The Seattle City Council approved on Monday what are ideally the first steps in a major financial overhaul of the police department. It's not the straight-up “defunding" that activists want, but it's a start. The budget plan will remove about 100 police officers from the force — 32 will probably receive layoff notices but the remaining reductions will occur through attrition.

The department's SWAT team will see cuts, and the council will redirect funds from the Navigation team, which clears out homeless camps, to community programs that can help the homeless more constructively than just shouting, “Don't be homeless!"

There's also discussion of moving the 911 call center and parking enforcement out of police jurisdiction, as well as creating a public-safety department that could handle certain tasks without shooting anyone.

The City Council is considering deeper cuts that would eventually reduce the police budget by 50 percent next year — far more than the measly 20 percent cut that Chief Carmen Best and Mayor Jenny Durkan had proposed. But some council members worry about moving too fast. They've probably seen the Seattle PD's Twitter feed that's filled with photos of moderate property damage. Without the police, our capitalist society might collapse ... oh, and don't forget all the rapes. That would also be bad, but seriously, people would just go wild breaking Nordstrom windows.


The good news is that even if you halved the police budget, there's still plenty of money left to keep the city from spiraling into a lawless dystopia. More than 80 percent of the department's $409 million annual budget went to employee compensation last year. The Seattle Times conducted an employee-by-employee breakdown of police pay and it's shocking.

The median gross pay among SPD's more than 2,000 employees last year was about $153,000, not including benefits, with 374 employees grossing at least $200,000 and 77 making at least $250,000, according to a Times analysis.

Seattle's median household income is $93,500, but the racial chasm is wide: Median white household income is $105,100, more than double the median Black household income of $42,500. The most common profession in Seattle is software engineer with an average salary of $106,492. Who knew so much coding was involved in police work?

But law enforcement is a dangerous job, according to Thin Blue Line Monthly. However, that's not why Seattle cops bring home the bacon-wrapped caviar. At least 10 Seattle police officers earned more than $300,000 in 2019. That's almost double the average salary of corporate counsel at Amazon. Most of their salaries come from overtime pay. Cops might complain about protests but they're handsomely compensated to show up in riot gear and beat the crap out of people. I'd happily attend the most vicious anti-me protest if I could pull down $300,000.

Seattle Times

The top 10 highest paid Seattle cops looks like a prospective major donor list for an arts organization. (As a Seattle theatre person, I'm not terribly surprised that I don't recognize any of these names.)

Let's talk about Officer “Mack Daddy" Ron Morgan Willis. His base bay last year was an impressive $128,716, but he pulled down almost double that amount in overtime pay. His total gross pay for 2019 was $414,453. I was in Seattle for a good part of 2019 and I don't remember Willis taking down the Joker once. Even mobbed-up cops I can appreciate. That's risky work. You can't even relax while enjoying the “best veal in the city."

What's with all the overtime anyway? In the private sector, that's one of the first things you cut. If Uber ran the police department, the cops would all be independent contractors and make about $75,000 at best. Police unions are awesome. It's a damn shame that most cops vote against candidates who support unions for any other profession.

The Seattle PD added training sessions to comply with a 2012 court agreement with the US Department of Justice that required Seattle to curb excessive force and biased policing. We can confirm that the training sessions at least happened and that's how Willis made a fortune. According to Kelsey Nyland, a spokesperson for Mayor Jenny Durkan, Willis is a “patrol officer" who serves as an “adjunct trainer" on an “overtime basis." Did Nyland break down in a combination of laughter and tears when she explained that the city didn't hire more officers for its training unit but staffed the shifts with cops on overtime pay?

It's absurd that a cop would make more than $200,000 a year to train other cops. I presume that's a safe gig. The other cops aren't going to shoot at you, and if they did, they'd probably fail the training course.

SPOG's contract allows officers to work overtime while on vacation, the spokesperson added. An officer who works a 12-hour shift on a vacation day can receive 12 hours of overtime pay and eight hours of regular pay.

Provisions also allow cops in certain cases to be paid an hour of overtime for a short phone call or to be paid three hours of overtime for less actual work.

Durkan lobbied the City Council to approve the existing contract. She gave away the farm because the police agreed to wear body cameras (every once in a while) to prove that they weren't killing civilians without cause. I'm not even a cop but I'd wear a body camera full-time for $200,000 a year.

Willis and 19 other cops somehow made more last year than police Chief Carmen Best. I'm torn between feeling bad for her (she's a Black woman) or just finding this hilarious because she's a cop. Best announced Monday that she's retiring next month, and Durkan suggested that the move might improve the strained relationship between the City Council and the police department. I wouldn't count on it.


[Seattle Times / New York Times]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).

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