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Will Seattle Pay SPOG a Premium to Let Others Help SPD with its Staffing Woes?

Seattle News

Most of this week has been elections, elections, elections. As of this writing, a few Seattle councilmember races are still too close to call, but we’re seeing a definitive shift to the right.

It looks like CM Mosqueda will be moving over to the King County Council next year, and she has announced she intends to step down from Seattle City Council at the beginning of next year, when the new Council will be able to appoint a replacement. In the meantime, she’ll be busy getting the 2024 budget passed as well as finishing up other budget work.

SPD Detective Cookie Boudin has followed up her spring tort claim by suing the City. She is seeking an unspecified amount of damages, saying she’s spent her whole career dealing with a pattern of racist harrassment. The trial date has been set for November 4, 2024. 

KUOW reported that a cooking show/class at PCC hosted by SPD Chief Diaz and special guest former Chief Best cost the city $2000 in overtime this past Saturday, as five other SPD employees were paid to attend: two bodyguards, a community outreach officer, a patrol officer, and an executive assistant. Four more similar events have been scheduled and in total could cost more than $9000 in overtime. “Current numbers show the department will be between $1.5 to $4.6 million over budget by year end, Jamie Housen, spokesperson with the mayor’s office, wrote by email. He said overtime costs were mostly to blame.”

The Firefighters have reached a tentative contract with the city that isn’t good news for workers. It gives minimum annual wage increases of 2-4%, as well as a 4.5% raise in 2022 and a 5.5% raise in 2023. Given these rates don’t keep up with the rates of inflation during those same years, this represents a wage cut in real terms. This could bode poorly for the Coalition of City Unions, who have currently been offered a 2.5% wage increase. As Erica C. Barnett writes:In contrast, Seattle police officers received a 17 percent pay increase after their last contract negotiation, with retroactive pay increases between 3 and 4 percent a year for the years they worked without a contract. The city council approved hiring bonuses of up to $30,000 for police last year.”

Seattle Budget and the SPOG MOU 

Seattle’s Budget Committee will be meeting on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday next week to discuss budget-related legislation and councilmember amendments. Votes on amendments are expected on Tuesday 11/14, with Wednesday’s meeting most likely to consist of discussion of budget proposals and progressive revenue options that aren’t needed to balance the 2024 budget.

There will be an opportunity to give public comment on Monday, November 13 at both 10am and at the public hearing at 5pm. Solidarity Budget will be hosting a budget rally outside City Hall on Monday starting at 4pm. Suggested talking points for public comment and emails are available here.

Solidarity Budget co-hosted a webinar on Wednesday with ACLU Washington on the problems with the ShotSpotter surveillance technology that is currently being given funding in the 2024 budget. You can watch the webinar here, look at the slides, and find more talking points about ShotSpotter here. One of the amendments slated to be voted on next week will require a racial equity toolkit be done on this technology whenever it is moved to a new neighborhood, as opposed to the original plans announced by Senior Deputy Mayor Burgess to only require an omnibus Surveillance Impact Report (SIR). Another amendment would take the $1.5 million currently allocated for this technology and instead spend it on mental health services for tiny house villages, which are currently funded at significantly lower levels in 2024 than they were in 2023.

This week the city also announced a proposal for a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG). You can read the Central Staff memorandum on the MOU on page 42 and the full text of the MOU on page 51 of this packet.

The MOU accomplishes three things:

  • It would allow the city flexibility to sometimes use parking enforcement officers to staff special events.
  • It would allow the city to implement its dual dispatch emergency alternative response program. In spite of all the hype around the launch of this pilot, it turns out that until and unless this MOU is agreed upon, police can actively request CARE members only after they’ve arrived at and secured a site for Wellness Check and Person Down Calls, meaning it’s not even a true dual dispatch yet.
  • It would allow the city to use park rangers at parks outside of the downtown area.

There are several problematic aspects of the MOU. Perhaps the biggest one is the agreement to give officers who volunteer to staff special events an additional $225 bonus for each shift worked (in addition to any relevant overtime pay). This bonus is projected to cost $8 million in additional funds through the end of 2025. So here we have a situation in which firefighters are taking a pay cut in real terms if they accept their proposed contract while police officers are getting further bonuses beyond overtime for working special events, increasing SPD’s budget bloat even further at the expense of other core city services.

The rationale behind this odd choice is that right now SPD can only staff these special events through mandatory overtime, which is putting a strain on their workforce. But SPOG is only willing to give these officers relief by allowing other people to do some of the special events work if their officers get paid an extra bonus. Meanwhile, SPD once again went significantly over their overtime budget this year and yet are still willing to spend $2000 in overtime for a cooking class, as mentioned above. 

I’ll also note that once a new section involving extra pay is added to police guild contracts, it tends to be very, very difficult to remove later. Not to mention that this doesn’t appear to show particularly good negotiating tactics on the part of the city, who are still working with SPOG to agree upon a new contract almost three years after its expiration.

