The Seattle Police Department is still losing more officers and hiring fewer than projected. So what if anything should/can be done about it? That question was at the heart of the latest SPD-staffing briefing, presented this morning to the City Council’s Public Safety and Human Services Committee, chaired by West Seattle/South Park Councilmember Lisa Herbold.
Overall, the committee was told, “the trend is not particularly good.” Here are the numbers presented by analyst Greg Doss:
We first mentioned the report last Friday, when it was released; we noted that the Southwest Precinct, which covers West Seattle and South Park, had lost more sworn staff in the past year – both in number and in percentage – than other precincts. (Our questions sent immediately to SPD and Herbold remain unanswered.) The discussion at today’s meeting didn’t get that granular. The issue became what to do about the continued staffing drop – or whether to do anything at all. That was a sharp point of disagreement between some of the councilmembers. Citywide Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda (a West Seattle resident) emphasized that research has shown many of the calls handled by police could be handled by other types of responders. Yes, but, asked Councilmember Alex Pedersen, does the city have those alternative responders available today? “No,” replied Doss. Recently elected citywide Councilmember Sara Nelson, who is pushing to reinstate hiring incentives, asked, “Are we happy with the status quo? Are we fine with doing nothing? I am not.” In response to an observation that other cities are having hiring challenges too, Nelson wondered if any other cities are having trouble with departures as well as hiring.
Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz, also present at the online meeting, said the current staffing situation is causing “wear and tear” because almost every shift needs to be “augmented” with officers on overtime just to reach minimum levels. Response times continue rising, with “priority 2” calls up to half an hour, “priority 3” calls averaging a full hour, he said.
While Nelson is proposing a resolution expressing support for hiring bonuses/incentives, Herbold is proposing a bill to offer money to cover moving expenses for officers hired from outside Seattle – and for some other types of city employees; in the ongoing discussion of the SPD staffing challenges, she has countered that other departments face critical staffing challenges too. (This document from the meeting goes into both councilmembers’ proposals, as well as data including what other cities are offering.)
Nelson continued to advocate for hiring bonuses: “If we don’t do this, what else are we going to do? … I don’t see how we’re going to get to 98 new hires this year if we’ve only had 13 so far.” She wanted to extend the discussion, but Herbold cut it off, with the item having run more than an hour – twice the allotted time – and with two other items on the agenda, including another hot topic (the PayUp proposal for app-based workers). No votes had been scheduled for today, so the discussion is likely to continue when this committee reconvenes next month.