As the city of Seattle is experiencing historically high crime, its police department continues to dwindle and recruitment efforts are failing. One former King County Sheriff puts it bluntly: “we’re screwed.”
The Seattle Police Department (SPD) lost six officers in August, according to a police source, bringing the year’s total separations to 122 and nearly 500 since the city council opted to defund the police department in 2020. What’s more alarming is the 350 officers that will be eligible for retirement at the end of the year. If even a fraction leaves the department, Seattle may not have a fully functioning police department.
Union leadership warns the city is on the verge of an unimaginable public safety crisis.
A depleted police department
Seattle saw 11 homicides in August, the single deadliest month since 2008, according to SPD records. And the police chief warns the city may reach a 25-year-high homicide rate by the end of the year.
To Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) president officer Mike Solan, the crime surge is a result of a depleted police department.
“There’s been a mass exodus of policing. The profession itself is almost on its last breath. And what happens is that criminals fill the void when there’s no law enforcement,” Solan warned on the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “And when you connect to funding, and then you connect the reform laws that were just absolutely catastrophic to our communities, This is the sad result. And who ends up paying the price? Our communities.”
Before the start of the department’s mass exodus in 2019, which was hastened in 2020, city leaders hoped for between 1,500 and 1,600 officers. Now, the city revised its numbers down to 1,400. But as of August 28, the SPD only had 877 deployable officers, according to SPOG.
“These are catastrophic losses,” Solan says.
Solan warns that he’s most “fearful of the 350 that are eligible to retire” and that “we’re very close” to a decimated SPD.
“We can’t even absorb another 20, 25. I mean, we’re already at or below minimum safe status levels every patrol shift. People are getting burned out with just augmenting for patrol watches, because there’s just so much work out there. And they’ve worked so much. They’re tired. And then they have all these special events, the stadiums, sporting events, concerts, just trying to contain the crowds, traffic, all this stuff. We’re trying to work through and manage post defunding. And it’s very difficult, but it’s going to take strong leadership on both sides to get something accomplished to protect the city from a complete disaster.”
Unfortunately, however, recruitment efforts are not delivering results yet.
SPD recruitment efforts are not working
According to an internal document obtained by the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH, the SPD has only recruited or re-hired 41 officers to date. SPOG projects that number will be 60 by the end of the year. Solan doesn’t know how the department will recover at this pace.
“We can barely get any recruits. It’s just, I don’t know. I don’t want to send a defeatist. I always try to be an optimist. But it’s not looking good,” he said.
Solan argues it will take a decade to get the department to the staffing it needs to police a city the size of Seattle. Other law enforcement experts contacted by the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH concur.
“It’s going to take at least a decade, at a minimum, to get to the level of 1400 to 1500 people at a minimum,” Solan warns. “And that doesn’t bode well for the current officers that are here, in terms of having a safe environment to work in. And then I think, more importantly, it’s the community that we serve professionally on a daily basis. This crime surge is here, and it’s real, and it’s only going to get worse.”
The SPD is not the only department struggling with staffing
The King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) is not fully staffed.
A spokesperson with the office confirmed it experienced 74 separations so far this year, leaving the department with just 634 deployable staff. It has 113 open deputy spots that are not being filled fast enough.
Former sheriff John Urqhardt saw these problems coming.
“We’re screwed. How long do you think it’s going to take to hire the 500 officers that SPD wants when they can barely hire five a month?” Urqhardt said to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “The sheriff’s office is down by 115. How long is it going to take to get them back up to some sort of decent staffing? You know, I hate to be pessimistic, but this is not going to go away. This is not going to go away.”
‘I don’t know how the city moves forward’
Seattle officers are currently working without a contract. While a fair contract won’t completely fix the staffing crisis, it’ll help keep more officers from separating.
“You know, we would like to settle something sooner rather than later because time is of the essence,” Solan says.
Solan says that SPOG leadership is meeting with Mayor Bruce Harrell’s team “more often than not,” which gives him hope. He says there’s no other option than to negotiate a new contract.
“[Signing a contract] would be retaining your current people, which would then entice laterals or new recruits to come in because you have a fair wage that was up to today’s standards. The other option is, don’t have anything and you lose… it would decimate this department. And I don’t know how the city moves forward.”
Close to a contract?
It appears negotiations are going well. And there’s a general sense from officers who have spoken to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH that the city is moving in a positive direction with the contract.
In leaked conversations exclusively obtained by the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH, Harrell said he expects to have a contract of substance by the end of the year. His administration, through his deputy mayor and niece Monisha Harrell, says it believes the SPD should be released from its federal consent decree.
“It is very clear that this is not a city that needs the consent decree. That the improvements that have been made The… that this department is a world-class department. And that the federal government knows it. All of our monitoring teams know it. And we’re just trying to cross the T’s and dot the I’s to make sure that we can get out of this so we can move beyond that phase,” Harrell said.
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