SEATTLE — Seattle City Council member Sara Nelson believes the political winds are at her back and the city is ready to start aggressively pursuing new police officers.
Late Wednesday, Nelson forwarded a resolution to lay the groundwork for a citywide ordinance to fund a staffing incentive program and appears to have early support for such a change.
"We have a public safety crisis, and we do not have enough officers on the street to address it," said Nelson in an exclusive interview with KING 5. "This levels the playing field and allows us to recruit against other cities," she said, specifically mentioning a recent effort in Tacoma to offer $25,000 bonuses for new recruits.
Nelson, who was elected city-wide last fall, acknowledges that the measure will be deemed controversial. The Seattle City Council signaled broad support for cutting police resources in 2020, in the midst of civic protests over George Floyd's murder. But after high-profile shootings, and property crime complaints, the temperature has shifted in Seattle.
Nelson was elected, along with Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, in what some political observers viewed as a statement by voters. Both Nelson and Harrell ran on a platform that included fully staffing the police department.
In a planned statement, Nelson touted support for the idea from Council President Debora Juarez, interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz, and Reverend Harriet Walden, founder of Mothers for Police Accountability. Erin Goodman, of the SoDo Business Improvement Area, also backed the plan. Diaz claims staffing levels are at their lowest since the 1980s when the city's population was half of what it is today.
Nelson added, in an interview, that the recent crackdown on crime, called Operation New Day, has been successful, but "that's not sustainable in the long term, that takes away resources from other precincts." She added, "Our President, a democratic president said the answer is not to defund the police. The answer is to fund the police and first we have to hire those police."
Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell's office declined to respond directly to Nelson's legislation without seeing it, but is currently working on a plan "to develop an effective, sustainable, and comprehensive recruiting plan for new officers and lateral hires. We will continue to review and evaluate the data, as well as work with SPD and with the City Council to explore all potential strategies and options, including bonuses as one potential tool in that effort." Harrell's office also said the Department of Human Resources should transmit a report on incentive bonuses to council later this week.
The issue is likely going to once again prove divisive, and a hot button issue with it being a little more than a year away from a council election. Both Andrew Lewis, who represents downtown Seattle, and Dan Strauss, who represents Ballard, are both deemed as potential swing votes and in districts where people have been more vocal about public safety. Both publicly backed reallocation of police resources during the summer of 2020.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold said she is waiting on a report requested by the council on a citywide hiring incentive program before commenting on Nelson's proposal, but that the idea has come up in conversations before.
"I have discussed the issue of incentives with the mayor’s office and police chief on a number of occasions,” Herbold said in a statement to KING 5.