Police-staffing shortfall spotlighted at Alki Community Council

For the second time in a week, police staffing was a topic of discussion at a West Seattle neighborhood meeting. First one was the Crime Prevention Council meeting last Tuesday (WSB coverage here). Two nights later, the Alki Community Council board spent a large portion of its meeting on the state of policing. Here’s what was said, plus some followup information we obtained:

SEATTLE POLICE: Third watch (6:30 pm-3:30 am) Lt. Chris Johnson attended on behalf of SPD. He said “our street racer problem is still ongoing … we do not have the bodies to put any emphasis toward that.” But he’s hopeful that now that the inauguration is past, some of the officers assigned to the protest-handling Community Response Group might return to patrol. “Almost every night I’m running at or below” minimum staffing levels. “We’re losing bodies to outside agencies at a rate I’ve never seen. … We’re treading water.” He asked about community concerns; one person mentioned fireworks and beach fires – which are continuing year-round; here’s video we received just the night before:

Johnson noted that police were helping park staffers enforce the closing time for a short period last summer. The attendee mentioned general small elements of disorder; Johnson said he wished they had the personnel to deal with that. “The police department’s a band-aid. You can’t put a band-aid on a broken arm.” How can people support the department? Johnson was asked. “Be the squeaky wheel” – not toward the department, but toward city leaders. He also contended that the department has an undeserved reputation – “we went from [being seen as] a model agency to [being seen as] one of the worst in (the span of) a week” last year – without anything having changed, but perception.

Back to staffing – Johnson said the department usually loses 100 a year but last year was at least twice that. Some of the department’s best officers “have found jobs elsewhere, and that hurts.” He says there’s barely enough officers to do what needs to be done – all it takes is one major call to take up everyone; the previous night was rare, a few hours without a call, but the entirety of the South Precinct was dealing with a homicide, so Southwest Precinct officers wound up handling some calls in that area. Johnson said he wished he had enough officers to start the summer by setting a tone against even minor violations.

OUR FOLLOWUP: After both this and the Crime Prevention Council discussion, we set out to find out the state of SPD staffing, both locally and citywide. First we asked SW Precinct commander Capt. Kevin Grossman if Lt. Dorothy Kim‘s description of a 30 percent drop in staffing was still the situation. Yes, he said: “Our staffing is down by 1/3 from this summer due to a variety of reasons: partly because of retirements, resignations, and lateral moves to other agencies, and partly due to the elimination of CPT [Community Police Team], ACT [Anti-Crime Team], bikes, and the centralization of detectives. We are not the only precinct to feel the pinch in staffing numbers; my understanding is that the Department as a whole lost about 200 sworn employees in 2020. I believe that the Department is undertaking efforts to ramp up hiring to make up for those losses, but it will take time to do so and it won’t be until 2022 or so until we see those officers on the street.”

For a citywide look, we asked City Councilmember Lisa Herbold‘s office about any recent reports on SPD staffing, as she chairs the Public Safety and Human Services Committee, which has been monitoring it. They provided us with this council-staff-prepared memo prepared for the committee’s meeting this morning (Tuesday, January 26th, 9:30 am) in reference to a proposal to move $5 million from the SPD budget to another spot in the city budget funding alternate community-safety programs. The memo says, “SPD separated a total of 186 officers in 2020, which is more than twice the number of separations that were projected at the beginning of the year.” Even though interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz moved officers out of specialty units and into patrol, the latter ranks are still down, the memo says: “SPD’s quarterly point-in-time counts of 911 responders, a good measure of Patrol strength, was 588 on December 31, 2020.6 This is down from the 668 responders that were reported on September 30, 2020 and reflected Interim Chief Diaz’s movement of 100 officers out of specialty and investigative positions and into 911 response positions.” The memo also says:

SPD service levels will continue to decrease absent net new hires, meaningful changes to the list of police duties, an increase in overtime usage or a combination of these workload/staffing variables. The net change in deployable sworn personnel from December 2019 to December 2020 equates to a loss of 298,000 productive hours. The department and City cannot hire its way out of a police staffing shortage of this magnitude, and the remaining officers cannot be expected to completely fill this gap on overtime at the expense of employee wellness. As of today, alternative response models have not been established and emergency response duties have not been formally cut or redistributed to other entities.

