SEATTLE — There is a renewed sense of optimism for interim Seattle Police Department (SPD) Chief Adrian Diaz as the department struggles through staffing shortages, rising crime rates and growing response times.
Several former officers who left the department within the past year for other opportunities have returned to the SPD. At least six have returned so far, but Diaz said he's expecting more.
"A lot of times people come back because of the camaraderie and their fellow officers that they’ve grown up in the department with, and that matters, but also the trajectory of where the department is leading,” said Diaz. “We are pushing initiatives that are cutting edge, that are innovative, and I think people want to be a part of something bigger than them."
Seattle is in the process of reshaping the police department to create what it calls a “national standard for modern policing.”
But since the start of 2020, the SPD has lost at least 339 officers for various reasons. A department spokesperson said 69 officers have been newly hired, and the new 2022 city budget calls for hiring an additional 125 officers.
Officer Dion Johnson left the department in 2020 after massive cuts were made to the operating budget and hundreds of officer positions were eliminated. Johnson said he has deep roots in Seattle but chose to become a Mason County Sheriff’s deputy for a change of pace.
"With the state of Seattle last year, I thought that my job was in jeopardy," explained Johnson.
Lauren Truscott was all but born to be a police officer. Her father, who was also an SPD officer, was the one to pin her first badge when she graduated from the police academy 21 years ago.
“I grew up in Seattle,” said Truscott. “I went to Seattle Public Schools. I have long-standing relationships with a lot of community members.”
But after the community began to change in 2020, Truscott left the SPD for a promotion with another police department.
“It was really a personal decision for me,” explained Truscott. “I don't think that it was any external factors that changed.”
Today, Johnson and Truscott have both returned to Seattle.
Johnson said he “had a great command staff” at the Mason County Sheriff’s Office but felt “it was time for me to return home.” Johnson said returning to the SPD is “just like riding a bike,” adding the pay and benefits were also an incentive for him to return.
"[It has] been great coming back and getting back on the saddle here," said Johnson. "I came back mostly because of the cost of living. Also, I just wanted to do other things in policing, and I'm optimistic about Seattle."
“It was 100% a decision to return based upon my relationship with the community and the city of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department and the officers there,” explained Truscott."
While it’s encouraging some former officers are returning to the department, Diaz said he wants to see a total of 400 officers return or get hired to the department to reach what he calls full staffing.