In First State of The City Speech, Mayor Harrell Talks Police Expansion, Budget Gaps

by Elizabeth Turnbull

In his first State of the City speech, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announced the City is working to bring City employees back into the workplace and hiring more police officers to expand the department. In addition, Harrell cited budgeting gaps for the upcoming year and said that the City is exploring new departmental strategies for public safety.

In light of high vaccination rates and an increasing reduction in positive cases, City employees who have been working at home will return to in-person work by the middle of March, Harrell announced in a briefing to the City Council on Feb. 15. 

“I know that this transition will not be easy for everyone,” Harrell said. “But I am confident that our department directors and our labor partners will lead this return to work in a thoughtful, safe, and compassionate way.”

Six weeks into his term, Harrell also has plans to expand the Seattle Police Department (SPD) and to create a new public safety department, which will provide an alternative to reliance on the Seattle Fire Department and SPD.

In June, the City will run a “Seattle-only focused class” at the police academy which will train 36 new officers. In addition, the City is rolling out a new recruiting campaign, prepared with the funding to hire 125 new officers in 2022.

Harrell says he believes his administration will end the federal consent decree which has been in place for roughly a decade due to use of force issues and racially biased policing within the department by combining hiring practices with the right training.

In addition to expanding the police force, Harrell said his office is working to create “a third public safety department staffed by community members who have the training to be culturally competent masters of de-escalation.”

While Harrell said he was interested in models such as the Community Safety and Communications Center, a new office founded in 2021, he did not provide more concrete details about the department and what it will look like.

Harrell also spoke to monetary issues that the City is facing. There is a $150 million dollar gap between expected general fund expenditures in 2023 and general fund revenues due to “long-standing issues and one-time budget funding,” among other things, according to Harrell. 

To fill in for the gap, Harrell intends to use $31 million dollars of additional revenue from the JumpStart payroll tax while also looking for other funding opportunities.

“This will be hard work, and it must begin now, which is why I’ve asked departments immediately to begin looking at opportunities to save,” Harrell said. “We can do this. We’ve done this. It starts with transparency, it completes with a commitment to the basics like public safety and human services.”

Harrell also spoke to the need for a housing-first solution to homelessness, but has also recently faced criticism from City Councilmember Kshama Sawant for not extending the city’s eviction moratorium past the end of February.

Elizabeth Turnbull is a journalist with reporting experience in the U.S. and the Middle East. She has a passion for covering human-centric issues and doing so consistently.

Featured image is attributed to Kevin Schofield under a Creative Commons 2.0 license. 

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