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Seattle considering proposals to address significant police staffing shortage

SPD now is down 30 officers in the first quarter of 2022 and falling behind projections.

SEATTLE — Seattle's police chief, city council and mayor all seem to agree that there is an alarming police staffing shortage, though there is no consensus on how to fix it.

On Tuesday, Seattle Councilmember Lisa Herbold floated an ordinance to pay moving expenses to Seattle for sworn police officers to offset the declining staffing totals. It came on the same day that her colleague, Councilmember Sara Nelson, received a formal hearing for a resolution to offer hiring bonuses using existing surplus funds.

The day prior, a new report from the council's central staff suggested the department's recruitment efforts aren't keeping up with attrition, with the police department down 30 officers in the first quarter of 2022 and falling behind projections.

"That's not a recipe for success, that's a recipe for disaster," said Seattle Police Guild President Mike Solan on Tuesday, acknowledging many in his union membership are leaving for cities like Kent, Auburn, or Puyallup. He cited the lack of a new collective bargaining agreement and the tenor of the conversation at City Hall as reasons for the mass exodus. 

"We could be facing in a years’ time having just under 700 cops to work a million-plus city population," he said to KING 5. 

Solan said the recent downtown crackdown is an example of what an emphasis or fully staffed department could look like. 

"You need cops. Everyone who sees Third and Pine, Third and Pike's success, is because we bring cops," Solan said.

Seattle Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz painted a dark tone when talking about the staffing situation in front of the council on Tuesday. 

"We're having to work overtime just to handle the bare minimum," he told the council. "Our priority one call response time has gone up, as well as our priority two calls have actually exceeded over thirty minutes. Our priority three calls is almost over an hour. 

"So even when people do need 911 services, we're not able to respond in an adequate amount of time." 

Diaz talked about moving officers out of bicycle units and detectives into patrol just to handle the needs.

Diaz also said the events of the past two years, not unlike other major American cities, have taken a toll on morale and some uniformed officers are accepting deals in cities with a slower pace. 

"We look at top step pay. What Kent and Pasco agencies that are probably less cost of living actually have a higher top step pay than Seattle," said Diaz, adding, "Sometimes those cities have less violence, they have less things that are going on. So there are several things that we are talking to people about. Number one, officers want to feel valued. They want to feel appreciated. And they're also thinking about their own health and wellbeing."

Nelson vigorously argued for her proposal, telling her colleagues, "the bigger picture is that people are dying. We've said we want to get guns off the street. Overdoses are skyrocketing."

"Are we happy with the status quo?" she asked. "Are we fine not doing anything? I'm not."

However, it is unclear if she has broad support for spending millions on signing bonuses. 

Herbold's proposal would spend less. The two tangled, speaking over each other near the end of the committee hearing. 

Mayor Bruce Harrell has yet to weigh in. 

On Tuesday, Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who pushed for cuts to the department in 2020, said, "I am also raising questions here today about using critical public resources for a possible investment in a policy that has not yet been proven."

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