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Rantz: Seattle City Council tries to buy loyalty of cops they mistreat and demonize

(KTTH, Jason Rantz)

Seattle officials have celebrated a recently-approved bonus recruitment plan. But Seattle cops see it as trying to buy the loyalty of officers they routinely mistreat and demonize.

“I think it’s funny that they think bonuses will fix their [recruitment] problem,” one former SPD officer told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “I left the department and took a pay cut to go to a department that treated me fairly and allowed me to be a proactive police officer. And I didn’t get any bonuses for doing so. I know many other officers who did the same thing, and officers who are continuing to leave SPD. What the Seattle Police Department, and really the City of Seattle doesn’t get, is that you cannot just throw money at stuff and say it’s fixed. They aren’t focusing on their internal issues which make it such a terrible place to work.”

“I don’t think it will help at all,” another cop told me. “The problem is leadership and morale. ”

In a 7-1 vote, the council approved a proposal from Mayor Jenny Durkan which offers $15,000 for new lateral officers to the Seattle Police Department, and $7,500 for new recruits. The lone no vote was Councilmember Kshama Sawant, certainly no friend to cops.

While future officers are certain to appreciate the money, it’s a remarkably tone deaf move that won’t address the major issues impacting staffing at the SPD.

Last year, the SPD saw a historically large number of separations: 110 in all, including 47 resignations. At the time of the “mass exodus,” as officers put it, Durkan downplayed the crisis using old data to back up her point, while behind the scenes, she was working on this bonus proposal.

The separations aren’t the result of one incident, but long-simmering issues with city leadership and some in the command staff.

SPD officers worked without a contract for nearly four years and that played a big role in police anger. But, in my conversations with officers, if money came up at all, it was at the bottom of the list of complaints.

The constant barrage of attacks from the council and overzealous investigations into frivolous complaints are big reasons why so many cops are leaving, thinking of leaving, or are generally unhappy.

Cops under unreasonable scrutiny

The SPD is filled with officers willing to put their lives on the line to help their community. When they do, they’re called murderers by activists and a council member. When a use-of-force allegation is leveled, cops feel like the council will always side with the complainant before they even learn the details of a case.

“Officers are feeling that they are nothing more than a political punching bag,” a former SPD officer wrote in an HR document obtained by KTTH. “…that they are the sacrificial lambs on the altar of so called police reform.”

Councilmembers Mike O’Brien, Lorena Gonzalez, Teresa Mosqueda, and Kshama Sawant frequently come up as leaders cops are unhappy with.

“Command staff listening to boots on ground would change morale a ton,” the officer told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “We realize we can’t change the council’s position, but it’s bad even with the upper command.”

Officers end up arresting the same criminals over and over again for a host of crimes — from assaults to theft and drug possession — only to send them to City Attorney Pete Holmes, who they believe won’t charge.

A February post on Facebook from the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild linked to a much-discussed report on prolific offenders in Seattle. The post said criminals “LOVE” Holmes and that “SPOG members want to do our job but Pete makes it almost impossible.”

“Money is nice, but you get into this job to help people and arrest criminals,” the officer told me. “And leadership needs to remember that.”

Recruitment is struggling

The law enforcement community is tight-knit and word about the conditions in Seattle has impacted local recruitment efforts.

“We have officers coming in, seeing how bad it is, and leaving right after probation,” the officer explained.

“I don’t think [the bonus] will do much for an officer who has a head on their shoulders, unless they don’t do their homework,” a second officer explained. “A lot are doing a little online research, or come out and ask some pointed questions [about working here].”

The SPD culture, created out of the consent decree, means most officers are investigated by the Office of Police Activity for minor issues that could be reasonably handled without a months-long process. The investigations earning the ire of cops are not for use-of-force, but for being a few seconds too late in turning on body cameras or being perceived as rude — issues that can be handled directly by their supervisors.

Because the local pool is, perhaps, currently tainted, SPD has been traveling out of state to recruit officers. According to some inside reports and rumors, it’s not yet been successful, sometimes generating virtually no meaningful interest. In Indianapolis, for example, their recruitment efforts garnered no applications at the time.

“Recruiting just went to Honolulu and had zero laterals interested,” the officer told me, though I could not confirm this detail. “The problem is leadership and morale. We have officers coming in seeing how bad it is and leaving right after probation.”

“They have sent entire entourages of our background and recruitment to North and South Carolina, Illinois for weeks trying to get applicants…” a second officer explained, noting he hears the applicants aren’t coming in.

To be fair, SPD is playing the long game and they have had some recruits from cities they haven’t recently visited. Going to a city and not getting applications is, of course, disappointing in the moment. However, it doesn’t mean six months from now an officer will reach out.

Still, SPD staffing is an issue and a constant concern.

Officers explain they frequently run at, or below, staffing minimums, relying on overtime for precincts to be properly staffed. And offering such a high bonus shows an urgency in staffing.

But, with such low morale and a council that aligns itself more with anti-cop activists than patrol officers, the bonus didn’t just rub officers the wrong way, it further obfuscates the root cause of the problem they’re trying to address.

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

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