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Kroman: Why the Seattle Police Department is losing so many officers

(Seattle Police Department)

There are many theories on why the Seattle Police Department is losing officers at a significant rate, despite considerable recruitment efforts. But according to one journalist on the city beat, there is no single cause that can be pointed to.

“In the last year they lost a total of 43 officers, and this year they’ve already seen a net loss of two officers,” Crosscut’s David Kroman told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross. “And this comes at a time when the city is actually trying to expand the department, so they are going the wrong way.”

Kroman reported about the context surrounding SPD exits in a recent Crosscut article “’Culture is toxic, morale is low’: Survey of Seattle police officers paints bleak picture.”

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“Something is going on here and I think it is a combination of things; I don’t think you can point to any one specific thing,” he said. “It’s a combination of retirements, and until recently the Seattle Police Department was paying 2014 wages … and I think there is a conflict between the cultures of the police department and maybe some of the cultures in city hall. Specifically, Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s comments a couple years ago calling the death of one man at the hands of police as murder, and calling it a case of racial profiling. I think that comment specifically rankled a lot of police officers and resonated in the department.

Crosscut recently obtained an officer survey conducted by Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office. The survey gauged morale at the Seattle Police Department and the results were not positive.

“This was a relatively small proportion of the total police force,” Kroman said. “They got 76 responses out of a force of 1,300. But among those 76, just 10 of them said they would recommend to friends and family to come work for the police department. So in general, that’s not a great number. It suggest that among this sample group, they found morale is low.”

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The Seattle Police Department has struggled with bad press, recruitment challenges, and to comply with a consent decree from the Department of Justice. Police departments across the country are facing recruitment issues, Kroman notes. But Seattle continues to lose officers either through attrition or from cops going to work for other cities. This is despite Seattle officers being the highest paid in the state and a hefty recruitment package.

“It isn’t just about people becoming disillusioned with police work,” Kroman said. “Part of the reason this is such a big struggle for police departments is that in the early ’90s with the federal crime bill there was a huge influx of money to hire a lot more police officers. But the problem with hiring a lot of new police officers at the same time is that those police officers tend to retire at the same time.”

“I think that there is some truth to the fact that being a police officer is less appealing than it used to be, but I think, generally, the biggest problem is that they have a lot of work to do to replace this silver wave of retirements,” he said.

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As for low morale, many surveyed officers feel that the Office of Police Accountability over-scrutinize them. Kroman says that, on some level, there may be some agreement between the city and officers on that point. He notes that  Andrew Myerberg, director of OPA, has said the process could be improved and that some complaints are fairly minor and don’t need to go through full investigations.

Listen to the Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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