Rantz: Seattle Police crisis worsens, on track to lose nearly 200 cops this year

Jun 1, 2022, 6:31 PM | Updated: 6:58 pm
(Photo by Noah Riffe/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)...
(Photo by Noah Riffe/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
(Photo by Noah Riffe/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The Seattle Police Department is on track to lose nearly 200 officers by the end of the year. The latest data on officer separations versus recruitment shows the crisis has no end in sight.

A spokesperson with the SPD says the city lost 67 officers this year, leaving the department with just 838 officers. But the separation data is based on staffing levels through May 20, with official numbers that reflect all of May to be released next week. Multiple sources tell me the SPD lost 13 officers in May, bringing the year-to-date total to 75.

Historically, the department has seen a surge in separations in June and July, indicating the worst is yet to come.

“These numbers indicate an alarming situation, that if we don’t focus on retaining the current qualified officers from leaving, we’re in deep, deep trouble,” Seattle Police Officers Guild president Mike Solan exclusively tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “Because there’s no way we’ll be able to recruit qualified people to want to even come here. And the numbers are indicative of that. And we’re very, very concerned moving forward.”

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Recruitment failing, too

Solan is likely correct in his assessment of the city’s recruitment efforts.

The SPD, through a spokesperson, confirmed their preliminary reports show only 22 hires and re-hires (officers who quit the SPD but returned) through May 20. A source tells me that number will be 26 once all of May is counted. This falls far short of the city’s goal of hiring 125 by the end of the year, for a department with a total goal of 1,400 officers.

The City Council did an about-face, thanks to efforts by City Councilmember Sara Nelson and Mayor Bruce Harrell. Both newcomers championed an incentive package to recruit officers to the SPD. Many on the Council, which previously defunded and demonized police, adopted a new tone when discussing police recruitment and retention challenges.

After Seattle voters installed the mayoral candidate who promised to support the police, and a Republican City Attorney who vowed to tackle the surge in crime, councilmembers like Lisa Herbold and Dan Strauss moved to be more generally supportive of the police they once virulently criticized.

Efforts are not good enough

Solan called the incentive plan a “positive” move by the Council, but said it’s not going to be enough.

“It all stems from the lack of political support from our elected leaders. We’re out and from the union angle, yes, our interest is trying to get a contract for the current people, and the future police officers to compare with cost of living and be the highest paid in the state,” Solan explained. “And for you to stop the bleed, meaning the city, of losing these highly qualified and skilled trained officers, well you do that, number one, by incentivizing them to stay. Right now, we’re not seeing that take shape. And they’re focusing on the wrong piece of this, which is just recruiting.”

Solan notes the SPD is competing with nearby agencies offering commensurate pay and benefits, along with city leaders who have not consistently sided with activists chanting, “All cops are b*stards” at rallies — and riots.

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The staffing numbers are still misleading

Despite the record-high exodus, the dismal numbers are worse than they appear.

As of June 1, there were at least 130 officers on the HR Unavailable list. This list includes officers who are on paid and unpaid leave, worker’s comp, extended leave due to military service, and unvaccinated officers that the city hasn’t yet terminated. This means an even further strain has been placed on the department.

Staffing is so low that precincts routinely beg for volunteers to take on extra shifts so that they can meet minimum staffing levels. Still, precincts across all watches are not meeting staffing goals, putting the public and officers at risk.

Specialty units within the department are struggling, too.

The SPD lost 100 detectives since 2019, leaving the city with just 134. Consequently, the SPD stopped assigning adult sexual assault cases to detectives. As alarming, SPD’s Special Assault and Child Abuse Unit went from 12 detectives three years ago to just four.

No end in sight

There’s no apparent end in sight to the city’s staffing woes. It’s directly tied to the surge of crime hitting Seattle and the region.

Solan and SPOG project the separations in 2022 to hit 181, based on the current trajectory and the upcoming retirements the SPD knows are coming. This means it will take even longer for officers to respond to 911 calls.

“We’ve already lost 75. I don’t even know how we absorb that. I don’t speak for the agency, I speak for the union, but I don’t know how the agency absorbs that. And quite frankly, I don’t know how the union absorbs that,” Solan explained. “I don’t know how our community absorbs that because they’re desperate for uniformed police officers to answer their 911 call for help. You’re never going to get those kinds of [recruitment] numbers to replace them in a reasonable amount of time. This will take years to recover from.”

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,  InstagramFacebook, and YouTube. Check back frequently for more news and analysis.

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Rantz: Seattle Police crisis worsens, on track to lose nearly 200 cops this year