The ongoing COVID-19 crisis and better career prospects outside the Seattle Police Department might achieve what anti-police demonstrators, funding cuts, and hiring freezes could not — fewer cops in Seattle.
Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office says City Budget Office and Seattle Police Department reporting shows an unprecedented spike in cops leaving the department last month and trends that could put the total number of 911 patrol officers on the streets of Seattle back at numbers last seen in the 1990s when the city’s population was around 30% smaller.
The mayor’s release of the information comes amid ongoing 2021 budget deliberations and increasing criticism from policing advocates including the Seattle Police Officers Guild, the union Durkan is destined to tangle with as contract negotiations come to a head in 2021.
According to the analysis prepared for the “Seattle Police Department Year-to-Date Attrition Levels” report, posted below, if Seattle continues an SPD hiring freeze in 2021, the department’s number of officers available for 911 response could drop to 1,139 by 2022, down 154 officers 2020, a 12% drop to nearly the same number of officers SPD says it had available for patrol 30 years ago. SPD says it employed 1,271 sworn officers in 1990.
“We are losing an unprecedented number of officers, which makes it even more critical that we recruit and retain officers committed to reform and community policing that reflect the diversity and values of our city,” Durkan said in a statement on the reports.
According to the city, there were 39 “separations” reported for the department in September as veteran officers retired and other, younger officers resigned. According to the report, 50 officers have retired so far in 2020, six were terminated, one died, and 53 have resigned. 28 of the resignations involved officers with five or less years of service.
Former Chief Carmen Best is included in the tallies.
The mayor’s office says the exit of younger, more recently trained officers is the most concerning.
“In recent years, the Seattle Police Department – in partnership with Mayor Durkan and the City Council – successfully worked to increase hiring of young, BIPOC officers committed to reform and community policing,” Durkan spokesperson Kelsey Nyland said in a statement to media. “The City Council has historically supported these efforts. Even amidst these uncertain times, many of these officers remain, and many more are ready to join the department. As we continue to transition functions out of the department, we can ensure young, diverse officers continue to join the department. This is crucial both to preserve emergency response and investigative services and to ensure the department reflects the communities it serves.”
The risk, Durkan’s office says, is that cuts beyond those proposed by the mayor could hobble SPD’s ability “to ensure swift emergency response to all part of our City, 24 hours a day.”
“If we don’t act now, we’ll soon see undeniable impacts to 911 response times and investigative services. It could also impact the department’s ability to sustain the gains and meet the requirements of the federal Consent Decree,” Nyland said.
The Durkan administration is raising its warning on the staffing issue as the Seattle City Council works to shape the mayor’s 2021 budget proposal which includes a 12% cut in funding for SPD and hiring freeze across the department. Meanwhile, interim Chief Adrian Diaz’s first major change to the department has been to form a new 100 officer Community Response Group to speed up 911 response times and to respond to ongoing demonstrations.
The council will continue its work to finalize 2021 budget legislation with ongoing hearings this month including discussions around SPD funding and moving resources out of the department continuing through October, followed by final proposals and changes, plus a final vote on the package in November.
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