City budget top of mind as council committee considers Taser purchases, hiring limits

During a Tuesday committee meeting via Zoom, Edmonds city councilmembers and staff discuss ways to fund an Edmonds Police Department request for new Tasers.

City of Edmonds budget worries were evident during the Edmonds City Council’s Public Safety-Planning-Human Services-Personnel Committee Tuesday afternoon as councilmembers discussed two items: How to fund a police department request to purchase upgraded Tasers and whether to adopt a policy aimed at giving the council more control over filling vacant jobs.

Edmonds Police Cpl. Aaron Greenmum, who is the department’s less-lethal instructor, explained that a Taser — which uses electrical current to temporarily incapacitate subjects — provides police with a weapon that is relatively safe and low impact.

The police department has been using the Taser 7 model since 2017 but is proposing to transition to the Taser 10. It shoots a single probe (rather than Taser 7’s dual probe) that allows officers to be more accurate and also has dramatically increased distance range of 45 feet, as opposed to 25 feet with the current Taser 7 model.

“That allows us a greater standoff from suspects in dynamic incidents where we would want to use time, distance and shielding to our advantage,” Greenmum said.

A slide from Cpl. Aaron Greenmum’s presentation explains the benefits of the Taser 10.

The city’s contract for Taser 7 is expiring and the department is proposing to upgrade to the Taser 10 platform. It’s a subscription service that includes cartridges, targets and training, and the cost per officer, per year is $948. Staying with the current Taser 7 platform would actually cost a bit more — $951 per officer, per year. All of the weapons would be covered by a warranty and the company would give the department a $25,000 trade-in for the Taser 7 models the department has. The total cost would be $360,376 for a five-year contract — or $72,075 annually.

The company that makes the taser — Axon Enterprises — has agreed to allow the department to sign the contract in 2023 but not invoice the department until 2024.

“We are aware that this is difficult timing, in the current budget state,” said Edmonds Police Chief Michelle Bennett. The city has a much-smaller-than-anticipated ending fund balance for 2023, which prompted the council to declare a fiscal emergency in October.

Bennett suggested that the department might be able to use salary savings from positions not yet filled, but Councilmember and Committee Chair Vivian Olson replied that the idea may not be an option because the council is making budget adjustments based on understaffing. Bennett also said that the department would have some additional revenue from school zone camera fines after the cameras begin operation in January, but Olson said she believes those revenues have already been accounted for in the proposed budget.

Councilmember and Committee Member Jenna Nand proposed that perhaps the council could use at least some of the $250,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds it had set aside in hopes of providing small business grants. Using that money would be relevant to small businesses since they “are facing an epidemic rise in crime” and it is affecting both business owners and residents, she said.

Olson replied that while that solution would be good for 2024, the council will still need to address payments in future years after the ARPA money runs out.

Councilmember Susan Paine, who along with Councilmember Chris Eck attended the virtual meeting, asked if the department could hang on to the Taser 7s for another year and wait until 2025 to make the purchase. Greenmum replied that the department currently doesn’t have enough Taser 7s to cover the new officers coming on board as well as its “quasi-commissioned staff,” which includes parking enforcement and animal control officers who are trained to use the weapons. Bennett added that the cost of the Taser 10s would rise significantly each year the department doesn’t make a purchase.

Paine said she would prefer retaining the ARPA funds for business grants and hoped that the police department could find other ways to fund the purchase, including the use salary savings for unfilled positions.

The committee agreed to refer the item to the full council for further discussion at its Dec. 19 meeting.

During the committee conversation, the topic of police staffing shortages came up. Like many police agencies, Edmonds hasn’t been able to fill all of its open positions and is currently short 11 officers. If the department did use salary savings for the Taser purchases and had to halt hiring as a result, Bennett said, that would be problematic because it takes from 12 to 18 months to get a new police recruit through the training process.

Due to unfilled positions, many officers are facing mandatory overtime and that is causing staff exhaustion and burnout, Bennett said, adding the issue is “super concerning from our end where we’re headed with that.”

