'We need to level the playing field'; Seattle City Council debates hiring bonuses for city staff outside SPD

Hiring bonuses and retention pay for Seattle police officers are developing into political theater between the City Council, the mayor’s office and the police union.

The Public Safety Committee on Tuesday heard from the city’s main recruiter about the issues of retaining and hiring staff, a problem which goes beyond just police officers.

Some council members expressed their desire to offer hiring bonuses to city departments that are also suffering a staff shortage.

Since January 2020, 401 officers (nearly 30% of sworn officers on the force), have separated from the department. Since then, the department has hired 145 officers, resulting in a net loss of 256 officers.  So far in 2022, 44 officers have left and only 13 have been hired. 

Last year, then-Mayor Jenny Durkan issued an executive order to create hiring bonuses, all in an effort to recruit new officers and keep others from leaving the department. That bonus was only funded by the City Council through 2021. Bonuses were inadvertently offered to new hires at the start of 2022, and the council agreed to pay those in February.

The city no longer offers a hiring bonus and never offered a retention bonus, the opposite of what neighboring cities and King County are doing.

"Most cities, if not all cities in our region, do have this, and it’s been said we need to level the playing field for offering our officers this. Otherwise, we are going to lose them to other departments," said council member Sara Nelson. 

The range of bonus pay for a lateral move in our region ranges from $15,000 to $30,000. In Seattle, that move is $0.

Nelson is asking the council to back a resolution she’s sponsoring to support a staffing incentive program for Seattle Police.

The centerpiece of Tuesday's discussion was a two-page report by the city's Human Resources Department, made at the request of the Mayor and council member Lisa Herbold, the chairperson of the Public Safety Committee.

The report said the success of hiring bonuses for Seattle Police was inconclusive.

"It’s not clear for SPD that the bonuses resulted in more people applying," said Herbold.

The report said many jobs in the city were in need of workers, including carpenters, HVAC technicians, plumbers, truck drivers, cashiers, inspectors and veterinarians.

"It’s not just retention strategies in just one department, given there's been a lot of focus on [Seattle Police], it's retention and recruitment strategies in every single department," said council member Teresa Mosqueda.

Councilmember Andrew Lewis suggested the city look beyond its borders for a solution.

"I’d like to know what major American city is actually able to hire officers, right now, at a rate higher than the attrition of losing, and see whatever that city is doing can work here," said Lewis.

The meeting was intended to be informational only. The committee could vote on Nelson’s resolution in two weeks.

Seattle City Council approves up to $220k for hiring bonuses of SPD officers, dispatchers

The Seattle City Council passed legislation approving funds for pay bonuses for the Seattle Police Department in 2022, even though initially they said there were no funds for the bonuses.

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