‘Personally alarmed’: Seattle police chief presents ideas as officer numbers sink

Mar 12, 2024, 7:02 PM | Updated: Mar 13, 2024, 5:40 am

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A Seattle Police Department vehicle. (Photo courtesy of the Seattle Police Department)

(Photo courtesy of the Seattle Police Department)

Seattle City Council members were briefed on the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) recruitment project on Tuesday. Some council members criticized the department for losing more officers than were hired in recent years. (A PDF of the project’s specifics can be viewed here.)

Council member Rob Saka, District 1, said it was unsettling to see the low staffing numbers.

“I am personally alarmed and dismayed to see that,” he said.

Seattle Police Department sees lower numbers in recent years

SPD Chief Adrian Diaz reported Tuesday in his project presentation that staffing levels are at their lowest with over 700 officers departing his department since 2019.

Diaz added that as of Jan. 2024, SPD only had 913 fully trained and deployable officers, the lowest level since the 1990s.

In comparison, the population of Seattle is 733,919, according to the United States Census Bureau. That means there is one law enforcement officer for every 804 people who reside in the city of Seattle. That number is closer to 236 in New York City (approximately 36,000 officers in a city of about 8.5 million, that department reports).

Diaz told the council Tuesday that pay is the No. 1 factor for incoming officers, as “14 other local cities pay more” and his presentation provided numbers illustrating his point. (A PDF of the presentation can be viewed here.)

Part of the reason we’re here: The 2020 protests

George Floyd’s death at the hands of officers from the Minneapolis Police Department in May 2020 sparked conversations about police brutality and racism.

“You’re there to protect and serve the communities that you live in. And if you see something wrong, like racial injustice, you need to have the courage to say something,” said former Washington police officer, Craig Dockstader, in an interview with KIRO Newsradio in 2020.

Recent protests in the city: Protesters upset about treatment from SPD

Later, in the summer of 2020, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, protesters called on Seattle to defund SPD.

“Seattle Police Department is unleashing flash bangs, mace, tear gas. They’re running into protesters with their bikes, they have very large sticks, they’re wearing riot gear. So the only option is to begin to defund and demilitarize. We’re calling for a 50% defund of the Seattle Police Department and we demand that those dollars be invested in community-based alternatives to incarceration, community-based alternatives for public safety,” said community organizer, attorney, and former Seattle mayoral candidate, Nikkita Oliver.

In 2020, KIRO Newsradio also talked to the Director of the SODO Business Improvement Area, Erin Goodman, about the city council’s proposal to ax 50% of SPD’s budget.

“You’re probably familiar, we worked last year bringing attention to the prolific offender situation in Seattle, and I would say that SODO businesses are very supportive of the police department and that they feel very responded to,” she said. “However, there are other elements within the entire criminal justice system that are also not functioning. That would mean that someone who was arrested on their property and taken away might be back the very next day. So I think that it’s important we look at the criminal justice system as a whole, not just the police department.”

Diaz said in April 2021 that more than 200 officers left their jobs in the year after Floyd’s murder, citing an anti-police climate in Seattle, City Council policies and disagreements with department leadership.

The Seattle police chief said at the time that — with a deployable force of over 1,075 officers — the department was in a “staffing crisis.”

How SPD plans to hire and retain officers

Diaz also said the department is looking into providing help with housing and childcare, to retain hundreds more patrol and civilian staff.

“Those struggles of childcare, those struggles of trying to maintain certain things at home, are all something that we have to pay attention to,” he said.

Diaz said he was told to speed up officer hires. However, he said recruiters are trying to stay nimble — and the city may need to provide more than good pay to rebuild its force.

Diaz said the department is also considering housing subsidies as it works to hire 375 more officers. Seattle already provides relocation assistance.

More issues with law enforcement: Seattle police officers given 9-hour suspensions after slow shooting response

Diaz added the department needs to analyze what’s working and build on it. He said he’s considering having Seattle run its own training classes due to limited space in state academics.

Other suggestions from the council were recruiting college athletes and delving into discrimination and harassment on the force.

“We’re just not going to market our way out of this but let’s continue that at work and build upon it,” Saka said.

Contributing: Steve Coogan

Julia Dallas is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read her stories here. Follow Julia on X, formerly known as Twitter, here and email her here.

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