9-1-1 response times have slowed and community policing has stalled after nearly 300 officers and detectives left Seattle in past 18 months; record-breaking attrition likely to continue unless action taken
Today Councilmember Alex Pedersen introduced legislation to address the staffing shortage crisis by keeping more of the savings at the Seattle Police Department to help retain and hire officers and detectives after 300 departed in just the past 18 months.
“We need to take swift action after losing hundreds of emergency responders including community policing officers needed to prevent crimes and detectives needed to solve crimes,” said Councilmember Alex Pedersen (District 4 – Northeast Seattle, Wallingford, Eastlake). “In addition to our continued investments in human services programs, I am hopeful a majority of City Councilmembers have recognized the slowing of 9-1-1 response times, the spike in violent crime that requires investigations, and the benefits of community policing require us to keep this modest funding to retain and hire officers and detectives.”
“This legislation provides options for immediately addressing not only the low morale of these emergency frontline city workers, but also the real shortage of community policing officers and detectives due to the recent tidal wave of attrition,” said Pedersen. “Rather than delaying until the end of November to vote on this for next year’s budget, let’s take swift action this week to reduce the amount of time Seattle residents wait for an officer after calling 9-1-1.”
- Pedersen’s amendment to the City’s mid-year budget bill offers two options:
- Option A: $3 million ($233,000 for hiring plus $2,767,000 as a down payment toward retention efforts) using funds the Council’s Finance Committee initially set-aside for other programs early for 2023; funding for those other programs can be extended at a later date, but we have a SPD staffing crisis today.
- Option B: $1.1 million ($233,000 for hiring plus $867,000 as a down payment toward increased retention efforts) which was previously unallocated by the Council’s Finance Committee.
- Authorizing legislation would accompany the budget amendments to create the official authorization for both hiring incentives (similar to what Mayor Durkan sent to the Council on July 29, 2021) and additional retention incentives.
The retention funding would provide SPD managers with flexibility on what would be most effective to retain existing officers, including community policing officers and detectives, and is likely to draw upon a 2019 recruitment and retention study.
Over the past year, Pedersen has voted for greater investments in human services programs as well as alternatives to traditional police response that include awarding $10.4 million for community-safety capacity building (funded through at least 2022), creating the Community Safety Communication Center that transferred 9-1-1 dispatch out of SPD, transferring parking enforcement officers out of SPD, approving $30 million in upstream investments through the Mayor’s Equitable Communities Initiative, and dedicating $30 million of investments to be informed by a new participatory budgeting process.
“I am hoping these amendments are considered as an immediate action we can take to address the disturbing and record-breaking attrition of highly trained officers and detectives leaving our Seattle Police Department,” Pedersen said. “I remain committed to reimagining policing and revamping the police contract to provide the most effective pathways to community safety. I believe that includes combining alternative strategies with a fully reformed department that has police staffing levels sufficient not only to achieve and sustain the reforms required by the federal consent decree and our accountability partners, but also to fulfill our duty under the City Charter Article VI, Section 1 which states, ‘There shall be maintained adequate police protection in each district of the City.’”
The personnel shortage has stalled community policing in the city and sent response times “skyrocketing,” according to the monitor for the police reform consent decree Dr. Antonio Oftelie.
“Much of the training, technology, and review systems implemented under the consent decree cannot be sustained without necessary budget and personnel,” said Dr. Oftelie, according to a Seattle Times story. “The actions and investments of the city will either tip the department into a deepening crisis or will lead the department into a future in which it can sustain compliance and build trust in constitutional policing.”
As indicated by this line graph, response times to priority 9-1-1 calls have increased sharply.
Source: Seattle Police Department, September 2021
As indicated by this bar graph, attrition of officers has increased sharply.
Source: Seattle Police Department, September 2021
- The Mayor had originally requested $520,000 for hiring incentives but that proposal included officers already hired from January 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021, whereas Councilmember Pedersen’s hiring incentives would be for officers hired going forward (October, November, and December 2021), with the remainder of the funds for retention for any officers hired before October 1, 2021.
- Additional overtime needs can be addressed with a year-end 2021 supplemental budget bill in November or December 2021 when overtime needs are more precisely known, rather than during this mid-year supplemental budget.