Seattle police union president counters city council criticism of staff attrition

Aug 13, 2021, 1:57 PM | Updated: 2:41 pm
SPD staff attrition, less lethal weapons...
Seattle police officers carry boxes with warning stickers and a slip of paper that reads "blast balls" as police clash with protesters following a "Youth Day of Action and Solidarity with Portland" demonstration in Seattle, Washington on July 25, 2020. (Photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images)

Seattle Police Officers Guild President Mike Solan broke down his perspective on recent Seattle Police Department staff attrition on KTTH’s Jason Rantz Show. He unapologetically leveled outspoken criticism against the Seattle City Council for their recent critique of SPD staff retention strategies.

“Their actions over the past year are the direct result of us losing a third of our people and having difficulty recruiting new people to fill the uniforms. They are alone to blame for the crisis that we are currently in when we have one hour response times because of the lack of staffing,” Solan said.

On Aug. 10, the city council reviewed SPD’s quarterly budget. The budget forecasts over $15 million in savings, much of which can be attributed to salary savings resulting from officer separations in 2020 and continued staffing attrition into 2021. The budget memo characterizes the attrition as an “extreme staffing shortage,” and that “police separations continue to outpace police hires.”

“In 2020, SPD lost more officers than any other year on record. Of the 186 separations, 46% had 7 years of service or less,” the budget update reads. “With recruitment and hiring significantly constrained in the context of COVID, SPD realized a net loss of 135 officers. This year, SPD is continuing to separate officers at an alarming rate. Through June 30, SPD separated 100 officers, suggesting 2021 will soon be the department’s second highest attrition year on record. The department is unable to precisely predict how many officers will leave this year and next. However, our current trajectory indicates SPD could separate as many as 160 officers in 2021.”

The update predicts that roughly $15 million of that savings can be reallocated in the form of separation pay, overtime, and more. The proposed budget allocates over $1.5 million for “community safety reinvestments,” which include civilian staff in the form of a triage program, a new dispatch system that better accommodates third parties, and the Peacekeepers gun violence prevention program.

The Seattle City Council had the opportunity to review these budget requests before passing future amendments to the supplemental budget ordinance. Within that context, Councilmember Gonzalez —  addressing SPD’s Executive Director of Strategic Initiative Dr. Chris Fischer — claimed that SPD has “significant room for improvement for retaining new … and existing officers.”

“We have fully funded y’all to do the hiring that you need to do. And where I’m seeing that there continues to be a significant concern, and I think this is on management, is how do we retain officers that we have spent time hiring that the department has funded and green-lit to be able to move forward with those hiring processes,” she added.

Councilmember Gonzalez was among those who called for defunding SPD’s budget by as much as 50%. Recent budget proposals, like the one passed in December, have been more modest, cutting SPD’s 2021 budget by 17%.

A year later, more questions than answers over Seattle council’s stance on defunding SPD

U.S. District Judge James Robart, who oversees the 2012 Department of Justice’s consent decree intended to curtail SPD’s patterns of use of excessive force, has on several occasions chastised the council’s approach to police reform.

Federal judge rebukes Seattle council for running afoul of SPD consent decree in 2020

“It was the DOJ settlement agreement that allowed us to maintain order to a degree with this city,” Solan claimed. “If we wouldn’t have had it [last] summer, I believe we would have lost another precinct, let alone had more cops hurt and more civilians impacted by this crime wave.”

In the interview, he further intimated that negotiations with the council have been and will continue to be fraught.

“As a union president, I’m supposed to work with politicians to try to curry favor labor wise to develop good relationships,” Solan said. “These people have been so diabolically hard set against policing. It would be impossible with the current people still running for office for us to try to engage in some form of reasonable conversation.”

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Seattle police union president counters city council criticism of staff attrition