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John Batchelor

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‘Historically large number’ of cops leaving Seattle PD, outpaces hiring

(Associated Press)

The rumored “mass exodus” and retirements of Seattle police is dramatically outpacing their hiring of cops ready for patrol, staffing records show.

RELATED: SPD Chief Best says cops are leaving, but contract will help

Back in June, rumors swirled of officers resigning from the department, fed up with a number of issues including mistreatment from city council members, an overzealous office investigating claims of misconduct and a lack of contract. The claim was that officers had already left or were about to leave.

Now, the SPD has released details on officers leaving the force through resignations and retirement. They’re deeply concerning to the SPD.

By the end of August 2018 (the last date with data available), the SPD had already lost a staggering 77 officers, with 29 officers resigning, outpacing the 63 officers they hired, many of which are recruits not in the field.

If the situation continues at this rate, we’ll see 103 officer separations by the end of the year.

“That’s a historically large number; I think it’s safe to say that,” Mike Fields, Executive Director of Human Resources for the SPD, told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “I think a lot of factors are coming into play. One, there’s fierce competition across jurisdictions in this area and as we look nationwide … being competitive to attract laterals. That’s a piece of it. We also have a demographic bubble of a large number of hires … [who] are now eligible for retirement.”

“It’s too high,” SPD Chief Carmen Best explained to me on August 30 when discussing the numbers, before they were made public. “We need more people. Every person we lose is not a good situation for us.”

The numbers may soon worsen if officers follow through with the threats to leave.

The Jason Rantz Show has been in contact with a number of cops who said they’re readying the process to leave the SPD, even after passing a new contract that offers them greater take-home pay, averaging $1,000 more a month.

If the number of separations continue at this pace, they’ll eclipse the numbers seen in 2017 (79), having already surpassed 2016 (67) and 2015 (71).

Kevin Stuckey, president of the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild (SPOG), has been sounding the alarm on staffing for months.

“That’s a very large number,” Officer Stuckey tells the Jason Rantz Show. “When you think about how many we have and the numbers it takes to actually police this city safely, that’s a huge number.”

The contract effect

Current thinking is that a new contract will incentivize more recruits. Assuming the contract is approved by the Seattle City Council, SPD officers would be the highest paid in the state.

“Each year that we went without a contract and other jurisdictions were receiving wages, of course, made us comparatively less competitive,” Fields explained.

But the cops I’ve spoken to don’t think this will make a big enough dent. One officer told me he still plans to leave the department, even with a new contract, as he’s sick and tired of the way he has been demonized by the city.

Stuckey believes a contract will help the situation, but he also remains concerned with how officers are being treated here.

“I have spoken to several officers who say they would rather go somewhere else because they didn’t sign up to the be the bad guy,” Stuckey explained. “They had no desire to be the villain in this scenario. Most people signed up to be a police officer because they want to help people and they’ve felt like they’ve been vilified by the City of Seattle.”

Another officer, who asked to remain anonymous, doesn’t even think the numbers being reported are accurate, claiming the “number [of separations] is way low” and noted some precincts “are now augmenting every night … to reach their minimum staffing.”

This officer is thinking about leaving, despite approving the new contract, and says officers still routinely complain that they’re getting ready to leave.

“Why stay here if you’re going to get suspended for a lawful and proper incident where it just ‘does not look good’ on video?” he tells me. “Who would stay knowing your livelihood is threatened and every single call you go to with no backing from the city.”

Like many officers, his gripe is with the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), which cops argue are over-zealous, treating minor mistakes as major cases of misconduct.

And as officers leave Seattle, whether through retirements or resignations, the current force is being stretched thin.

Is staffing an issue?

With so many officers leaving and so few being hired, many officers have claimed we’re in a staffing crisis. The Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC) — which trains new recruits to become officers — cut the allotted seats to the SPD because they weren’t filling them.

And, now, they’re nowhere near where they want to be, in order to call this year’s recruitment a success. Indeed, Stuckey argues if we see too-high a retirement number in the coming months, “we could be at some really scary numbers about whether or not we’re adequately providing safety for the citizens of the city.”

“We’re probably at minimum staffing most of the summer, if not going into the fall. The average citizen will tell you that, ‘If I call, I want someone to come’ and we want to be able to provide that service to people. But the reality is our numbers are low and they’re getting lower so the call times are going to increase. That’s just a fact.”

“We’re not even filling those overtime slots anymore,” he added.

While Fields couldn’t provide details on minimum staffing levels — because that’s not his department — he did say his team is working hard to get hiring to the level it needs to be.

“We’re trying to hire all the good folks we can in a super competitive market with a rate that was lagged for four and  a half years, so it’s a challenge,” Fields explained. “But we’ve got folks out working hard every day to recruit good people. We’re going to be stepping up even more than we have been. ”

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday mornings from 6-9 a.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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