One more excerpt that speaks to some of what Lt. Johnson was observing:

Despite efforts to address the staffing shortages in Patrol, SPD declared “priority call handling” status on 221 of 366 days last year, meaning the department delivered a reduced level of 911 services for at least part of the day because on-street resources from one or more precincts were depleted significantly below normal staffing. Under this circumstance, certain categories of callers are requested to re-contact SPD. They will be given an approximate time when routine services will be restored. Individual contacts are not logged. The 2020 level of priority call handling (in days) represents a 97% increase from 2018 and a 176% increase from 2017.

You can watch today’s committee discussion via Seattle Channel; this is the last item on the agenda.

Back to the ACC meeting – one other topic was discussed:

PARKS: Amy Hamaker, from the contracts department, who works with the ACC in the partnership to maintain Alki Statue of Liberty Plaza, represented Parks, instead of a department executive who had been scheduled. She said dealing with illegal vendors is a challenge she works on. “This year was out of control” for businesses operating without permits. COVID has caused a lot of challenges staffing-wise. One attendee mentioned a lack of maintenance at Bar-S Playfields and wondered if neighbors are allowed to pitch in themselves. Hamaker wasn’t sure of the general answer but thought Bar-S had its own maintenance agreement with West Seattle Little League. “I’d be happy to do a day of cleanup but I don’t want to get in trouble!” said the attendee. Complaints included lack of landscape maintenance, particularly the palm trees along the east end of the beach. “The floor has fallen out of maintenance at some parks,” declared another attendee. “Even prior to the pandemic, everything seems to be sliding downhill.”

NEXT MEETING: The ACC board usually meets on third Thursdays, 7 pm online, and the community is welcome. Watch alkinews.com for information.

39 Replies to "Police-staffing shortfall spotlighted at Alki Community Council"

  • Al King January 26, 2021 (7:11 am)

    Where are all the people that claim to support the police???? Don’t see any stories in the media of people filling city council chambers demanding more police. Don’t see anybody with initiative petitions to sign.  It appears all the “supporters” are cowering in their homes peeking out to see the mess this city is becoming. Actions speak louder than words. 

    • My two cents ... January 26, 2021 (9:34 am)

      @al king – I think one factor for the “muted” concern over staffing issues is the public perception and attitude towards the over-arching “defund” and accountability initiatives. Will go out on a limb and say for example, that street racing as referenced is something that the community would have a general consensus on … Racing = bad and unsafe … hard to gain traction or get visibility across the city for a “neighborhood”issue compared with the historical and systematic issues as a whole. 

    • WSB January 26, 2021 (9:59 am)

      Well, you won’t see people filling City Council chambers right now because the meetings are all online. However, that makes it easier than ever to comment. Every single agenda includes info on how to do that by phone or computer. All agendas for upcoming meetings are always findable here:

  • Mark January 26, 2021 (7:26 am)

    Our City Council representative Lisa Herbold holds responsibility for the inability for Seattle police to even have minimum staffing levels.  Her anti-Seattle police comments, defund police, her smiling selfie at CHOP endorsing anarchy that led to the deaths of two young black men and her chasing off our first black female police chief. 

  • WSRes January 26, 2021 (8:33 am)

    Increasing crime is inevitable for us now. A decrease in law enforcement presence in our community will only decrease their ability to respond. I blame Lisa Herbold. I’ve written her office several times to share my concerns and the response has been that she is carrying out the wishes of her constituents. I find this very frustrating because no one I live around supports her position on policing. 

    • heartless January 26, 2021 (10:42 am)

      “Increasing crime is inevitable for us now.”

      Hi, that’s not really how crime works.