Olson assured the chief that despite the city’s budget crunch and discussions about hiring freezes, the council “will figure out how to get the officers we need.”

“We understand the budget issues…we’re all part of the city,” Bennett replied. “We’re team players as well. And cutting costs in our budgets and doing what we can to save money. But the officer safety piece and the mission to be out there protecting the public is really, really profound for us. So thank you.”

Human Resources Director Jessica Neill Hoyson discusses the proposed hiring policy.

In other committee business — also related to the city’s budget issues — councilmembers discussed a proposed policy from Council President Neil Tibbott aimed at ensuring the council receives “accurate, detailed information” regarding vacant city positions. As written, the policy would require that the council be notified when positions are vacant, that the council confirm the hiring of any positions and that mayoral approval would be required to recruit for vacancies.

Asked for her feedback on the proposal, Human Resources Director Jessica Neill Hoyson expressed concern “about the roadblocks it would put in place,” especially the requirement that the council would need to review any job descriptions for vacant positions before hiring could take place. “I would see a very long delay and I would be concerned that we would not to effectively fill positions,” she said.

She explained that the city already has a hiring freeze in place for general fund positions. “Any position that was actively being recruited, or we have vacant and needs to be recruited, we have put a freeze on that. It is not automatically filled,” she said.

The department has to make a case as to why the position has to be filled immediately, after which the mayor must approve the hiring before human resources begins recruitment, Neill Hoyson added.

She shared that she had a meeting earlier Tuesday with incoming Mayor Mike Rosen, and discussed the current hiring freeze with him. “It is his intention to continue to have that hiring freeze in place,” Neill Hoyson said.

She suggested that the council could be informed of any decisions the mayor makes regarding general fund hiring and then the council could have a mechanism to take action if they don’t agree.

Chief Bennett again weighed in. She stated that the police officer hiring process is so competitive, that when candidates are testing for Edmonds jobs, they are also testing with four or five other agencies. “The way we actually get our recruits, is we are the first one to say, ‘here’s a conditional offer,'” Bennett said. “So if there’s a delay in that process we will lose people.”

Olson said it may be possible to carve out exceptions for certain categories of employees, such as police officers.

In the end, City Attorney Jeff Taraday and Neill Hoyson agreed they would rework the ordinance and bring it back for future consideration.

— By Teresa Wippel

  1. This meeting demonstrates the severity of our financial crisis. The first duty of a government is protecting it’s citizens, and yet we’re having trouble giving our Police Department the funds needed to do their jobs more safely and effectively. Still, apparently we have enough money to spend hundreds of thousand of dollars to move forward on the Landmark 99 project.

    1. Thank you Bob C for your comment that reminds us where our city dollars are going, namely Landmark 99 project.
      I hope Vivian O is correct when she said the Council will find the money to fund the new police officers, when are able to recruit them. Meanwhile those funds appear to be diminishing rapidly.

  2. Just wondering. Is it necessary to have 75 tasers. How about only issue them for officers on duty and in the field or one per patrol car and one per motorcycle?

  3. I was part of the deciding body back in California when the local PD requested tasers for the officers, as a method of having a “less lethal option”. We ended up having three Human Relations Commission meetings about it, and even had reps from the ACLU and Taser International there. The PD wanted enough for each officer (90+). We compromised and supported purchasing enough for each officer on duty, and that seemed to work. Maybe the same can happen here?

    Also, if the upgraded ones are slightly cheaper than keeping the current ones, sounds like a deal.

    1. Yes Alicia. I believe that is what the EPD wants is one for each officer. If someone is coming into contact with someone who is potentially dangerous to that officer and the public they need a weapon. I didn’t think this was a big want. Just a big need.

      1. Why can’t the taser sit in a pool, and be checked out at the start of each shift? Is there other equipment in a pool in the police Dept? That’s a common practice in a lot of organizations. For example, If we have 90 beat officers and 3 shifts, and a max of 30 officers per shift, and an equipment pool, we need 30 tasers. That’s just an example – I have no idea how many uniformed officers are scheduled per shift. The city doesn’t provide that sort of info to it’s residents.
        To use the jargon that’s become popular in reader comments, My perspective is that having a taser is a ‘need’, and the timing of when to upgrade to a new model is a ‘want’. Did all you readers buy your iPhone 15 yet?

