Seattle cops mark overtime with police chief’s cooking show – despite budget deficit

With a department understaffed, overwhelmed and recently projected to be millions over budget, Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz is embarking on an expensive pet project.

Depending on who you ask, Police Chief Adrian Diaz’s cooking series at a high-end South Seattle grocery store could be seen as building community — or draining the police department’s overspent budget.

Teenagers from the South Park neighborhood entered the kitchen of the Columbia City PCC store Saturday morning to cook with Diaz and his special guest, his predecessor, former chef Carmen Best. They were joined by six police officers, four of whom were paid overtime to attend the event.

This event comes as the department is placed under temporary restraints, an attempt to stop the department from overspending. Non-essential overtime has been suspended, including for use-of-force investigations and community meetings. A number of trainings have been canceled due to the reliance on overtime for instructor officers.

But those restrictions didn’t stop Saturday’s cooking show, the first in 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 was present. His two bodyguards munched on pastries and kept watch.

That adds up to nearly $2,000 in overtime costs for three cops and one police officer on Saturday. If that many staff showed up to all the cookouts, it would cost the department at least $9,000 in overtime.

“The mission is to have an open dialogue, as several of the children in attendance expressed interest in becoming Seattle police officers,” police spokesman Lt. John O’Neill said via email.

“The chef taught us how to do Brazilian street food while also giving us a history lesson on slavery in Brazil,” O’Neill said. “They took home several recipes to make with their families.”

Although billed as a way to connect with teenagers, the event had an air of self-promotion.

The teenagers appeared to sign waivers before posing for a photo. Bright production lights shone on them as a video supervisor from the department adjusted the camera.

A $5,000 grant from the Seattle Police Foundation helped cover costs, but not overtime.

Compared to the department’s $370 million budget, the price tag for this series of cooking shows is a pittance. But with an overspent budget, every dollar counts, and with an overstretched police force, so does every hour.

Current numbers show the department’s budget will be between $1.5 million and $4.6 million over budget by the end of the year, Jamie Howson, City Hall spokesman, wrote in an email. He said overtime costs were mostly to blame.

The police department hasn’t had such a staffing shortage since 1991, Howson said. With fewer officers, the department relies on cops who work overtime to fill the gaps.

Howson said the department’s reliance on overtime shows the staffing crisis is “dangerous and not in the best interest of the people of Seattle.”

He added that Mayor Bruce Harrell has made the issue of “historically low” police staffing a priority. He said the city is averaging 180 job applications per month right now, the highest level in two years.

Critical practices were also cut short due to the overtime break. A statement from the Seattle Police Officers Guild said Personal Tactics Training, an annual two- or three-day training course on new police strategies, has been canceled until the end of 2023.

In a message to members of the police union, Guild president Mike Solan wrote that canceling the training was “unacceptable” and that proper training was the “cornerstone” of policing.

“Our actions, based on our training or lack thereof, are ultimately the catalysts for how we will be judged and held accountable,” he wrote.

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