  • Jort January 26, 2021 (9:08 am)

    From the article: “He also contended that the department has an undeserved reputation – “we went from [being seen as] a model agency to [being seen as] one of the worst in (the span of) a week” last year – without anything having changed, but perception.”    This is a pretty outrageous statement. Yeah, um, I think a few things actually changed, like SPD pepper spraying a child, and their SPOG union leader proclaiming his right-wing nut job beliefs on national media, among many, many, many, many other examples of egregious behavior that were then doubled-down on and defended. Second point — have you ever once in your entire lifetime EVER heard a police agency say they were “fully staffed?” They always trot out this line about being understaffed, during good times and bad, always always always as though more cops is always the answer and NEVER less. NEVER.

    • OneTimeCharley January 26, 2021 (10:30 am)

      Maybe part of the problem is people that are certain that they know all the answers, and will accept nothing other than their solutions, which are based entirely on misperceptions and agenda driven ideologies.

    • John January 26, 2021 (10:30 am)


      I support Biden’s call for unity.Your left-wing nut job comments are counter productive and frankly, relegated to our troubled past.

      Please get with the program.

      • heartless January 26, 2021 (10:40 am)

        “I support Biden’s call for unity.”

        But also

        “Your left-wing nut job comments”


      • Scubafrog January 27, 2021 (12:58 pm)

        John please don’t name-call.  We can all be civil on the blog.  Thanks!

    • GC January 27, 2021 (9:07 am)

      Again Jort you distort the truth. The Office of Accountability found that the officer did not intend to pepper spray the child.https://www.king5.com/article/news/local/seattle/seattle-police-officer-pepper-sprays-kid-protest-opa-finding/281-0a45475a-6b70-4113-9b89-50356b99cc98

      • R January 27, 2021 (1:14 pm)

         Can someone pls do a tiny bit of a better job at filtering Jort’s consistently  inaccurate and highly inflammatory rhetoric?  Jort usually  looks to offend.  Please. 

  • Erin January 26, 2021 (9:13 am)

    Can someone please explain to me why we can not hire more officers more quickly?  It seems like this is a time of higher unemployment and these seem to be excellent paying jobs.  I know you need to have a high school degree, be physically fit, and complete a police academy training program.  Is one of these a significant barrier?  Thanks for the info!

    • WSB January 26, 2021 (9:15 am)

      The required training means it can take a year from hiring to assignment, SPD has said.

    • Mel January 26, 2021 (9:25 am)

      Erin- I believe they need at least an associates degree (can be substituted for military experience). There’s a pretty lengthy hiring process. Background checks, polygraphs, etc. These background investigators also work for SPD so as we think of the staffing shortage overall, I’m sure they’re already bogged down without needing to hire 200 more officers. And you know the city isn’t throwing any more money their way to speed this process up. Once they’ve completed all of that they must go through the states police academy which is months long, followed by SPDs own specific training. After that they’ll go on a probationary period where they’re out on patrol but must ride with another officer who is a designated trainer. The states police academy only has space for so many people at one time and no class can be filled with 100% SPD recruits, as other depts are hiring as well. This will take YEARS to get back where we need to be.

    • Mel January 26, 2021 (9:32 am)

      Also, what people fail to realize is that some people don’t make it through the probationary period once they’ve made it through all of the training. On paper it might seem like a decent, well paying job but people don’t realize how hard it is once they’re out on the street. Some people get cut if they’re not making it and others quit. 

  • Mel January 26, 2021 (9:17 am)

    I hope this wakes people up. We need more police. Whether you like it or not, they are the ones who deal with all issues from neighborly disputes to serious crimes. You might wish there were other people who could deal with these minor issues, but as it stands today that’s not the case. You cannot turn the staffing number on and off like a light switch. After losing almost 200 officers, it will now take years to hire those people back. And that’s assuming anyone actually wants to work for SPD anymore. Support the police or you may be sorry when you need them. The point above is interesting- they were the model department until all of a sudden the city and media flipped on them. And then everyone else began buying into this narrative. There are MANY spd officers who are our neighbors here in WS. You see them at the grocery store or out with their kids for a walk and may not even realize they are. Most of these officers do the job because they care. People need to start doing their own research on policing and police tactics and get away from what King5 is force feeding us.

    • bill January 26, 2021 (10:33 am)

      @MEL: It’s not like King5 hired actors to portray bad police. The police had the poor judgement to conduct themselves reprehensibly and the citizenry finds that conduct intolerable.

