SPD’s 2022 budget proposal is based on optimistic hiring projections
By Paul Kiefer
The Seattle Police Department’s staffing targets for 2022 are hugely ambitious and could leave the department with millions of unspent salaries, according to a staff presentation to the city council’s budget committee on Friday.
More than 300 sworn-in officers have left the department since January 2020. In 2022, the SPD hopes to start replenishing its ranks, starting with the re-establishment of 31 paid positions that the council cut last year. This proposal would leave the SPD with a total of 1,357 funded officer positions, but the ministry cannot realistically fill all of these positions in one year; instead, SPD estimates it would end 2022 with 134 vacancies.
Even this goal is ambitious. The department anticipates that approximately 94 officers will leave the department this year. Therefore, to achieve its goals of a net addition of 35 agents, the SPD will need to hire a record 125 new agents. To reach that mark, the department would have exceeded average annual hires over the past decade by more than 25 percent.
During last year’s budget deliberations, for example, the board deemed the SPD’s plan to hire 114 new officers in 2021 “not achievable.” By the end of September, the SPD had hired only 57 new agents.
SPD argues that it can speed up recruitment by making the application process more efficient. The department moved hiring exams online in an effort to improve accessibility for candidates, and instead of doing cumbersome background checks in-house, SPD now relies on an outside contractor to speed up the process. process.
Other variables are beyond the control of the ministry. Washington’s Basic Law Enforcement Academy (BLEA), which offers a mandatory five-month training course for new hires, cannot increase class sizes without approval from the state legislature. Currently, new hires have to wait an average of four months after the start of the SPD hiring process to begin basic training at the academy.
During Friday’s presentation, budget chairperson Teresa Mosqueda reminded colleagues that the board had previously asked the SPD to cut its hiring targets. During last year’s budget deliberations, for example, the board deemed the SPD’s plan to hire 114 new officers in 2021 “not achievable.” By the end of September, the SPD had only hired 57 new agents, although the department estimates that it will reach 85 hires by the end of the year.
If SPD can meet its hiring target for next year, the department estimates it will have an additional $ 19 million in unspent wages by the end of 2022. SPD plans to use its payroll savings to pay a multitude of technological updates, contracts and operations. expenses that are not otherwise covered by their budget. These include familiar necessities – severance pay for departing officers, for example – as well as longer-term projects like the expansion of the ministry’s public disclosure unit. SPD also plans to spend a portion of its unspent salaries on projects outside the department, including $ 1.5 million for violence prevention nonprofits in the Seattle area.
The bulk of SPD’s payroll savings – $ 6.4 million – would cover the department’s overtime expenses, in large part thanks to the return of in-person participation in sports games, where officers on leave provide security. . As event planners pay these costs to the SPD, board chair Lorena GonzÃ¡lez questioned the wisdom of already using agents to staff “special for-profit events,” commenting that the department “has need[s] the time these officers have to work on patrol. Unlike last year, SPD is not at risk of going over its overtime budget: on a budget of nearly $ 25 million for overtime, the department spent just $ 15.5 million on it. day.
In total, SPD plans to spend all of its projected salary savings except $ 1.1 million in 2022. Relying on SPD’s salary savings as a source of funding for dozens of other expenses and projects is one strategy. risky in the long run, a board member warned.
Other board members expressed frustration with SPD’s plan to spend $ 1 million of its payroll savings on software that purports to predict which agents might need mental health support by collecting their biometrics and monitoring the duration, type and results of calls to which they answer. âIt seems like a lot of money to spend on technology which tells us that agents have very stressful jobs,â said Tammy Morales, board member. Instead, Morales suggested, the ministry should direct those dollars toward mental health counseling for officers. To the board’s frustration, however, SPD has already started signing contracts for the development of predictive technology, with plans to pay for it using the salary savings.
In total, SPD intends to spend all but $ 1.1 million of its projected salary savings in 2022. Relying on SPD’s salary savings as a source of funding for dozens of other expenses and projects is one risky long-term strategy, warned the central staff member of the city council. Greg Doss. If the department can eventually fill its vacancies, he said, the board will be faced with a dilemma: finding millions of new dollars to add to the SPD’s budget or cutting salaries to keep other projects alive.
Meanwhile, the Oct. 18 deadline for the city’s vaccination mandate could force the SPD to rethink its hiring plan. At least 138 SPD officers had yet to submit proof of vaccination as of Friday, a figure that does not include more than 100 officers currently on leave for a variety of reasons, including military service, misconduct investigations and medical treatments.
The city has yet to reach an agreement with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) on how the city will apply its mandate to members of the Police Union, and Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office maintains the city will begin to fire unvaccinated agents who have not done so. requested exemptions from the mandate before Tuesday. And the 97 sworn officers who have requested exemptions from the vaccination warrant are not necessarily clear: If the SPD decides it cannot accommodate these officers safely, they too could lose their jobs. The 2022 SPD staffing plan does not take into account the loss of unvaccinated officers.
While the department acknowledges its projections are optimistic, SPD’s director of strategic initiatives, Chris Fisher, told the board in late September that he was confident they could make the necessary adjustments to push a record number of recruits through. the hiring process, even if that means holding SPD- only basic training courses at the state academy. The barrier that worries them the most, he said, is simply getting enough people to fill out an application.