Rantz: Seattle police ‘Unavailable’ list grows, city an emergency event away from catastrophe

Dec 13, 2021, 6:30 PM | Updated: Dec 14, 2021, 3:52 pm
(Photo courtesy of Seattle police/SPD Blotter)
(Photo courtesy of Seattle police/SPD Blotter)

The Seattle Police Department staffing emergency continues. The city is one emergency event away from a serious catastrophe. But leaders and the media remain mostly silent.

The so-called “HR Unavailable” list has grown considerably as of Dec. 10. This list features officers who are on extended leave and cannot be deployed. Officers only appear on the list after being absent for a minimum of 14 days.

Concurrently, the department continues to struggle to fill vacant patrol slots to meet minimum staffing numbers. Every single precinct, in every single watch, has open slots for nearly every single day in December.

Rantz: Seattle activists bail out homeless suspect in brutal eye-gouging of cop

Where are Seattle officers?

The HR Unavailable list was at 126 on Oct. 20, two days after the COVID-19 vaccine mandate deadline passed and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan pulled nearly 100 officers from duty.

Now, the HR Unavailable list has ballooned to 155, according to an SPD source. This is on top of the 335 exodus of officers since 2020.

The list includes illness, disability, and maternity and paternity leave. But officers burning accrued vacation or sick time will also appear on the list. It’s a move an officer typically takes before separating from the department. The SPD will likely see several separations before the end of the year.

Many of the officers that are out of service come from patrol. It’s causing a staffing crisis.

“We’ve seen that list explode since the riots due to a lot of the injuries, of people not being able to get surgeries scheduled on time because of the pandemic, and a number of [other] factors,” Seattle Police Officers Guild President Mike Solan told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “The political environment we’re in … created a situation in our community that we don’t have enough cops. Period.”

A spokesperson for the SPD says they cannot comment on the number of officers on the list. However, they note it creates a clear staffing issue.

“Not speaking to any numbers, but every officer that is on that list is an officer that isn’t available to answer 911 calls and can add to the response time for any call,” SPD spokesperson Detective Patrick Michaud tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “As we have stated in the recent past, the SPD remains in a staffing shortage, and we continue to need additional people. This reason is why we continue to advertise for new recruits as well as ask for additional funding from the city council.”

Rantz: Prosecutor wants bulletproof glass to protect from criminals it lets out

Augmenting shifts

The SPD has asked non-patrol officers to volunteer to augment open shifts. This is necessary for precincts to meet staffing minimums, which is still not ideal. Barely meeting staffing minimums is why it can take upwards of an hour for police to respond to some 911 calls.

Every precinct is impacted.

For example, the Southwest Precinct’s 3rd Watch has shift openings for every day in December. Just before the start of the month, an all-staff email went out asking for volunteers to take on open shifts.

The same problem impacts the West Precinct 3rd Watch. Before December, an email went out to staff showing upwards of nine patrol slots for the entire month. On Dec. 13, the precinct needed seven officers, whereas Dec. 24 and 25 needed eight and nine officers, respectively. On seven days in the month, they needed to fill one sergeant and five officers for nightlife emphasis.

“The city cannot hire enough people to solidify the vacancies and the continued vacancies,” Solan explained. “That, to me, is alarming. Not just because we’re losing members. But it’s creating a working condition issue. Every watch, every shift, every precinct. That creates a safety concern for the cops who were just answering that basic 911 call. Are there going to be enough people to back each other up in terms of creating a safe, to a degree, a safe call?”

Silence from our leaders and the media

The mayor’s office has been mostly silent on this issue. After putting out a few press releases, Durkan has been quiet.

The Seattle City Council, meanwhile, is uninterested, to say the least. They shrunk the SPD budget by nearly $50 million since pre-pandemic levels. And they only funded the SPD to hire 125 officers in 2022. But the department is short roughly 500. It’s fair, however, to say SPD Command Staff would be grateful to get close to 125 new hires next year.

“We’re not big enough to make up those drastic losses,” Solan added.

