The Seattle City Council signed onto Mayor Bruce Harrell's police hiring and incentive plan Tuesday, offering hiring bonuses of up to $30,000 to new officers.
Harrell introduced a plan to hire an additional 500 officers in the next five years by aggressively recruiting police to a department that has lost 460 officers in the past three years, calling the department "depleted and demoralized" at current staffing levels.
This summer the department has around 950 sworn staff members, compared to around 1,300 in 2013-19. Harrell wants to bring the department to 1,450, in response to an increase in certain crimes in the city.
The council voted Tuesday to approve much of Harrell's incentive plan and allow the Seattle Police Department to spend another $289,000 on hiring bonuses in 2022, in addition to the over $1 million approved for the same purpose in May.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who sponsored the bill, said the city needs to continue to "right-size" the roles of sworn officers, providing alternative responses for situations involving, for example, mental health crises and homelessness, but also ensure a well-staffed department that allows sworn officers to be effective.
"Being a first responder is a difficult job, and we should not make it an impossible job," Herbold said.
The funds will come from the department's "salary savings," money budgeted to pay police staff in 2022 that has gone unspent because the department has not filled the positions.
That money will include $30,000 hiring bonuses for lateral hires from other departments and $7,500 bonuses for new recruits. The program would sunset at the end of 2024.
Most SPD officers currently earn between about $83,000 and $109,000 before overtime, bonuses or other additional pay. The incentives will not apply to rehires who left the department less than two years ago. Anyone who leaves the department after less than five years will have to repay the incentive.
Harrell said in a statement Tuesday that "hiring incentives are but one piece" of the administration's recruitment plan, but are necessary to "demonstrate our urgency and dedication to staying competitive with departments across our region."
The council bill also takes $228,000 out of the salary savings to establish four new recruiter positions under the city's Human Resources Department.
Members of the public rebuffed the idea during public comments at Tuesday's council meeting, chastising the council for continuing to fund and incentivize SPD despite promises in 2020 to reduce department funding and invest in communities.
"Don't throw good money after bad to prop up a police organization that has shown time and again that it's unable to keep us safe," Seattle resident Matt Offenbacher said, joining other community members in calling for the council to instead invest in police alternatives.
"It's long past time to put some urgency and some serious funding behind alternative crisis responses," he added.
Councilmembers Tammy Morales, Teresa Mosqueda and Kshama Sawant voted against the bill, similarly questioning the investment.
"When we have scarce public resources, we should be allocating them in a way that truly addresses our public challenges. And we know that we have a lot of challenges in the city, and they are things that won't be solved by the police," Morales said of the city's efforts to curtail homelessness and provide affordable housing and behavioral health resources.
The Downtown Seattle Association praised the plan in a statement on Tuesday, calling it "a welcome acknowledgment" of public safety needs.
"Downtown workers, residents, businesses and visitors deserve to feel safe and secure and enacting this plan is a fundamental step in the right direction. In the meantime, city leaders must stay focused on addressing the immediate safety concerns of our city," the statement reads.
Harrell's full hiring plan includes prioritizing the recruitment of candidates with diverse backgrounds and language skills; reimbursing new hires' application fees, travel expenses, and relocation costs; and expanding recruitment messaging to reach candidates locally and nationally.
The administration says it will also explore ways to offer tuition assistance to officers and to "create a pipeline of potential recruits through local colleges and universities."