Seattle cops score overtime with police chief's cooking show — despite budget shortfall
With a department understaffed, overworked, and recently forecast to be up to millions over budget, Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz embarks on a pricey pet project.
Depending on who you ask, Police Chief Adrian Diaz's cooking series at a high end grocery store in south Seattle could be viewed as community building — or a drain on the police department's overspent budget.
Teenagers from the South Park neighborhood filed into a kitchen at the Columbia City PCC store on Saturday morning to cook with Diaz and his special guest, his predecessor, former Chief Carmen Best. Six police employees joined them, four of whom were paid overtime for attending the event.
This event comes as temporary restrictions have been placed on the department, an effort to wrangle the department’s over-spending. Nonessential overtime has been paused, including for use-of-force investigations and community meetings. A number of trainings have been canceled, because they relied on officer instructors working overtime.
Those restrictions didn’t stop Saturday’s cooking show, however, the first of a series of five.
A police officer from the community outreach unit was there, as was another cop, who was assigned to patrol that day. Diaz’s executive assistant attended. His two bodyguards nibbled on baked goods and kept watch.
This amounted to nearly $2,000 in overtime costs for three cops and one police staffer on Saturday. If that much staffing shows up to all the cooking events, that would cost the department at least $9,000 in overtime.
“The mission is to have an open dialogue, as several of the kids in attendance have expressed interest in becoming a Seattle Police Officer,” police spokesman Lt. John O’Neil said by email.
“The chef taught us how to make Brazilian street cuisine, while providing a history lesson on slavery in Brazil,” O’Neil said. “They took home several recipes to make with their families.”
Although billed as a way to connect with teens, the event had a whiff of self-promotion about it.
The teens appeared to sign waivers before they posed for a photo op. Bright production lights shined on them as a video supervisor from the department adjusted the camera.
A $5,000 grant from the Seattle Police Foundation helped to cover expenses, but not overtime.
When compared to a department budget of $370 million, the price for this cooking show series is miniscule. But with an overspent budget, every dollar counts, and with an overworked police force, every hour does too.
Current numbers show the department will be between $1.5 to $4.6 million over budget by year end, Jamie Housen, spokesperson with the mayor’s office, wrote by email. He said overtime costs were mostly to blame.
The police department hasn’t been this understaffed since 1991, Housen said. With fewer officers, the department relies on cops working overtime to fill the gaps.
Housen said the department’s dependence on overtime shows that the staffing crisis is “dangerous and not in the best interests of the people of Seattle.”
He added that Mayor Bruce Harrell has made the “historically low” police staffing issue a priority. He said the city is averaging 180 recruit applications per month currently, the highest in two years.
Critical training sessions have also been curtailed because of the overtime pause. A message from the Seattle Police Officers Guild stated that in-person tactics training, an annual two- or three-day training course on new policing strategies, was canceled for the rest of 2023.
In a message to police union members, Guild President Mike Solan wrote that the training cancellations were "unacceptable" and that proper training is the “cornerstone” of police conduct.
“Our actions based on our training or lack thereof are ultimately the catalysts as to how we are judged and held accountable,” he wrote.