By SPENCER PAULEY
THE CENTER SQUARE STAFF REPORTER
(The Center Square) — Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell’s first proposed budget since taking office would see the Seattle Police Department receive an increased budget for the first time since 2020.
The Seattle Police Department’s budget would go from $355.5 million in 2022 to $375.7 million in 2023. The department’s budget would increase another $10 million to $385.6 million in 2024 if adopted by the Seattle City Council.
Nearly half of Mayor Harrell’s proposed $1.6 billion general fund would be dedicated to public safety.
Out of the $355.5 million that would fund the police department, the biggest chunk of spending would go to transferring parking enforcement duties from the Seattle Department of Transportation back to the Seattle Police Department. Approximately $20 million is being spent to transfer the parking enforcement duties.
The city notably dismissed all parking tickets issued between Sept. 1, 2021, through April 5, 2022 because the parking enforcement officers from the department of transportation did not have special police commissions at the time of issuance, according to the city of Seattle. That resulted in the city spending approximately $4.5 to 5 million to refund paid tickets.
“Having heard from our employees and their labor representatives, we understand that our (parking enforcement officers) feel better equipped to do their work from (the Seattle Police Department) at this time,” Mayor Harrell said at a press conference Tuesday.
The police department has lost over 400 police officers in the last two and a half years, according to Mayor Harrell. The budget looks to continue funding Mayor Harrell’s recruitment and retention plan to address the officer shortage. To sustain funding for recruiting professionals, improve branding and marketing materials and hiring bonuses for new and lateral officers, $4.2 million would be spent.
“We need to make every effort to bring officers here and reverse the staffing crisis that impacts everything we want to do with policing in Seattle,” Mayor Harrell said.
Mayor Harrell is also proposing to cut funding for positions unlikely to be filled as his office continues to anticipate salary savings from officer attrition in 2023 and 2024. According to the proposed budget, 80 full-time officer positions are proposed to be unfunded for an $11 million reduction, as part of a larger measure to address the city’s budget shortfall.
Salary savings from an additional 120 officer vacancies are also being proposed to be put back in the police department’s budget. Those funds would be used for equipment and technology upgrades, strategies to improve recruitment and retention, internal training and supportive services and other community safety program enhancements, according to the proposed budget.
Lastly, to curb the average response times for calls deemed a non-emergency down from the current hour and 40 minutes, Mayor Harrell is proposing putting nearly $2 million toward programs to study and rethink 9-1-1 responses.
“We know that just sending a police officer is not always the right approach,” Mayor Harrell said. “This is how we begin to build more options.”
The Seattle City Council will begin reviewing the mayor’s proposed budget. Councilmembers have until Dec. 2 to adopt a budget for the next fiscal year.