Seattle PD, FD deliver sobering statistics to Seattle City Council

Feb 18, 2024, 4:04 PM | Updated: 4:12 pm

Image: A Seattle Fire Department vehicle, Seattle Fire Department, vaccine mandate, Seattle Fire...

A Seattle Fire Department vehicle (Photo courtesy of the Seattle Fire Department Facebook page)

(Photo courtesy of the Seattle Fire Department Facebook page)

The first meeting of the new Seattle City Council with the chiefs of the Seattle Police Department (SPD) and the Seattle Fire Department (SFD) last Tuesday featured a large number of “Thank yous” and a significant number of comments of appreciation, as all parties began settling in to what will be a relationship that will likely feature its share of tense moments going forward.

It marked a sharp contrast from the previous city council which was highly critical of SPD practices.

But it also featured a few tough questions, particularly for SPD Chief Adrian Diaz.

Council President Sara Nelson, Position 9, took on Diaz about the SPD staffing levels, saying there have been some positives regarding the numbers, “It’s still not happening fast enough.” She went on to point out that the city had a whole plan for recruitment and retention, she wasn’t interested in hearing that it simply wasn’t working.

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“And so when we see these numbers, there’s a tendency to say, well, there it’s just not working,” Nelson said. “And I don’t like hearing that. And then people pivot to will, every city is having a hard time hiring officers and look at the West Coast … Well, I don’t really care what’s happening in other cities, because I represent Seattle.”

In a lengthy response, Diaz brought up a variety of topics, including the targeting different populations and speaking to other departments in other cities, such as Portland and San Francisco. But he added, “At the end of the day, we’re all vying for the same applicants.”

Council member Rob Saka, District 1, had recruitment and retention in mind as well, but asked about officer morale, noting even if a collective bargaining agreement is in place and there are other options to drive recruitment, “if officer morale is low and remains low, it’s all for nothing.”

Saka chose to then note that “the challenge or opportunity to improve officer morale is a shared one.” But he asked Diaz about improving officer morale.

Diaz responded by bringing up  several points, including, “making sure that all of our command executive command staff is engaging all of our officers.” He also briefly brought up a “comprehensive wellness program” and a program for new recruits called Before the Badge, in which “recruits will first build relationships with the people of Seattle – before they receive their badges,” according to the SPD website.

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During the meeting, Both Diaz and SFD Chief Harold Scoggins delivered stark reminders that the issues of crime, homicide and homelessness haven’t changed much but there was some good news in their reports.

Diaz delivers the SPD report to the council

In his Seattle Police Department overview, Diaz told the council that crime overall in the city of Seattle had decreased by 9% in 2023 compared to 2022.

Total violence decreased 6% in that same time period but events of gun violence, both fatal and non-fatal increased by 3%

The most alarming statistic was an increase of 23% in homicides.

Diaz said the total count of officers dipped to 1,047 in 2023 from a high of 1,424 in 2017.

He said there were more hires and fewer separations compared to 2022. Still the department saw a net loss of 36 officers in 2023 despite strong attempts to recruit new and experienced officers.

Diaz made a point to highlight a huge increase in the number of rounds being fired in the city.

“Four years ago we had roughly 2,500, Last year, we had over 5,700 rounds fire, that’s more than double,” he told council members.

One reason for the increase is an illegal conversion of a handgun and the illegal use of high capacity magazines.

“Our officers are recovering what are called Glock switches which takes guns and makes them automatic,” he said. “And we are seeing 50-round drum magazines, it looks like a tommy gun, which why we are seeing some of the mass shootings that we’ve had.”

Scoggins delivers the SFD report to the council

Scoggins’ Seattle Fire Department Updates presentation began with a look at staffing levels. He cited 1,198 “regular” positions, including 1,111 in uniform.

The report states that 95 recruits were hired and 59 of them successfully completed training. Notably, there were also 59 retirements.

Looking ahead to 2024, the SFD notes a new recruiting class began last Wednesday with 47 recruits. Another recruiting class is set to begin training Aug. 7 and the planning for that session currently is in progress.

Scoggins’ presentation states the Fire Alarm Center (FAC) “handles upwards of 200,000 phone calls per year” and that “call volume has been continuously increasing since 2020.” The numbers support that assertion as the FAC took 206,559 calls in 2023 and this came after taking 202,344 in 2022. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the FAC took 191,698 calls in 2018 and 184,115 in 2019.

The SFD report also reports that alarms dispatched by the FAC have jumped significantly since 2018. The number hit an all-time high of 111,319 in 2023, surpassing the previous record in 2022 of 106,453. Before the pandemic in 2019, the FAC dispatched 91,151 emergency calls.

Scoggins pointed to population growth when explaining why the department is fielding more calls.

“If you look at the (Office of Planning & Community Development’s) website and you look at their quick facts. Since 2010, the city of Seattle has grown by 170,000 people. Over 92,000 new residential units have been built in the city. So, we’re becoming a more populated city. And what we know from that is more people you have in the city the more calls your you’re gonna go on.”

Two other alarming numbers that came from the SFD relate to overdoses. Opioid-only overdose emergencies jumped a whopping 50% between 2022 and 2023 (2,530 to 3,804). Overall overdose emergencies soared a staggering 60% between 2022 and 2023 (3,151 to 5,043).

When Nelson asked about the types of drugs seen in the overdoses, Scoggins replied by saying, “it could be a combination.”

“It could be methamphetamines, heroin, fentanyl. And oftentimes, it is an intersection of multiple things. So we are tracking that, which is why our medical director reviews all of those reports. So there’s a lot of stuff out there right now,” Scoggins said.

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The department also reported EMS encounters with the homeless and homeless-related fires dropped between 2022 and 2023. Looking at the homeless-related fires first, they fell from 1,538 to 1,323, representing a significant 14%. EMS encounters with the homeless dipped 3.2% from 12,158 cases to 11,765.

Scoggins praised his team when discussing those declines.

“I do believe that’s because of the work that’s been going on with the unified care team and all the efforts that’s been going on, and we can actually see it in our data and analytics,” Scoggins said.

One more key number Scoggins’ presentation revealed is that derelict building fires ballooned close to 44%, going from 91 in 2022 to 131 in 2023.

When Nelson asked about the derelict fires, Scoggins pointed to what he believes is a combination of things. Notably, he brought up some buildings being in line to be demolished and property owners needing to take responsibility.

“Some of the property owners are are in line for demolition of some of those buildings. And it can be an arduous process to get it all the way to the finish line to get the permit approved, whether if you have to remediate asbestos and other things in the building,” Scoggins said. “So that’s one part. I believe that there’s property owners that aren’t engaged.”

Steve Coogan is the lead editor of My Northwest. You can read more of his stories here. Follow Steve on X, formerly known as Twitter, here and email him here.

Matt Markovich often covers the state legislature and public policy for KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of Matt’s stories here. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email him here.

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