Rantz: Mayor Durkan, SPD used old data to dismiss staffing rumors

Oct 5, 2018, 6:00 AM | Updated: 10:58 am
Initiative 940...
(Seattle Police Department)
(Seattle Police Department)

Reacting to rumors of a “mass exodus” of police officers from the Seattle Police Department, both Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and then-COO Brian Maxey used old data to dismiss concerns over a growing staffing crisis.

Mayor Durkan, to the press, suggested the department was hiring more officers than it was losing. Maxey, to a federal judge, implied they were losing officers to the Everett Police Department thanks to a generous signing bonus.

Both statements were untrue at the time they were made and it remains unclear when they learned the info was outdated.

Durkan’s claim was false when she made it

At an unrelated press conference on July 2, 2018, KOMO 4 reporter Matt Markovich asked Durkan to respond to the rumors of a “mass exodus” at the SPD. At the time, Durkan dismissed the reporting.

“It’s not true,” Durkan said. “In fact … we’re in the net positive still. We’re recruiting more people than are leaving.”

That defense was picked up by KING 5 reporter Elisa Hahn who wrote “…the data doesn’t support the officers’ claim of mass exodus from the department.” But documents discovered in a public disclosure request show otherwise. Durkan’s comments were wrong at the time she made them.

At the end of June, the SPD had seen 58 sworn officer “separations” — an all-inclusive term that includes retirements, resignations, and firings. At the same time, they had only hired 49 recruits and lateral officers.

When asked when Durkan was aware of the staffing data, the mayor’s office, through spokesperson Stephanie Formas, did not answer directly.

Formas told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH that the “Mayor and Chief [Carmen Best] routinely discuss staffing and the SPOG contract at their biweekly meetings and both would have discussed staffing and recruitment as part of their budget conversations early in the Spring.”

Formas characterized the meetings as part of “…ongoing conversations about staffing,” so there would be “no specific date in June, July or August” where this was discussed.

But if the mayor routinely discussed the staffing numbers, why wasn’t the most updated information used at the press conference? Did she not have it reported yet? If that’s the case, why use May data to respond to rumors of what’s happening in June and July?

The main defense used by the mayor to dismiss the “mass exodus” as rumored, was that the SPD was net positive — that they hired more than they lost. In May, they were net positive. And while I wrote, in an editorial, arguing that defense is rather disingenuous, Durkan’s claim wasn’t even based on factually-accurate numbers when she made the argument.

When asked why the mayor dismissed the “mass exodus” rumors with numbers that were old at the time, Formas responded via email: “…the Mayor and SPD discussed May 31 in federal court in July but per my point, the Chief and Mayor have been discussing recruitment and staffing for months.”

Let’s talk about the staffing statements made in federal court: they also appear to be misleading and based, at least in part, on an old anecdote.

SPD’s Maxey misleads (and mysteriously quits with no external announcement)

The claims in my original report — via a doppelganger report in Q13 — came up at a July 9 hearing for United States of America v. City of Seattle where Judge James Robart discussed the mass exodus claims with then-COO Brian Maxey.

When Judge Robart asked Maxey whether or not the mass exodus was happening, Maxey denied the rumor, calling the numbers from May “typical fluctuations in hiring patterns that we deal with all the time.” It’s worth noting that on August 2, HR Executive Manager Mike Fields said they are experiencing “historically large numbers” of cops leaving the force.

Maxey also acknowledges the difficulty in recruitment, which is where he focused his attention to the judge. He said:

We do have more difficulty with the hiring pool at this point in time. Part of that goes back to the SPOG contract because we are at wages that were set on January of 2014 … We also have a flurry of neighboring jurisdictions that have increased incentive bonuses for lateral transfers. Up to $15,000 dollars to switch to a different agency. So while we’re not seeing any mass exodus, we are definitely seeing a slowing of our hiring.

The statement implies cops are going to the Everett PD, which is the department offering the $15,000 signing bonus. I’m not the only one who thought it implied Everett, either. Writing in a now-debunked “fact check” blog with the Stranger, Lester Black explained:

But what if there’s some other reason those 20 officers left? What if there were a $15,000 bonus and the chance to move to a place with a lower cost of living?

That, it turns out according to Maxey, is not a hypothetical but rather a reality. Other municipalities across the state are offering officers incentives, sometimes as high as $15,000, to leave Seattle and join their departments.

But they’re not going to Everett.

Where Seattle police are going

The Everett PD offered a signing bonus of $15,000 back in June 2017 and they’ve only hired one lateral officer from the SPD — back in November of 2017. His data, thus, was also old.

It’s absolutely true that officers are leaving to join other departments, some of which pay better and offer a signing bonus. But to characterize the departures due primarily to money, betrays the underlying issues officers consistently relay. Indeed, there are a number of cops, post-contract, readying a leave from the SPD.

Now, perhaps, the $15,000 bonus is in reference to another department that I haven’t been able to identify. I sought an interview with Maxey to discuss his claims. I was denied. Why? He resigned.

On September 21, in an internal email, the SPD announced Maxey had resigned to pursue other opportunities. Chief Best wrote that she has accepted his resignation and thanked him “for his hard work and contributions to the Department, especially working to drive compliance with the consent decree to full and effective compliance.”

Maxey, in the email, announced “with mixed emotions” that he’s leaving to pursue “a new opportunity to work on national and international projects with 21CP Solutions, a recognized leader in police reform, and am excited to share the knowledge and success that we built in Seattle.”

Bizarrely, no external, public comment was made, even though the COO position is important and a senior level of the Command Staff.

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Rantz: Mayor Durkan, SPD used old data to dismiss staffing rumors