      • Mel January 26, 2021 (11:01 am)

        No one is saying they hired actors but if you can’t see that every media station (right or left leaning) is biased, you need to do some independent research. I don’t think anyone should be taking what they see on the news as 100% correct information or without bias. There is a lot the public doesn’t understand about police tactics. And no one is asking the police why they might do the things they do. That doesn’t mean they’re perfect. No one is arguing that. But this mindset that police are bad is really troubling. I’d like you to find me the statistics showing that SPD is as “bad” as the media portrays. 

        • bill January 27, 2021 (12:43 am)

          How’s this for independent research: American policing is exceptionally violent compared to many other countries. Our police don’t have to “do the things they do.” https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2020/06/america-police-violence-germany-georgia-britain/612820/

          • Mel January 27, 2021 (2:06 pm)

            You cannot compare the police in a European country with a far different culture to ours in the US. Pull the stats on those carrying guns during encounters with police in this country. That’s a non starter when looking at other countries because they don’t have the mass amount of guns on the streets like we do here. 

    • zark00 January 26, 2021 (11:26 am)

      @ MEL – SPD were a ‘model department’ until we ‘flipped on them’?  Really?  You sure about that?SPD is still under a Consent Decree from the Dept. of Justice for excessive use of force against minorities, among other systemic failings throughout the department – failure to train on de-escalation, no accountability, no community oversight.  That investigation started in 2008, the decree was agreed to in 2012, and the city just cancelled their motion to cancel parts of the decree in May 202 because the number of complaints against SPD had grown exponentially.5 SPD officers are currently under investigation for participating in the attempted violent coup of our country. Model department indeed. 

      • Mel January 26, 2021 (11:53 am)

        My point exactly in being unable to do your own research. Durkan and Holmes were about to request the consent decree be dropped until the incident in Minneapolis and following riots here. And if you can’t see that the investigation of the 5 officers is a completely political move, you’re blind. Would they have been investigated if they attended a BLM protest than ended in violence? The answer is no. And no, I’m not a Trump supporter before you try to accuse me of that. 

        • zark00 January 26, 2021 (5:04 pm)

          @ MEL So you are not able to tell the difference between a Black Lives Matter protest against police brutality and a violent attempted coup of our federal government by a group of domestic terrorists? It’s a shame that you have chosen to embrace conspiracy theories rather than believe in the institutions of this great nation. You may think you aren’t a Trump supporter, but you are repeating the same rhetoric, the same lack of ideals and morality, and the same crazy conspiracy rants that the group you are trying to distance yourself from created. You are ‘not a Trump supporter’ in name only, if you think you’re not towing the same line, spewing the same hate, you are sadly, very mistaken. Declaring that Black Lives Matter protestors are the same as domestic terrorists is really, really, bad. I have seen your hard core, far-right, comments before, but this takes the cake. I can’t believe you would openly make statements like you just made. I don’t think you even know how racist your comment is. It’s troubling that you cannot see it yourself. As far as pulling the motion to cancel Phase II Sustainment of the DoJ Consent Decree – you need to learn to do more solid research. They pulled the motion because SPD were under investigation, again, for excessive use of force. It’s almost as if you only consume news sources that confirm your pre conceived beliefs.

          • Mel January 27, 2021 (2:12 pm)

            You are so far out in left field I don’t even know where to start. The BLM protestors who were there for the cause, are not the ones causing damage. It was people taking advantage of the situation in the name of BLM. That’s not comparing the Capitol riots to BLM protests. That’s saying, there was violence all summer in the name of BLM (again, not true BLM supporters in my mind) and our politicians were silent. Btw I’m BIPOC so definitely not racist. And if that’s the craziest thing you’ve read in the comment sections, you must live in a bubble or with your head in the sand. 

          • Mel January 27, 2021 (2:17 pm)

            This “far right” member of the BIPOC community has voted Democrat my entire life. I love how this new wave of super progressives can’t have a conversation about seeing things differently without name calling. Racist? I think not.

