JASON RANTZ

Rantz: Seattle Police shed an astonishing number of officers in 2021, more expected soon

Jan 10, 2022, 5:29 PM | Updated: Jan 11, 2022, 5:26 am
SPD staffing, officers...
Police officers block a street as city crews dismantle the Capitol Hill Organized Protest. (File photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
(File photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

The Seattle Police Department confirmed it lost an astonishing 170 officers in 2021, but that only tells part of the story. Dozens more will be separated from the department in the coming weeks, a result of the former mayor’s vaccine mandate.

The final separations report, which includes retirements and resignations, comes after a year of anti-police activism and a vaccine mandate that sidelined upwards of 100 officers. Some of those sidelined officers who were going through the accommodation repeal process ended up quitting or complying with the mandate. Others are still on the list as they await their inevitable firing — unless newly sworn-in Mayor Bruce Harrell changes direction.

Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz says the department is at “crisis levels.” The union president says it’s “off the charts dangerous” for the city.

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Seattle does not have enough officers

An SPD spokesperson says the number of deployable officers is just “around 950” as the city and region experiences a surge of violent crime. But it is actually much worse.

As of Jan. 10, while there are 948 officers on the force, that number includes recruits not yet sworn (36), students in field training (25), and unavailable officers (between 123 and 187).

The number of deployable sworn Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) members is 880. City officials have previously said the SPD should be at 1,500-1,600, minimum.

“The current state of Seattle police staffing is off the charts dangerous for our community,” SPOG President Mike Solan warns the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.

Making matters worse, there are up to 187 officers on the so-called “HR Unavailable” list. These officers are on extended leave for a variety of reasons, including injury or military service. But it also lists officers who are using their paid time off — accrued over years of service — before leaving the department. Due to the nature of when these numbers are reported and how often they can change, it will sometimes conflict with numbers reported from SPOG.

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Historically low numbers

With 180 separations in the previous year, the SPD lost a historic 350 officers since 2020, the bulk coming after the anti-police activism following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

In late October, I reported the total number was at least 335 separations, indicating an acceleration of retirements or resignations in the final months of the year. For context, the SPD saw 95 separations in 2019.

It’s unclear how many officers who are not in compliance with the vaccine mandate are still to be terminated. SPOG is negotiating the accommodation appeals process with the city. Under then-Mayor Jenny Durkan, the city was dragging its feet on negotiations.

Vaccine mandate making matters much worse

The SPD has struggled to staff daily shifts across all precincts and all watches.

The department has moved towards staff augmentation, relying on non-patrol officers to volunteer for patrol shifts just to meet staffing minimums. There are some shifts where precincts do not meet the minimum number of officers required to keep their community and each other safe.

“I’m fearful that officers who continue to augment patrol shifts will soon burn out. This can’t continue. SPOG is trying to work with the city to solve our community’s police staffing crisis,” Solan said to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.

And while the city does little, so far, to change the situation, other departments are recruiting Seattle officers.

“Currently, I don’t see a robust plan in place to attract other people to become Seattle officers nor plans to retain our current ones,” Solan said. “What I do see are other jurisdictions rolling out the red carpet with high signing bonuses to entice their future police officers. We all know why this crisis started, and it was completely avoidable.”

New mayor continues the mandate

Then-candidate Harrell indicated his support for the mandates. His office, through a spokesperson, confirms they won’t rescind the mandate. They do, however, acknowledge the staffing crisis is serious.

“The mayor has been very clear that he believes SPD needs additional officers to meet national best practices, reduce response times, and ensure thorough and comprehensive investigations. He’s committed to working not only to retain current SPD officers, but also to recruit the next generation,” a spokesperson for the mayor said in an email to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.

The spokesperson says Harrell is confident “there’s an opportunity to set a new tone for the City on police and public safety needs to help meet those goals.”

Solan indicates there’s not much time left to tackle this issue. The rise in crime and current staffing numbers appear to back up his assertion.

“Seattle can’t wait anymore. At the end of the day, it is our entire community that is suffering as there are hardly enough cops to answer their calls for help. Seattle is in serious trouble and is worth saving,” Solan said.

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.

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Rantz: Seattle Police shed an astonishing number of officers in 2021, more expected soon