activist group SeattleStop.org.
“Accountability needs to come before incentives, or else we’re going to repeat the violence of 2020,” Gale added.
Gale was one of about 20 residents to call into the council’s business meeting Tuesday in opposition to a plan to free up unspent Seattle Police Department money to fund hiring incentives and recruitment for the department, amid a struggle to recruit and retain new police officers.
Throughout the public comment period, callers implored council members to spend the money on various social services and alternative public safety responses, rather than providing funds to the department which continues to exhibit racial disparities in force.
“Both fiscal responsibility and the voices of the community at large demand that public money should be spent on evidence-based and community-centered public safety solutions rather than repeating the ineffective spending decisions that we’ve made in the past,” resident Brittney Bush Bollay said.
Despite opposition to the legislation, council greenlit a resolution by Councilmember Sara Nelson, establishing the council’s intent to approve a yet unwritten hiring incentive plan for Seattle Police.
Then, the body also approved an ordinance by Councilmember Lisa Herbold, which partially lifts a budget provison established in November, freeing up $1.15 million of $4.5 million in projected unspent salary savings in the SPD budget to be used for recruitment.
The incentives would be used to attract new officers to the Seattle Police Department, which has experienced a net loss of 255 officers since 2020.
While the ordinance does not spell out a specific incentive plan, it releases funds for a future plan including:
● Up to $650,000 for moving expenses for new officers hired in 2022, “provided that the Seattle Department of Human Resources amends the City’s Personnel Rules to allow greater flexibility for appointing authorities to offer moving assistance to a broader range of positions and circumstances and to
pay for the salary and benefits for an additional recruiter in SPD.”
● Up to $350,000 for a national campaign to advertise officer positions
● And up to $150,000 to fund the city’s search for a permanent police chief
The dual legislation comes after weeks of Nelson and Herbold planning separate approaches to the department’s hiring issues, but still, the City Council must approve a future hiring incentive plan that is yet to be written by Mayor Bruce Harrell.
Nelson said she is “ambivalent” about how the money should be spent, as long as it helps attract quality police recruits.
“It could be used for hiring bonuses, retention bonuses, educational stipends, child care. Frankly, whatever. I don’t care what it’s used for,” Nelson said. “What I want is for a staffing incentive program to be developed — ideally with collaboration between the executive and council — that ends up being the most competitive we can get to attract recruits.”
Herbold encouraged her colleagues to be flexible as an incentive plan is approved, emphasizing that the decisions made Tuesday only free up the money to be used if Harrell’s plan is approved, and not trigger any specific incentives.
“Just because we talk about an intent to consider a recommendation that is going to come to us later, doesn’t mean that we’re giving a blank check for it,” Herbold said.
“I would really urge us not to harden our positions around this issue.”
Councilmembers Tammy Morales, Teresa Mosqueda, and Kshama Sawant argued that in a year when the city is expecting a significant budget shortfall, unspent salary savings could go further to address the wants and needs of the public.
“If we really want to increase public safety, there are better ways that we could spend $4.5 million,” Morales said, noting that the city could invest in safe drug consumption sites, tiny house villages, permanent supportive housing units, back rent payments for struggling tenants, or other social investments.
“The point is there are any number of ways to increase long-term community safety for our neighbors, and one-time hiring bonuses isn’t it,” Morales said.
The council voted 6-3 on both items, with Councilmembers Morales, Mosqueda and Sawant opposed. Councilmembers Herbold, Nelson, Alex Pedersen, Andrew Lewis, Dan Strauss and Council President Debora Juarez voted in favor.
A spokesperson for Harrell did not provide any update on the timing or content of an incentive plan Tuesday, but referred to a previous statement which stated the mayor’s office was developing a “comprehensive recruitment strategy” which will include “more specifically targeted incentives like a relocation bonus and education benefits” for SPD.