Seattle Police Chief cites lack of support, staffing shortages amid weekend violence

Jul 15, 2019, 4:04 PM | Updated: Jul 16, 2019, 9:21 am
Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best...
Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best. (Hanna Scott, KIRO Radio)
(Hanna Scott, KIRO Radio)

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best addressed a trio of violent incidents in Seattle over the weekend, noting a lack of support from city officials as one of the driving factors behind an understaffed department.

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Three notable violent incidents took place in Seattle on Sunday, including an early-morning, large-scale fight near Seattle Center that ended in a gunshot wound, and then a stabbing in Capitol Hill’s Cal Anderson Park less than an hour later.

Later in the afternoon, a drunk driver hit a 9-year-old boy in Magnolia along West Dravus Street and then another car, injuring two other people, before eventually crashing into a utility pole.

Chief Best noted Monday that the officers who responded to each incident did an “incredibly good job,” but also believes the incidents draw focus to a staffing shortage she blames on city hall.

“We are losing good people, and we know that it’s because they feel like they are not supported by public officials,” Best said in a Monday news conference. “It highlights the fact that we have some really critical staffing issues. And I don’t need to see another survey or exit interview to know that one of the issues is that we really need the support of our public officials and our public for the officers.”

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Last summer, Best told KTTH’s Jason Rantz Show that truth is her response to questions about the department’s relationship with city leaders and Seattle residents.

“When I hear things that aren’t true, I’m going to make sure I counter with the truth,” Best said. “That’s it. All we can do is put the truth out there the best way we know it and people are going to decide for themselves how they feel about it. What I do know is that officers are working hard every day, saving lives, they are dealing with people who are in crisis – whether that’s mental health crisis or addiction … so I will counter everything with the truth.”

At the time, Best said she expected a new contract with the city might help retention and recruitment at the Seattle Police Department that had been rumored to have been losing 60 to 80 people.

“There are lots of people walking out the door,” an officer explained to Rantz on the condition of anonymity. “This is a mass exodus. We’re losing people left and right. Why stick around when the city council doesn’t appreciate you? [These officers are] fleeing the ‘Seattle mentality.’”

A former Seattle police officer told Rantz, “I was being ordered to do less police work,” he explained. “They would tell me … not to look for problems. A lot of this comes from there’s more risk with officers being proactive.”

Seattle Police Officer’s Guild President Kevin Stuckey was also concerned about how low staffing levels would affect policing in the city.

“I would say do your jobs and if you see something, act on it; if you get dispatched, act on it. I wouldn’t say go look out for hand-to-hand exchanges. That would jeopardize your career and there’d be no support [from the city].”

More recently, one officer told Rantz that the shooting on Lake City Way in April brought the department “to its knees.”

“The fewer officers actually in a patrol car, answering 911 calls, and/or patrolling the neighborhoods, the less safe the neighborhood is, and the less safe the officers are,” one veteran officer told Rantz following the shooting that left two people dead and two more injured.

In April, some officers said they were anxiously awaiting the November election in which seven of the nine Seattle City Council positions are up for reelection.

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Last week, Crosscut’s David Kroman reiterated Rantz’s reports on the context of recent SPD exits, describing a culture many within the department label as “toxic.”

“I think there is a conflict between the cultures of the police department and maybe some of the cultures in city hall,” Kroman told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross. “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.”

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Seattle Police Chief cites lack of support, staffing shortages amid weekend violence