Another problematic aspect of the MOU has to do with the new dual dispatch pilot. This MOU restricts the number of responders that can be hired by CARE to 24 FTEs, meaning SPOG gets to determine the size of the pilot. It restricts the call types to which they can respond to only Person Down and Welfare Check calls, hence the Director’s reluctance to suggest response to any other call types. In addition, according to the MOU, dispatching CARE responders is not to affect the number of police dispatched to any given call. And CARE responders will be required to write a report that is available to SPD officers, which could potentially dissuade people who are already wary of the police from being willing to use this new program.

The budget amendment funding this MOU will be voted on next week and provide $4.5 million of funding to cover SPD special event bonuses for October thru December of this year and 2024. It is unclear how this extra expenditure will be balanced in the budget. The legislation related to the MOU will be on the Introduction & Referral calendar on November 21 and is expected to be voted on at Full Council sometime during the first half of December.

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Innocent Bystanders are the Losers in this Week’s WA Senate Shenanigans

Seattle News:

Erica C. Barnett has uncovered additional information about the call to which Officer Dave was allegedly responding when he hit and killed student Jaahnavi Kandula. The call was not an opiate overdose as has been implied; instead it was a “suspected overdose” responded to by a single aid car as the caller was lucid at the time of the call, and was finished within 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, this incident appears to have reignited a dispute between SPD and SFD about who should respond to medical emergencies. An SFD union leader wrote to Mayor Harrell objecting to SPD officers being trained as EMTs and then being deployed to medical emergencies, while former SFD assistant chief A.D. Vickery “said he’s heard alarming reports about police officers “racing to the scene, putting everybody at risk, so they can be the first one to the patient.””

Seattle’s Public Safety and Human Services committee has released their 2023 work plan.

King County News:

At this week’s Law, Justice, Health, and Human Services committee meeting, King County council members agreed to move up to 150 male inmates from the King County Jail to the regionally owned SCORE jail in Des Moines. The council plans to work out the details to adopt this plan by the end of March, with the goal of moving 50 male inmates beginning in April. This move would require defense attorneys to visit a third jail to see their clients, and SCORE only has one booth where attorneys can pass documents and the like back and forth with their clients. SCORE also doesn’t allow in-person visitation of inmates except with their attorneys.

A new report about JustCARE, completed in January of this year, shows the program has markedly increased its effectiveness: 

“The dramatic increase in the share of JustCARE participants who secured permanent housing at the time of exit appears to reflect three main developments: The shift to longer-term funding for JustCARE from the KCRHA and City of Seattle, which made longer term arrangements possible; The increased availability of affordable, low-barrier permanent housing resources in King County, and Effective coordination by the Public Defender Association and the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) that ensures that JustCARE participants are able to access those resources.”

Executive Constantine gave his State of the County address this week, in which he said there will be cuts to essential services as soon as this fall without help from state lawmakers, as property taxes, one of the County’s main sources of revenue, are capped at a 1% increase per year, which is being far outpaced by the current rate of inflation. He also spoke about the King County Jail, as reported by Kate Stone:

“Constantine did emphasize the need to address the behavioral health system with regards to the jail. State law says when a person charged with a crime is deemed not competent to stand trial, the state has seven days to transfer them out of jail and provide the person with mental health services until they are found competent. According to Constantine, that’s not happening in King County.

“Through a lack of funding, a lack of capacity, or a lack of political will, the backlog has left hundreds of people around our state waiting in a jail cell for the help they need. For King County, there are around 100 people languishing in our custody on any given day … some for up to 10 months,” he told the county council. He said only action from the state would be sufficient to address that problem.” 

WA State Legislature News:

This past Wednesday was the cutoff for bills to be passed out of their house of origin, leading to a flood of bill deaths. The following bills are no longer active for this session:

  • HB 1513 regarding traffic stops
  • HB 1024 regarding minimum wage for inmates
  • SB 5383 regarding decriminalizing jaywalking
  • HB 1025, regarding civil liability for police
  • HB 1445, regarding giving the state’s Attorney General powers of investigation & reform 

HB 1579 for an independent prosecutor passed the House and is now being considered in the Senate. The middle housing bill also passed the House. 

The Senate passed a drug possession bill requiring coercive treatment as well as failing to decriminalize drug possession. This will now be considered in the House.

In alarming news, the Senate passed a bill rolling back limitations on high-speed vehicular pursuits, even though the new limitations have been shown to be saving lives, including those of innocent bystanders. Senator Dhingra had refused to give this bill a hearing during committee meetings earlier in the session, but the Senate suspended the rules in order to push this bill to the floor on the last possible day for its consideration. It would lower the standard for police to begin a chase from probable cause to reasonable suspicion. Disappointingly, several Democrats voted in favor of this rollback. 

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