Kent City Council approves funds for police data analysis consultant

Council also will fund research into mental health co-responder program

The Kent City Council approved changes in the proposed 2021-2022 city budget to spend $100,000 to research a mental health co-responder program and pay out $50,000 for a police data analysis consultant.

A proposal to divert a portion of $1.7 million that was to be spent over the next two years for new Kent Police vehicles, but will instead help pay for police data analysis and a mental health co-responder program, received little support at a council budget workshop Oct. 20.

The $100,000 would come from the 0.1% sales tax hike recently approved by the council to raise about $2.8 million per year to pay for affordable housing and related services. The $50,000 would come from the general fund reserves.

“I feel like funding data analysis and a co-responder model is very important for our community and our officers,” said Councilmember Satwinder Kaur, who proposed using a portion of the police vehicle funds to get both programs going. “I would be interested in learning how we can fund that and maybe reduce the number of cars per officer. …We don’t know when the Legislature will act and we don’t have the time to wait.”

But nobody else on the seven-member council agreed with using any of the police vehicle funds. The city plans to spend $1.72 million over the next two years to purchase 24 vehicles (12 each year) at a cost of about $72,000 each in order to continue the city’s car-per-officer, take-home program.

Councilmember Bill Boyce proposed the two options to spend the $100,000 and $50,000 that a majority of the council supported.

“The best way is to hire a consultant to reach out to multiple agencies and the community, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) or whoever, to collect data,” Boyce said.

Boyce also put a clause in his proposal that if the Legislature doesn’t do anything next year to set up a police data collections system, he would make sure the city adjusts its budget to start up a program.

“I don’t support reducing (police) vehicles to do this,” Boyce said.

Councilmember Zandria Michaud concurred.

“I agree police data is important to have,” Michaud said. “I support Councilmember Boyce’s proposal. … And it’s important to remember we are almost done buying police cars so that would open up money in the future for data collection.”

A mental health co-responder program would send out mental health experts along with police officers on certain calls. The $100,000 would help the city develop a program in concert with other interested South King County cities and make recommendations to the council in early 2021. Because money from the new sales tax won’t start coming into the city until March, Boyce proposed that the city borrow the $100,000 from the general fund reserves, then pay back that money with the sales tax collection.

“We all strongly believe that a co-responder in mental health is critical and we have to get on that right away,” Boyce said. “We can use $100,000 from the affordable housing bill, and going forward we can use 40% of that fund for mental health.”

The council will have another budget workshop on Oct. 27. The council plans to discuss the final budget proposal at its Nov. 10 Committee of the Whole meeting and approve the budget at its Nov. 17 regular council meeting.

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