Seattle police staffing levels at lowest in 30 years, with many officers eligible to retire and others looking to transfer

SEATTLE, WA - The Seattle Police Department (SPD) has reached its lowest staffing level in 30 years and now many of the Seattle City Council members are pledging that their top priority is to increase police department staffing, stating that urgent action needs to be taken. 

According to King5, the Seattle City Council Public Safety Committee received their latest update back on Tuesday, March 12th from the Seattle Public Safety Civil Service Commission and SPD regarding police recruitment and retention. City Council members are putting a renewed spotlight on the fact that the city is facing a crime crisis, and police are unable to respond due to the severely low staffing levels. District 1 councilmember Rob Saka said, "I think if rock bottom was ever a thing, we are probably here."

Since 2019, SPD has lost more than 700 officers and is currently at its lowest staffing level since 1957. According to recent data from SPD, there are 913 actively working police officers. KTTH reported that as of December 31, 2023, out of the 913 officers, SPD only has 424 police officers working patrol. 

A human resources document obtained by the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH shows that of the 424 offices, at least 66 are currently eligible for retirement and 84 are over 50. Patrol has 11 police student officers, 22 lieutenants and 76 sergeants. As of March 31st, an additional 81 officers were listed on the HR unavailable list, which covers officers who are out for extended periods of time. 

Seattle City Council president and citywide councilmember Sara Nelson said in a statement, "This council is extremely worried about staffing levels." SPD said that it has seen staffing levels decrease every year since 2019, and as of March 12th, the force is down a total of 375 officers. SPD Chief Adrian Diaz said, "We're already at critical levels."

The shortage, according to Diaz, is severely impacting how police can serve its city. He said, "We are really struggling to make sure we maintain all the calls that are impacting, not just to maintain the calls, but also investigating those calls and also doing the other type of tactics that actually make for safer outcomes for the community." Diaz said that his goal is to hire 125 police officers this year.

A recruitment tactic that has been discussed is salary. Currently, Seattle ranks 15th on the list, paying entry level police officers an annual salary of $85,000. In western Washington, Redmond, Kent and Bellevue pay officers the highest starting salary. Diaz believes that the officers who work for SPD deserve to be paid the highest. 

Nelson said that police staffing is Seattle's number one problem and that it should be the council's top priority when it looks at spending and budgeting. Since 2022, the city implemented hiring bonuses of $7,500 for new recruits and $30,000 for lateral transfers. In order to help with retention, the department changed to a four-day patrol schedule with 10-hour shifts. 

Another focus of the city council is to work on faster and more efficient recruiting. Currently, it takes over 12 months from when someone applies to be an officer to when they are able to be out on patrol. In 2023, more than 1,900 people applied to SPD, but only 62 people were hired. Nelson said, "We are falling short on some of the most basic things that we can do to take advantage of the people that do apply and want to work for the Seattle Police Department."

She added, "We're trying to remove barriers to applying and getting hired here and that's what you heard today. And, it's so invigorating that I now have colleagues that are with me on this." In the past, Nelson said that other city leaders did not match her urgency on this issue.

Higher salaries and incentive packages are certainly desirable by future officers, but over a dozen officers spoke with Jason Rantz on KTTH and all expressed the same concern: it's not solely about wages, but "overzealous, politically-driven accountability abuses" that are the most concern. The city and the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) have reportedly come to a tentative agreement on a new contract, and if approved, would make SPD police the highest paid in the state. 

SPOG President Officer Mike Solan said that he expects the contract plus a new city council that seems to be more supportive, should help increase staffing levels. He did warn, however, that it may take decades to fix the shape the department is in. He said in a statement, "We've been sounding the alarm here from the union, publicly and privately with the city, that this is a major, major issue. It's a direct reflection and a cause-effect of politicians in the past, 2020 that city council, that we're finally basically taken out of office, the majority of them. When you target police officers just for being police officers, for an ideology and activist agenda, this is the result and the community suffers."


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