Rantz: Mayor Durkan calls port police ‘mall cops’ in pitch to retain Seattle cops

Nov 13, 2018, 5:59 AM | Updated: 9:56 am
(KIRO 7)
(KIRO 7)

In an effort to slow the “historically large numbers” of officers leaving the Seattle Police Department, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan tried to convince officers to stay with the department, joking that their Port of Seattle colleagues are “mall cops.” While the Mayor acknowledges it was a joke, some officers felt insulted, given some are thinking about joining the port.

Last week, at a Seattle Police Officer’s Guild meeting, Mayor Jenny Durkan delivered a speech to the standing-room only audience of cops, eager to learn the fate of their contract. During the meeting, according to multiple sources, Durkan attempted to convince officers to stay with the SPD, insisting that the numbers of officers reportedly leaving is overstated, while also trying to convince them the only viable place to police is Seattle.

Durkan then referred to Port of Seattle officers as “mall cops” as a pitch to keep officers at the SPD.

“It backfired… it absolutely did,” one officer at the meeting told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “She called Port of Seattle cops ‘mall cops’ that don’t really do real police work. She was trying to make it sound like the only place you can make a difference is in Seattle. You can’t make a difference anywhere else. She (said that she) ran into a Port of Seattle officer and she knew they left SPD… and referred to them as a joke.”

This didn’t bode well with some of the officers in the room who felt insulted.

“They are a police agency, not ‘mall cops,’” the officer explained. “It’s insulting. She was trying to say we need to stay here and slam any other options that you have. And, it’s actually a pretty good option because of healthcare and pay.”

Durkan responds: it was in jest

Mayor Durkan, in a statement to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH, explains it wasn’t meant as an intentional slight.

“In answering a question about officers being recruited by neighboring jurisdictions, I repeated my belief that we have the best-trained, best-qualified officers in the country and discussed the caliber of the work delivered by Seattle Police officers. During the discussion, I made an offhand jest about why I thought SPD offered the most challenging but most rewarding work of any local departments. It was never meant to impugn the hard work of a neighboring jurisdictions that keep our region safe and assist Seattle in a myriad of ways every day. I tremendously admire the work our local law enforcement does day in and day out to keep us safe.”

According to a second officer at the meeting, the “mall cop” refrain came up again — though this time from an SPD officer.

“I think [Mayor Durkan] was trying to sell SPD on ‘this is where the action is,’” the officer explains. “It was however quickly brought to her attention, that more than ever, SPD officers are feeling more and more like mall cops because our hands are tied for so many different reasons. This then to a respected veteran officer telling her that he feels like a mall cop in today’s environment due to our hands being tied.”

To be clear, not everyone in the meeting was offended. Sergeant Sean Whitcomb of the SPD defended the Mayor.

“Obviously it’s a joke, not meant to be taken seriously,” Whitcomb told me. “If that was really the case, we wouldn’t see some of our best officers going to that agency. They’re a very professional agency, they have plenty of opportunities … that aren’t available in Seattle. But at the same time, it’s an easy joke to make because anyone who’s been to the airport is told to move your car. It’s competitive banter. They’re an awesome agency!”

It’s true that some officers don’t view the Port of Seattle as exciting as work in Seattle, but officers in the room didn’t like to hear their colleagues be dismissed, especially since many are considering a possible move there.

The port offers higher pay and a work environment that doesn’t demonize them, something that happens too often in Seattle. Some officers have already made the move; others are thinking about – or have already gone – to not just the port, but Tacoma, Everett and Bellevue.

Bellevue recently announced a $16,000 signing bonus for qualified, lateral officers to fill their vacancies. They’ve already seen success in recruiting Seattle officers.

“We’ve had seven SPD officers apply since last Tuesday,” Officer Seth Tyler with Bellevue PD told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “Several more have told us that they are waiting for the outcome of the city council vote … and will make a decision based on the outcome of that vote.”

There’s tension

Unhappy with a protracted contract fight, many Seattle police officers have viewed this issue as their final straw, already angry over Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s frequent attacks and an overzealous Office of Police Accountability.

Durkan, along with Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, stopped by the SPOG meeting to update them on the contract, but officers said the mayor didn’t provide anything new to them. That’s not entirely her fault, of course, but when it became time to answer questions, Durkan wasn’t perceived as very forthcoming.

“She never answered any questions that were asked; it was deflected into something totally different,” the officer explained. “She just read her speech, but didn’t answer questions directly. As people got more pointed with their questions, she said ‘time’s up, we gotta go.’”

There’s tension between many officers and Mayor Durkan. Some believe she’s fighting for them and is a welcome change from what they got under former Mayor Ed Murray.

Mark Prentice, newly-minted Communications Director, rather ardently defended the mayor against any accusations that she meant the “mall cops” line seriously. And in her statement, Durkan makes it clear that she has “a deep respect for our officers who put their lives on the line to keep our community and neighbors safe.” And, as a former federal law official, she proudly defends her work with various law enforcement agencies:

I worked with almost every law enforcement department in Western Washington — and saw the great work done by every county, city, town, Port, Tribal and rural department.  From Hoquiam, to Suquamish, from Clarke County to Whatcom County, from Washington State Patrol to the Tukwila Police Department — and everything in between — I enjoyed an unprecedented level of cooperation and results from partnerships between federal, state and local law enforcement. Many of those relationships continue to help Seattle and our region as we face new and familiar challenges, from terrorism to criminal enterprises.

But some cops still question her support.

I’ve been told by several officers that they question her commitment to the contract, perceiving she would be okay if it was rejected because she can say she tried her best. Publicly, Durkan hasn’t offered a sustained media blitz to rally the city behind the cops to put pressure on the council and she most recently signed a resolution backing I-940, which officers overwhelmingly rejected. But privately, I’m told, Durkan is putting on pressure for the contract to pass.

What struck the officers I spoke to as odd, was her claim at the SPOG meeting that officers aren’t leaving in the numbers being reported. They viewed her statements as a political strategy so she’s not blamed for the dwindling force; after all, while saying officers aren’t leaving, she’s actively trying to keep officers from separations. Indeed, many of the officers in the room knew colleagues who left or are about to; some of the officers in the room themselves are readying a move.

“She knows people are leaving but she did fuzzy math [to claim no mass exodus],” the officer told me. “She said not as many people are leaving and that [media] have their information wrong, despite being understaffed in most precincts.”

Durkan’s staffing claims are hard to back up. The SPD is losing officers – through resignations and retirements – at record numbers. To justify her position back in July 2018, Durkan used old data to claim they were hiring more officers than were leaving. At the time of her comments, they lost more officers than hired.

And now, at the end of September 2018 (the last date with data available), the SPD had already lost a staggering 82 officers, with 31 officers resigning, outpacing the 70 officers they hired, many of which are recruits not in the field.

“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, after the August numbers were revealed. “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.”

And while Durkan tries her best to retain officers, it will be a losing battle with some, the result of anger simmering before she took office. And if this contract doesn’t pass, there will be little for her to say to keep a number of officers from ditching the SPD.

“It’s disappointing and sad,” a third officer told me. “I’ve worked here my entire career and I never thought of leaving until I retired. Now, it seems there’s nothing to stay for. Some officers will stay and fly under the radar — self-preservation mode. Then there’s the other Officers that would rather cut the ties with Seattle, go get paid more, do the career they were called to do, wait for the retro check to come in the mail from the City of Seattle when they finally sign the contract and retire at an agency that respects, appreciates and trusts them.”

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Rantz: Mayor Durkan calls port police ‘mall cops’ in pitch to retain Seattle cops