Seattle police face staffing crisis

An anti-police climate prompted more than 200 of the city’s law enforcement officers to quit last year. Reaction from Seattle Fraternal Order of Police President Marco Monteblanco.

Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers are leaving the job at a “record pace” — with at least 249 people leaving over the past year alone — as statistics show manpower has been declining in recent years, according to union and city officials.

SPD boasted a police force of 1,276 uniformed members at the end of February 2020, but staffing levels dropped by 249 people to 1,027 by the end of February 2021, according to the most recent department statistics available to Fox News.

“Morale is not good, and that’s because we don’t have the political support from our elected officials,” Seattle Police Officers Guild President Mike Solan told Fox News. “And as we’re seeing officers flee this area, it’s a direct result of that lack of political support.”

As of last week, 66 officers had left SPD so far this year, Solan said, confirming previous reports from local news. 

Kelly Thomas Jackson, 20, allegedly threw Molotov cocktails at two Seattle police vehicles during a May 30 protests that devolved into a riot.
(Department of Justice)

Prior to 2020, SPD’s staffing numbers had already been shrinking, though not steadily and not nearly as drastically.

SPD staffed 1,283 members at the end of February 2019 and 1,367 uniformed officers at the same time in 2018. Personnel numbers remained the same in February 2016 and 2017, with 1,343 each year, statistics show.

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Prior to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, for which one officer has now been convicted on all charges, Seattle officials “publicly applauded” SPD as “the model of reform” Solan told Fox News earlier this week.

But after Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020, “these same politicians couldn’t run away from us faster,” he said.

“And that’s not saying that we’re devoid of any kind of fault in the riots post-Floyd due to tactics employed by the department,” Solan said, noting that there were “lessons learned.”

A man allegedly threw a flaming piece of lumber into a Seattle police vehicle Thursday, injuring one officer.
(Seattle Police Department)

Solan also said that while “hundreds” of SPD officers were injured during the riots, elected officials blamed them “for being the instigators,” which further contributed to the decline in police morale.

“I think that the overall anti-police sentiment has really accelerated the separation aspirations by police officers in this city,” he continued, with “separations” referring to retirements or resignations.

In January, Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz said in a public memo that 50 people were murdered in 2020 – a 61% jumped from the 31 murders reported in 2019 and “the highest number of murders in 26 years.”

So far this year, there have been 1,047 violent crimes reported in Seattle, with seven murders and 614 aggravated assaults, according to SPD statistics.

Speaking to KING5 earlier this week, Diaz said SPD staffing was at “record lows.” Over 180 officers left SPD in 2020.

“We are at record lows in the city right now. I have about 1,080 deployable officers,” Diaz reportedly said Tuesday. “This is the lowest I’ve seen our department.”

Officers respond after two Seattle Police Department officers were shot while responding to a robbery in downtown Seattle on Thursday, April 20, 2017. (Photo by GENNA MARTIN/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

Officers often attributed their decisions to leave to the city’s anti-police climate, according to the report.

In a statement provided to Fox News on Friday, a spokesperson for Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office said SPD has efforted “an increased focus on recruitment and retention,” but “continues to lose sworn officers at a record pace due to ongoing budget uncertainty.”

“Community safety means that we have officers able to respond to 911 calls with more civilian responses, more crisis responses, and more alternatives,” the statement continued. “Based on exit interviews, we know the Council’s threats of continued layoffs or cuts are having a direct impact on decisions to leave the department. Mayor Durkan continues to caution City Council against making additional one-time cuts without addressing hiring and retention of officers, especially diverse officers, to respond to the highest priority calls.”

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Solan told Fox News he is struggling to understand activists’ and politicians’ endgame.

“They will decimate numbers to fill the uniforms to protect our citizens, and to what gain, if any? What’s the end game?” Solan asked. “I don’t see how that’s a recipe for our communities to feel protected.”

Fox News’ Brie Stimson contributed to this report. 

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