Seattle Police recruitment falls short as response times increase

May 24, 2023, 8:07 AM | Updated: 9:18 am

seattle police...

Seattle Police. (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

New numbers show that the Seattle Police Department (SPD) isn’t hiring as many officers as it had planned, despite an increased budget for recruitment.

According to a report being made to the Seattle City Council Tuesday, the department wanted to hire 31 officers in the first quarter of 2023 but only brought on 26.

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Since 2020, the department has lost 515 officers and hired 190. Many have retired, but others said in exit interviews they did not feel supported by the city during the “defund the police” movement following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Staffer Greg Doss tells the city council about nine people are leaving the department every month, but he says that’s relatively good news because that number is down from about 13 to 16 in 2022.

“That is much better than it was in early 2022,” Doss said. “We have adjusted the hiring expectations to 115 to account for the five fewer hires for the first quarter of 2023 and the separation to 106.”

This is in stark contrast to Mayor Bruce Harrell’s plan to grant additional SPD funds to pay for a staffing incentive plan that was put in place last summer. The approved legislation allowed SPD to spend an extra $289,000 on hiring bonuses in 2022, in addition to the $1.5 million already approved earlier in May.

New recruits to the SPD are eligible for hiring bonuses of up to $30,000 — as long as they are employed within the department for at least five years.

At the time of the proposal, a report from the Seattle Department of Human Resources (SDHR), compiled at the request of the mayor, cast doubt on the effectiveness of new and lateral hire bonuses as an effective recruitment strategy, saying, “SPD did not experience an increase in hiring since implementing a hiring incentive into their process in October 2021.”

MyNorthwest conducted an investigation into exit interviews from SPD officers and discovered that a few of the main reasons SPD officers leave isn’t because of money, but rather the city and its elected officials, local media, inner-department toxicity, and lack of career development.

The money set aside for this incentive plan is not even being fully spent, with $1.8 million set aside for these incentives but only $327,000 spent on recruitment incentives.

The mayor’s office indicated that the issue revolves around the time it takes to set up a marketing plan for the recruitment campaign. Despite the process of getting new officers taking longer than they hoped, the mayor believe that continuing the incentives program is the best way forward.

This comes as department spending has increased by around $6 million over last year, with the biggest increase coming from more than $8.6 million in overtime spending — which is up 14% over 2022. Other factors in the increased spending include more than doubling the amount spent on consulting and legal services, from $432,000 to over $1 million.

This was planned for last year, though, as overtime spending has increased, leading to a budget of $31.3 million. This likely won’t be enough, though.

“The department’s 2023 overtime budget was increased to $31.3 million in anticipation of greater overtime need this year,” the report said. “It is unlikely that the $31.3 million budget will be enough to cover SPD’s overtime expenses.”

Due to officers being spread thin, police call response times have increased, with the highest priority calls taking an average of 10 minutes to get a response. This is slower than the city’s goal of having seven minute response times for all priority one calls.

Councilmember Alex Pedersen made the remark that the “median time for 911 response is completely unacceptable” at these figures.

Seattle expects to hire 115 officers and lose 106 by the end of the year.

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Seattle Police recruitment falls short as response times increase