Rantz: Seattle Police can’t find enough staff for patrol, city and media silent

Oct 24, 2021, 1:24 PM | Updated: Oct 25, 2021, 9:05 am
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(File photo from the Seattle Police Department via Twitter)
(File photo from the Seattle Police Department via Twitter)

Before the COVID vaccine mandate, Seattle Police Department staffing was a crisis. With only 1,048 deployable officers, the city is short between 400 and 500 officers for a city of this size. Now, thanks to Mayor Jenny Durkan sidelining over 100 officers for not complying with her mandate, staffing is a catastrophe in the making.

The SPD does not have enough officers to meet daily minimum staffing needs in any precinct. The department has been augmenting patrols thanks to officers volunteering from non-patrol units to respond to 911 calls. But in the weeks moving forward, there are dozens of unfilled patrols. Third Watch West Precinct alone is currently understaffed for the entire month of November.

What’s the response from the city leadership? They’ve been silent on the staffing emergency, pretending it doesn’t exist while downplaying the number of officers terminated over the mandate. And local media has barely taken notice.

SPD can’t find enough patrol officers

Internally, the SPD acknowledged terminating six staff and placing 103 on the so-called HR “unavailable list.” Those 103 are seeking exemptions to get out of the vaccine mandate. The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH is told all patrol officers on the list were initially denied accommodations, even though they all worked safely with accommodations for the last 18 months. But sidelining those officers as they await official termination or a new city compromise has real consequences.

Each day, precinct leaders send out emails asking for volunteers to take on understaffed patrol shifts.

Non-patrol officers then volunteer their time to take on the shift, delaying the work they’d otherwise do in their units. Officers from Domestic Violence, General Investigation Unit, Education and Training, and Community Outreach are all units that have lost officers for emergency staffing.

On the day the terminations and sidelines were announced, the staff augmentation began. It hasn’t stopped since.

Over the weekend, the SPD struggled to fill patrols across the city. On Saturday, the North Precinct needed seven officers to work 3rd Watch, while East Precinct needed three to work patrol and one to work nightlife emphasis. South Precinct struggled, too, though it was for 2nd Watch.

“It’s just putting on a Band-Aid on a hemorrhage,” Seattle Police Officers Guild president Mike Solan said of this augmentation plan.

The hemorrhaging isn’t likely to end soon.

October staffing is insufficient, November is worse

Last week, interim Chief Adrian Diaz announced that the department would maintain Stage 3 emergency mobilization through the end of the month. This is where patrol borrows officers from the non-patrol units. It’s hard to see how the SPD doesn’t continue the staffing policy into November.

The South Precinct 2nd Watch must augment its patrol for the rest of the month. From Saturday, Oct. 23, through Sunday, Oct. 31, it needs a total of 22 officers to volunteer from patrol. The most understaffed date this month is Halloween. An email from staff dated Oct. 22 urgently requests volunteers to step up. It’s unclear how many of the open slots have been covered.

But the problems in the South Precinct pale in comparison to the 3rd Watch in the West Precinct, according to documents obtained by the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.

The North Precinct 3rd Watch is short every day of November, the worst being short eight on patrol on Nov. 6. In total, they have at least 112 patrol slots open for the month as of last week.

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Durkan proactively tried to deflect blame

Publicly, Mayor Durkan has downplayed the staffing issues disingenuously by claiming that a small handful of officers would be terminated. When she made the claim, she knew roughly 100 officers would be put on the HR unavailable list as their accommodation requests would be appealed (as they had already been initially denied).

Ahead of sidelining police, Durkan set herself up to avoid taking the blame for service interruption. Durkan claimed interim Chief Diaz was “very secure” in believing “that if someone calls 911, there will not be significant impacts on the response.” In other words, she propped Diaz as the scapegoat if there was a 911 service interruption. But it’s hard to believe he was “very secure” in the position, as Durkan claims.

When the terminations and sidelining were announced, the SPD struggled to augment shifts with the patrol.

In fact, before Durkan implemented the mandate policy, the department struggled to answer 911 calls promptly due to the mass exodus of officers who left after months of abuse from the Seattle City Council. Generally, the SPD is only staffed to immediately respond to Priority 1 emergency calls (or emergencies in progress with a suspect description). But even then, response times vary with an average of eight minutes.

A revealing email

How could removing over 100 officers from service not impact 911 response times? When Durkan sidelined officers seeking accommodations, there were already 126 officers on the HR unavailable list.

Privately, Durkan is acknowledging the staffing crisis.

In an email to city staff across all departments and agencies on Friday, Oct. 22, Durkan said that, due to her mandate, “some departments may look a bit different for the foreseeable future, and you may be called upon to adjust your own schedule to ensure that our City continues to deliver essential services to the residents that rely on us.”

She’s not only talking about the SPD, of course. Seattle Fire was hit significantly. Over the weekend, a source tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH that fire units were taken offline due to poor staffing.

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What’s next? Some predictions

The appeals process for those officers seeking accommodations is expected to take at least two or three weeks. In the meantime, Durkan is likely to continue to play a numbers game, downplaying the lack of patrol.

Durkan will note that the city only terminated six officers, though I’m told they’re already revising that number down to claim it’s even fewer. For example, one of the six officers who was listed as terminated chose a last-minute retirement. This city won’t count the officer as fired. Two others on the list did, in fact, turn in their paperwork and were deemed terminated in error. None of this changes the fact that over 100 staff were taken off duty.

There may be a way for Durkan to claim the sidelined officers aren’t off the job. There have been rumors swirling that those officers may be given laptops to work on reports from home. This would allow Durkan to disingenuously claim the 100+ are still working, even though they’ll have been taken from the most important jobs in keeping this city safe.

Media could play a role but it won’t

Durkan benefits from a media that is equally disinterested in the staffing crisis and misinformed about how it works. It should be sounding the alarms about what is happening and why. Seattle media members, for the most part, are Democrats and they support the mandate. Many (though not all) have been reluctant to critically cover policies they agree with, even if the consequences are significant.

Still, it’s hard to imagine Durkan doesn’t relent in part. The SPD is desperate to hire hundreds of officers. Seattle is in the middle of a violent crime surge. She may keep them off patrol, working from home. She may wait for President Joe Biden or Governor Jay Inslee to change their messaging on the “emergency” of the pandemic. That would allow her to bring those officers back to patrolling. She could also allow for testing even though she’s inexplicably said no to that previously.

Whatever she does, the city is in a current staffing emergency. If the city were to be hit with a significant crisis — from a mass shooting to mass power outages caused by a mandate-depleted utility staff — the department will be stretched dangerously thin. Too thin, most likely. And Seattleites will suffer.

Did you like this opinion piece? Then listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz  on  Twitter,  Instagram, and Parler, and like me on Facebook

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Rantz: Seattle Police can’t find enough staff for patrol, city and media silent