Rantz: Seattle mayor didn’t complete, start 70% of police recruitment plan
Jul 26, 2023, 5:55 PM | Updated: Jul 28, 2023, 7:50 am
(Photo from the Seattle Channel)
In July 2022, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announced to the community and press his “robust and multi-pronged approach” to officer recruitment and retention. He’s accomplished almost nothing, despite a controversial move giving his office control over recruitment and retention efforts from the Seattle Police Department (SPD).
Of the 38 programs or initiatives Harrell said his administration would tackle by the end of 2022, roughly 70% either haven’t been completed or even started. Some of the ideas didn’t appear to ever be vetted with the SPD or the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), even though Harrell said the plan was developed with officers. Some initiatives have been deemed implausible, with no city announcements explaining the failures. Other aspects of the plan, if accomplished, haven’t even been publicized to the officers who were meant to benefit.
Meanwhile, SPD staff continues to dwindle this year, with 61 total separations as of June 30, with just 41 hires.
All talk, virtually no action on Seattle police recruitment
Harrell announced his “comprehensive plan” to recruit and retain officers at a press conference on July 13, 2022, flanked by SPD chief Adrian Diaz. He said the plan came from conversations with officers and community members, vowing to address a growing public safety crisis, with homicides surging.
While many of the action items didn’t even commit to fully implementing new programs, little work was done.
Harrell only promised to consider “exploring” whether some ideas can be implemented. For example, the mayor promised to “explore the creation of a pipeline of potential recruits through a college/university-based program centered on public safety careers.”
By January 2023, the city was supposed to “evaluate the feasibility of a program covering tuition for individuals seeking an undergraduate degree” and to “design a cadet program” to bring younger recruits into the SPD. None of this appears to have been accomplished, and the mayor’s office won’t explain if this is still being considered or how far along into the process they are.
While Harrell’s office fulfilled a plan to offer possible recruits “ride-alongs,” The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH has failed to find a single officer who has heard of the “recruitment ‘ambassador’ programs” that were promised. And by November 2022, the Mayor vowed to “create a recruiting speakers bureau of respected individuals in the community who can inspire interest in a law enforcement career and a position with SPD.” There’s no evidence this occurred or was even started.
What recruitment plan?
If the mayor’s office taking over recruitment was supposed to accelerate recruitment efforts, it’s failed.
SPD has only hired 41 recruits as of June 30, 2023, representing a net loss of 20 officers this year. Harrell committed to hiring 500 officers by 2027. That goal was never possible: there were 153 separations in 2022, the year he promised he’d fully staff the department, putting us on pace to exceed 600 separations since 2020. Complicating matters is the fact that the hiring goal of 500 was based on getting the department to roughly 1,500 total officers. He now needs to hire more than 500 to get that ultimate goal.
Though hiring 500 officers is an audacious goal, there’s been no robust recruitment plan or strategy.
While the city spent the first three to four months of the year finalizing a digital recruitment strategy (which was supposed to be completed in 2022), their efforts have focused primarily on running a handful of social media ads (Instagram and Facebook) to potential recruits. They have not been fruitful.
Since the recruitment plan was announced, even simple commitments, like creating and implementing “a new branding and marketing campaign” for recruitment, failed to fully materialize. Between the press conference and July 25, the SPD recruitment website has removed recruitment content from the front page, such as videos declaring Seattle “one of America’s greatest cities.” Instead, some photos have been updated to remove officers in masks, which were posted for COVID.
Of the $1.8 million given to the mayor for these efforts, his staff spent less than $330,000 in 2022. The 2023 budget will likely go unspent at this rate.
There’s little being done to retain officers
The mayor’s plan offered only ten initiatives to retain current officers. Almost none have been implemented or promoted.
The action items include instituting an “assignment rotation policy” for current officers so they can “develop skills across various responsibilities.” He vowed to create “bureau advisory councils” allowing officers to “elevate their perspectives, experiences, and opinions to command staff and City leadership.” Most of the plan was to be completed by October 2022. But these ideas were quickly jettisoned after the announcement.
“Both were ideas that were floated – but neither were actually implemented,” an SPD spokesperson confirmed to The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.
By August 2022, the mayor promised “regular roll-call visits by senior SPD command staff, elected officials, and senior staff from the mayor’s office.” This never became a regular occurrence. While the mayor promised senior command staff “office hours” so that officers could share thoughts or concerns, officers have never heard of it.
One achievement from Harrell was the promise to “establish a leadership academy to prepare officers, detectives, and sergeants for promotion by fostering management and leadership skills.” But it appears this is a reference to a pre-existing program under then-chief Kathleen O’Toole. It was paused during COVID.
They’re not even trying
If this is what an urgent plan to recruit and retain officers looks like, it’s no wonder the city has failed to meet its recruitment goals. That the mayor’s office is leading recruitment efforts for the SPD, to begin with, should be a sign that the staffing crisis will get worse before it gets better.
One significant issue that could help with both recruitment and retainment is a new contract for SPOG. But there doesn’t yet appear to be significant progress in negotiations between the two sides.
A Harrell staffer that was reportedly making things worse, senior deputy mayor Monisha Harrell (the mayor’s niece), was pushed out in late June. Behind closed doors, she was reportedly clashing with Harrell’s top staff, who have urged the mayor to take a more aggressive stance on public safety and police support. But the mayor continues to vacillate, often showing support for cops before immediately undercutting them by pivoting to comments on systemic racism and excessive force to placate the activist community. In private conversations, Harrell tells cops he unapologetically backs them, but in public, he downplays his support.
The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH gave Harrell’s office a specific list of action items from his plans that are believed to be uncompleted or abandoned. But spokesperson Jamie Housen continued his strategy of ignoring requests for comment.
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