Seattle continues to struggle with police staffing, increase in crime

Roughly 350 Seattle police officers have left the department over the past two years. That’s according to interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz, who reiterated that point as he presented the department’s annual crime report to Seattle City Council’s Public Safety Committee this week.

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“Overall crime, as you’re aware has increased by 10%. But violent crime increased by 20%, and this is in large part by aggravated assaults, or homicide in 2020 reaching a 25-year high,” he described. “We did see homicides drop in 2021. However, we saw more victims of gun violence than we’ve ever had since we started tracking these numbers — 174 incidences of a victim shot or killed, and this is compared to 2020, where we had 122 incidents of a victim shot or killed.”

“We’ve seen a reduction in rape cases in 2020 and 2021,” he added. “This drop might be due to two things: nightlife has not been open and we’re seeing little to no reporting, and homeless communities with victimization and guns and homeless and communities, where we can only assume there’s a high level of unreported crimes.”

“This year, we’re seeing this continued increase in violent crime and property crime,” Diaz continued. “Robberies are up 28%, with a large amount of robberies affecting cannabis locations. Property crime is at 11% increase with a large increase larceny and motor vehicle thefts.”

On the issue of staffing, it was a similar story to what we have seen in the past two years: while the department is able to hire some officers, it struggles to get ahead, with an equal number of new hires and departures amounting to a wash in net staffing.

In a presentation to the committee, Gregg Doss with Council Central Staff said that based on current council and SPD projections, SPD should have a total of 1,039 deployable officers by the end of 2022. That would be an increase from the 958 deployable officers the department has right now.

But Doss said those projections are just that: projections, and therefore uncertain, with SPD basing some of that number on the hopes that some of the current 170 or so cops on some sort of extended leave will start to return to the job in the months ahead. That is no guarantee.

Already in January of 2022, SPD shed 20 officers – close to a dozen more than projected largely due to the vaccine mandate.

For Chief Diaz, the numbers mixed with crime data are a concern.

“We saw an unprecedented amount of people leaving our department in the last few years — we had not seen that many people leave in the previous years,” explained Diaz, noting that SPD is competing with just about every other industry out there when it comes to trying to attract new hires with most other industries offering additional incentives.

But even hiring incentives have not been enough for other law enforcement agencies, with the King County Sheriff’s Department struggling to fill its vacancies, according to King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn. He says the problem is the county executive’s vaccine mandate.

“We have 188 deputies that are not actively patrolling King County right now out of roughly 600,” he explained. “So 188, of which 106 are vacant, the others are either on disability or not yet, through the academy and aren’t in a position to go out on their own. So 106 people, 106 vacancies, 40 of those vacancies have been created because of the executive terminating sheriff’s deputies who won’t get vaccinated and the remaining 10 who are about to be terminated.”

Dunn believes that with both the county and the state rolling back some pandemic mandates and omicron receding, it would make sense to revisit this policy, especially as the county sees record shootings and murders.

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“I’m calling on the county executive to stop terminating our King County Sheriff’s deputies for their unwillingness to get the COVID-19 vaccine,” he said. “There are religious and medical exemptions that are almost never granted, and so the county executive has now fired 40 King County deputies, another 10 are on the chopping block immediately, leaving a total number of vacancies the King County Sheriff’s Office at 106.”

“I think it’s time to revisit the policy of terminating sheriff’s deputies given the fact that the pandemic infection rate is way way down,” he added.

Dunn also noted the county’s $15,000 signing bonuses did not seem to be making much of a dent.

“In the county, we just offered a $15,000 signing bonus and even that isn’t enough given the way some law enforcement have been treated. I’m not surprised that we’re having this problem. But it’s a problem we have to fix. We want to keep our community safe,” he posited.

Despite the plea, it appears County Executive Dow Constantine is not ready to revisit the policy, issuing the following statement:

The goal of the employee vaccine mandate from the beginning has been to protect our workforce and our community. The latest data from Public Health shows that unvaccinated people are more than 24 times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID, and 33 times more likely to die from COVID. Requiring vaccination means more employees are protected from these severe risks, and the most recent numbers have more than 94% of the Sheriff’s Office employees following the vaccination mandate. COVID killed more than 450 police officers across the country in 2021, and we know the best way to prevent that number from increasing is with the safe, effective COVID vaccine.

“The Sheriff’s Office is working to fill their vacancies as fast as possible, with recruitment bonuses of up to $15,000 for lateral hires. Any employee who wishes to return to public service in King County may be able to do so provided they meet the requirements of employment, which is to provide proof of vaccination,” added Constantine’s Director of Communications Chase Gallagher in a statement to KIRO Newsradio.

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