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Seattle mayor orders hiring bonuses up to $25K for police, union says it misses the mark

To address the staffing crisis in the Seattle Police Department and 911 dispatch, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan passed an emergency order to allow hiring bonuses.

SEATTLE — Experienced officers or 911 dispatchers could get a $25,000 hiring bonus, and new hires could get a $10,000 bonus, if they sign on with the Seattle Police Department or the Community Safety and Communications Center (CSCC) following an emergency order from Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. 

However, the Seattle Police Officers' Guild says the bonuses won't properly address the staffing crisis.

The order allows for hiring incentives within the city's current 2021 budget to help address police and 911 dispatch staffing shortages. 

“Hiring, recruiting and training takes months, and we need to act now to ensure we can have trained and deployable staff. Seattle cannot keep waiting to address the real public safety officer hiring and retention crisis we are experiencing in Seattle right now,” Durkan said.

The Seattle Police Department is currently operating under a stage three mobilization plan following SPD's adoption of Gov. Jay Inslee's vaccine mandate. Officers who weren't fully vaccinated or approved for, or pending, an exemption to the mandate were dismissed from the department. 

The mobilization plan is intended to ensure 911 calls are answered while the department operates under reduced staffing levels. All on-duty employees, including detectives, education and training employees and others with patrol backgrounds were directed to report to work in uniform, ready to respond to calls. 

Over the past two years, the department lost 250 officers, reducing SPD's capacity by 300,000 service hours, Durkan's office wrote. The City Council has previously resisted proposals to restore funding to SPD or reinstate hiring bonuses. 

“The Seattle Police Department is thankful Mayor Durkan recognizes our current staffing crisis and that she has taken the necessary step to ensure we can recruit the best and brightest new officers,” Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz said.

A pre-existing staffing shortage in the CSCC resulted in a 40% increase in overtime spending, the release said. Staffing issues were exacerbated following the implementation of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Calls to the city's non-emergency number will now be met with a recorded message directing some callers to alternative resources during busy periods to ensure 911 calls are prioritized. 

“The Community Safety and Communications Center (CSCC – Seattle 911) feels that these hiring bonuses may have a profound impact and give the city a significant leg up while fighting the national trend of difficulties in recruiting and hiring 911 call takers and dispatchers,” said Interim Director of the CSCC Chris Lombard.

A day after the emergency order was issued, the officers' guild released a statement, saying that while union members are thankful Durkan is acknowledging the staffing crisis, "dangling money to recruit new or lateral hires won't get the job done." Seattle, according to the union, cannot just hire enough people to balance out the number of officers SPD has lost.

Officers' guild President Mike Solan said in a statement police left Seattle for lower paying jobs "just to escape Seattle's toxic political climate." 

The city, according the union's board of directors, should take care of its current officers as well.