        1. Hi Theresa,

          That’s what I meant. I just didn’t articulate it very well. In the example I shared above, instead of purchasing 90+ tasers, the PD purchased enough for every one on duty/per shift to have one, which meant only purchasing 1/3 of the total number proposed. An officer off duty didn’t need to have one.

  4. The EPD taser request is a no brainer. Just do it.

    The idea of the Council having the authority to ” confirm the hiring of any positions ” seems ill advised and an intrusion into the Executive branch (Mayor) perogatives. Council’s roll is to budget for positions needed in the city and that the City can afford. Thereafter the mayor makes the hiring decisions. It has been ever thus with the exception of Department heads. Why should it change now? Seems to be an effort to hamstring our new incoming Mayor. This idea should be reworked into the trash bin.

  5. I must be missing something here. Shouldn’t our current budget already include the Taser 7 in it, and we should only be discussing the cost difference in upgrading to Taser 10’s? If the budget didn’t include yearly Taser rentals, then why not? After all, it’s been a recurring yearly expense. This doesn’t smell right.

    What else don’t we know about in this budget? What other expenditures are waiting for us on January 1st?

    1. Jim O., Yes, something must be missing or not reported accurately. The current annual subscription cost for the Taser 7 is almost identical to the proposed new cost of the Taser 10. Obviously the police need one or the other. It does not seem that this decision will be regarding tasers or no tasers. So how is this a “new” expense for the city even if they’d decide on contracting for the Taser 10? CM Chen CPA, help us out here.

  6. A few questions come to mind from reading this article. I didn’t watch the committee meeting, but I did read the meeting packet. 1) was the cost of the current tasers rental in the mayor’s proposed budget, or is this yet one more cost that the departments forgot to budget for? 2) the vendor is making the offer to have the city sign the contract in 2023, but not invoice us until 2024 because the city has no money left in 2023. Don’t we practice accrual accounting ? If we sign a contract based on a quote that expires on 12/15/23, don’t we book the year-one costs in Dec 2023? 3) the trade in allowance is paltry. It should not be used as some of the justification for this purchase. 4) 2 days of training is needed for the new taser. Won’t that make the mandatory overtime problem worse? 5) did the police really have an unauthorized $400k building remodel in 2023? Shouldn’t they have thought about that before asking for new tasers? I have more thoughts about 24×7 workforce scheduling and controlling overtime costs. I will save them for another day. Lastly, Why is the hiring freeze only for positions paid from the general fund? (And yes, I know fund accounting principles)

  7. One would assume that the main reason or logic for having a Taser for every officer whether on or off duty is the possibility of a big riot or disturbance of some sort that would be an all hands on deck type situation. Assuming this is the case and each officer gets his/her own; lots of those Tasers are going to be spending lots of time hanging up unused in off duty officer’s lockers. Is that a good use of public funds? It seems like some sort of proof of need study should be required before deciding on how big this purchase should be. Has there been any in house study or documentation of how often these arms are actually used on average during a week or month for example? If they are very seldom used, wouldn’t it make sense to buy less, rather than more of them? On the other hand if they are used once or twice by someone during any on duty shift, there would be great justification for seeing that everyone had one at easy disposal no matter what.

  8. How it is done I don’t care. All I care about is that I think all officers have guns. They prefer to use a taser if at all possible. I do think it is important for Citizens and our Police officers to be protected at all times. How do we get recruits to come here if they don’t feel protected? The going to the 10’s seems to be because it was said the 10’s would be about 25% higher in 2024. I think that was it. Is it necessary to go for the 10’s? If not then we need a few more 7’s it appears for the new staff coming on in January 2024. Just protect our officers and therefore our public. I hope the EPD does come to the CC meeting and maybe explain this to all of the Citizens of Edmonds. Not many go to these other meetings is my guess. People work, they are busy etc. I have time to do this, or I wouldn’t either.

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