          • Truth January 28, 2021 (9:55 am)

            Thanks for your comments and for standing up for SPD and the new shame game from the people who are destroying this City. Well said. 

    • Brian January 26, 2021 (5:06 pm)

      No I still very much want less police still. 

  • RLK January 26, 2021 (12:14 pm)

    Video of Alki residents having a bonfire to celebrate Inauguration Day is a big problem?  😂. That’s your example of an example of lawlessness?Good lord, you don’t know what real crime is.

  • Marcus Tiro January 26, 2021 (1:05 pm)

    So Lt. Johnson admits that because they are devoting too many resources to policing protests (which are generally – though not always, and especially not when police get involved – peaceful), they don’t have enough resources to handle the issues that the community feels is important.This is part of what ‘defund the police’ means – shifting resources to serve the community better. The real threats are not the marches and protests, but the police response to them.

    • wscommuter January 26, 2021 (5:23 pm)

      You don’t think some of both is true?  I was really disappointed in much of what I saw in the police response to the marches last summer … but I was equally depressed by how many protesters became rioters when they started smashing stuff – private businesses took a beating both downtown and on Cap. Hill.  I don’t understand the people who think the police can do no wrong, and I don’t understand the folks on the far left who seem to want ignore the violence and vandalism committed by people rioting.  

      • Peter S. January 26, 2021 (6:45 pm)

        This!  Not a peep from our elected officials regarding the invasion of Bellingham City Hall.  Not a peep from our elected officials regarding the vandalism that occurred last summer during Durkan’s “Summer of Love” or at the Pike Place Market on INAUGURATION DAY, after Joe Biden was sworn in.  You’d think that would be a reason to celebrate, not destroy.  (Not a huge Biden fan, but I was sure glad Trump was gone.)    No sane person wants to live with an abusive police force, but we are obviously unable to police ourselves.     I’m not sure what people think the police should do when folks are breaking the law – just let them go if they don’t want to be arrested?     

  • Seabruce January 27, 2021 (1:09 am)

    Does SPD have an auxiliary force to allow  volunteers/concerned community members  to help with staffing of less dangerous activities?

    • WSB January 27, 2021 (9:56 am)

      I haven’t heard of volunteers outside the Victim Support Team.
      You could ask the Seattle Police Foundation.

  • W SEA Fields January 27, 2021 (9:02 am)

    Have been saying for some time that the “defund” movement is entirely unnecessary: the police will defund themselves by walking away from a thankless job. SPD officers can usually get a raise by moving to the East Side or other surrounding communities and don’t have to deal with a hyper-charged political climate; an unsupportive, if not hostile, City Council; and a DA’s office that too often lessens the charges or declines to prosecute. And keep in mind that the good, experienced officers – thoughtful, patient, even-handed – are the toughest to replace, meaning the gym rats and hotheads who want the adrenaline rush are likely to become more and more of the candidate pool. Indeed, what person, sincere about a career in law enforcement, would look at their prospects in a place like Seattle or Portland and say, “sign me up!”?  The reflexive animosity to SPD comes at a cost and the early returns are not promising…

  • Scubafrog January 27, 2021 (1:05 pm)

    We apparently had numerous SPD sacking the nation’s capitol.  We have a bad lot in the SPD that refuse to reform.  No more hiring until we see change.  It’s that simple, Seattle wants reform from the SPD.  No more hires.

    • W SEA Fields January 27, 2021 (4:27 pm)

      That is simply not true from the facts available: two officers are under investigation and three more self-reported for being in DC on January 6th.  If it is ultimately shown that they were part of the mob, they should be disciplined accordingly.  (Remember that “mostly peaceful” line when it comes to rallies and demonstrations…)

    • Truth January 28, 2021 (10:07 am)

      What a smear. Have you heard they were in the Capitol or are you just rushing to judgement because you believe all SPD officers are right wingers? And who could blame a far from left stance after how how they have been maligned by the left.  This political play used by our local government to once again attack and degrade SPD officers as less than human for exercising their civilian rights to free speech and assembly – has more to do with the recently expired SPD contract and attempt at removing SPOG President than it does in actual truth. 

Sorry, comment time is over.