Most media outlets have been silent, too. Outside of KTTH Radio locally and FOX News nationally, local outlets have barely touched the subject.

Instead of focusing on the crisis, outlets like KING 5 focused on seven re-hires of officers who previously left the department. It was almost exactly the same story that KOMO offered a month earlier. It even included an interview with the same officer KOMO featured. While the rehires are a positive development, it doesn’t come anywhere close to addressing the crisis.

Stage 2 mobilization

Though the staffing crisis has worsened, the SPD moved to Stage 2 mobilization. They were previously at Stage 3.

Whereas Stage 3 allowed for full deployment of all on-duty sworn personnel, Stage 2 mobilizes slightly fewer personnel for full deployment. For example, Stage 3 can pull investigative union personnel from their assigned duties to respond to 911 calls. Stage 2 does not.

SPD didn’t explain why they made the shift, given that crime continues to surge and there’s been no meaningful change to the staffing situation. However, Solan, answering an unrelated question, cited staff burnout and the difficulty for officers to use vacation time around the holidays as reasons why officers are expected to quit in larger numbers this year (and early next year).

One emergency away from a catastrophe

The staffing crisis would be dangerously exposed should the city experience a major public safety emergency.

When one major incident occurs, SPD must pull staff from multiple precincts to respond. If that incident is an emergency, like a mass casualty event, the city would be virtually police-free so that officers could respond to the scene of the crime.

This new reality leaves communities vulnerable to criminals who exploit the staffing crisis. As police converge on, say, Pioneer Square to deal with an emergency, Bitter Lake, Rainier Valley, and Alki Beach are almost certainly without police protection.

The sad reality is that it might take this kind of emergency to show the city the dangerous staffing levels. Perhaps local leaders and the media can put some sense of urgency on addressing the issue before we get to that emergency event.

Update as of Dec. 14, 3:50 p.m.

The number of Seattle cops listed as “unavailable” is now up to 165.


Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3–6 pm on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz  on  Twitter,  Instagram, and Facebook. Check back frequently for more news and analysis.

Jason Rantz on AM 770 KTTH
  • listen to jason rantzTune in to AM 770 KTTH weekdays at 3-6pm toThe Jason Rantz Show.

Jason Rantz Show

Jason Rantz

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee speaks prior to U.S. President Joe Biden's appearance at Green...
MyNorthwest Staff

Gas shortages and record high prices plague Washington drivers

Gas stations in Washington are resetting their price boards to accommodate double digits in preparation for fuel prices potentially reaching $10 a gallon.
20 hours ago
Car Shot Seattle...
Jason Rantz

Rantz: Man nearly murdered in random Seattle drive-by while celebrating job promotion

My 25-year-old coworker had just finished hitting a bucket of golf balls at a North Seattle golf range. Moments later, his elation turned to terror as a man tried to murder him.
4 days ago
Bellingham Sex Shop...
Jason Rantz

Rantz: School Board director hosts ‘Queer Youth Open Mic’ at sex shop

Unless Jenn Mason clears out the store, those children will be near sex toys, graphic books, and lingerie, with a curtained doorway keeping them away.
5 days ago
King County Courthouse from City Hall (flickr creative commons)...
Jason Rantz

Rantz: Seattle judge slapped in the face, but refused to report assault to police

The unidentified suspect allegedly slapped a King County Superior Court Judge in the face, but the judge didn't want to be identified as a victim.
6 days ago
(Seattle Police Department)...
Jason Rantz

Rantz: Victim died as medics waited for critically understaffed Seattle Police to arrive to scene

Due to critically low staffing, Seattle Police were unable to quickly respond to a deadly hit and run as medics waited to be cleared to treat the victim.
7 days ago
Police officers block a street as city crews dismantle the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) ar...
Jason Rantz

Rantz: Did Seattle councilmembers abuse police help, while defunding department?

I didn't come up empty-handed because I have no idea whether or not it's true. In this case, I was stopped from doing a part of my job.
11 days ago

Sponsored Articles


Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) initiative provides […]

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
Rantz: Seattle police ‘Unavailable’ list grows, city an emergency event away from catastrophe