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Auditor says SPD should charge events like Capitol Hill Block Party more for policing

The 2016 CHBP is called out in the report as a prime example of SPD not recovering its costs of providing officers to commercial events in Seattle

Seattle spent more than $1.6 million posting its police officers at “free speech events” like protest marches and rallies in 2016. Meanwhile, the city spent $2.6 million policing outside Mariners, Reign, Seahawks, Storm, and Sounders games. The difference — besides the extra $1 million — for sportsball? Around 60% of the sporting event policing costs were reimbursed under deals between the professional teams and the Seattle Police Department. Free speech? That’s the free part. But City Hall might be looking for more help from event organizers to cover the nearly $500,000 spent policing events like Capitol Hill Block Party that currently enjoy SPD’s service at bargain rates.

An audit of Seattle police staffing for special events and “cost recovery” required by a 2016 ordinance overhauling the permitting and planning process includes a recommendation that Seattle move toward increasing its overall recovery of SPD event staffing costs.

“For all permitted events in 2016 that could be charged for police services (i.e., Athletic, Commercial, and Citywide events), we identified an average cost recovery rate of about 27% of SPD’s wages,” the audit report reads. “For 2016 Athletic and Commercial events alone, the cost recovery rate averaged about 60% of wages, and it averaged about 4% for 2016 Citywide events.”

The 2016 Capitol Hill Block Party is highlighted as prime example of the cost imbalance found under current practices.

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As a “commercial event,” CHBP was charged around $16,000 for 249 hours of police services that summer. “Actual SPD wages for this event, including
upstaffing in the area (i.e., police emphasis work), were $124,502 for 1,773 hours worked,” the auditor writes. The cost recovery for the event means about 87% of the SPD bill was picked up by City Hall. “This event costs $70 per day to attend and has an estimated daily attendance of about 9,000,” the auditor notes. This year’s CHBP tickets, for what it’s worth, will be $80 counting fees.

A move toward increasing recovery for events like Block Party is one of 19 recommendations included in the report to be presented to the Seattle City Council’s Gender Equity, Safe Communities, New Americans, and Education Committee Wednesday morning.

Auditors found that none of SPD various methods for charging organizers of permitted events for policing recovered the full cost of the officers. “Some of the methodologies discount the hourly cost for police services, none charge for all the benefit costs associated with officers working events, and some events do not pay for all the hours worked,” the auditor’s report reads. “Moreover, none of the methodologies bill for any planning hours, the cost of the SPD’s Special Operations Center (SPOC) Unit, 10 or incidental expenses (e.g., food, water, and supplies).”

But officials from the Office of Film and Music that manages Seattle’s “special events” process have voiced their displeasure with some of the recommendations in the report and the push to recover more costs. “While greater cost recovery for permitted special events was the primary intent of the reform, feedback from event organizers, citizens, and elected officials made it clear that full cost recovery for these permitted events would adversely impact the ability for event organizers to host events in Seattle, and that it would not align with the City’s values in supporting cultural and economic benefit from permitted special events.”

Other recommendations from the auditor include better tracking of the planning of events, officer hours, and billing, as well as SPD being more strict about its event “payroll policies and procedures” — especially in regard to overtime.

Like any good auditor, some of the recommendations are pretty much impossible including asking SPD to “work with event organizers” to get a permit for “events that require police services but do obtain either a permit or a Memorandum of Understanding with SPD”:

Wednesday’s session is only a briefing on the auditor’s report — there is no legislation on the committee’s agenda. But many of the recommendations can become policy and practice without new law. And SPD, for one, seems game. “SPD is interested in total cost recovery where it can seek these costs,” SPD notes in its response to the auditor’s report. “The department is currently reviewing the model and plans to amend its costs where appropriate.”

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2 years ago

As a non-profit executive director who produces large events (PrideFest Capitol Hill and PrideFest Seattle Center), the current structure already stretches thin our budgets. I agree for for-profit events, more may be asked, but supporting arts & cultural events in Seattle should be a city value that we collectively subsidize. Oftentimes, events are told what police coverage they will have (with no say) and are charged for that coverage. Public safe is key to large public events, no doubt, but these sorts of events are the heart and soul of our community. There has to be a good balance and the new report has suggestions that throws that balance out of whack. Want to further push out new event producers from doing anything special in Seattle? Implement those changes. When only AEG and Live Nation are able to put on events in this city, we will know that arts & culture are dead here.

Thanks to OED’s Special Events department for pushing back on this bad plan.