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Seattle police warn of 'staffing crisis' after 66 more officers leave

Mayor Jenny Durkan cautioned the Seattle City Council against making further cuts to SPD's budget, saying the reductions could drive more officers away.

SEATTLE — The Seattle Police Department says it’s in a “staffing crisis” after 66 more officers left their jobs in 2021.

“We are at record lows in the city right now. I have about 1,080 deployable officers. This is the lowest I've seen our department,” Police Chief Adrian Diaz said Tuesday.

More than 180 sworn SPD officers left the department last year, a record, according to SPD figures.

Some of the latest departing officers retired early, while others left for policing jobs in different cities or positions in the private sector, according to exit interviews.

The interviews show many of the officers pointed fingers at the city council and a general anti-police climate in Seattle as reasons for leaving. Others criticized SPD's leadership.

The Seattle City Council is considering a new cut of $2.8 million to the department's budget. Roughly $800,000 would be transferred to other city departments that support SPD's work.

RELATED: Former Seattle police chief Carmen Best calls proposed budget cuts 'highly reckless'

The council trimmed police funding last year after nationwide protests over the mistreatment of people of color.

Activists applauded the reductions and called for more.

“Despite an increased focus on recruitment and retention, the Seattle Police Department continues to lose sworn officers at a record pace due to ongoing budget uncertainty,” a spokesperson for Mayor Jenny Durkan said Tuesday.

"Based on exit interviews, we know the Council's threats of continued layoffs or cuts are having a direct impact on decisions to leave the department. Mayor Durkan continues to caution City Council against making additional one-time cuts without addressing hiring and retention of officers, especially diverse officers, to respond to the highest priority calls,” the statement said.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold, chair of the Public Safety and Human Services Committee, responded Tuesday, saying that the council has fully funded SPD’s hiring plan for 2021, including money to hire 114 officers the department is requesting.

Herbold said SPD' proposed funding to hire non-sworn employees who work to address public safety issues, and she has a bill supporting those investments and others requested by the police department, city auditor, and inspector general.

“The reductions being considered are from salary savings from officers leaving and do not reduce the number of officers SPD can hire,” Herbold said.

Chief Diaz says SPD is hiring more community service officers and crime prevention coordinators to handle non-criminal calls, but he says he's concerned additional front-line officers are on their way out.

“I'm hoping that it starts to level off,” Diaz said. “I do see that this year we could have a significant amount of people leaving.”