Jul 14, 2022 - News

Seattle mayor, police chief announce plan to hire 500 more cops

An image of Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell and interim police chief Adrian Diaz.
Harrell and Diaz want to hire more cops. Photos: Lewis Kamb for Axios; Karen Ducey/Getty Images.

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announced Wednesday he'll seek to pay more hiring and retention bonuses under a plan to eventually add 500 additional officers and shore up declining police staffing that he says is at "crisis levels."

The latest: Harrell, joined by interim police chief Adrian Diaz, said at a news conference that he's asked the city council for $1 million to help pay for his plan, which includes:

  • Hiring bonuses up to $7,500 for new recruits and $30,000 for officers transferring from other departments.
  • Paying $1,000 to city employees who refer officer candidates that are hired.
  • Bringing on a recruitment director and other specialists.

Details: The plan also widens the officer applicant pool to prioritize hiring more Black candidates and other people of color, bilingual recruits and those with other diverse qualities.

Yes, but: Harrell's ask for another $1 million for police recruitment — on top of $1 million already approved in May — does not cover a key part of his strategy: a package of pay, vacation and training incentives aimed at retaining already-employed officers.

  • The cost of such retention bonuses remains unknown and is still being negotiated as part of a new collective bargaining agreement with the Seattle Police Officers' Guild.
  • Those negotiations likely won't be finalized before the city's next budget process in the fall, Harrell said.

By the numbers: SPD's staffing levels — now at about 950 deployable officers — are the lowest they've been since 1991, per the latest city figures.

  • Over 400 officers have exited the department since 2019, including dozens who left in the wake of 2020's tumultuous racial justice protests and calls to defund the police.

At the same time, the department's hiring has not kept pace.

  • So far this year, 109 officers have left, but 35 have been hired, Diaz said.

Meanwhile, patrol shortages have spurred Harrell and Diaz to employ a "hot spot" policing approach that taps officers to work overtime and has reassigned some detectives and others in specialty jobs to help with emphasis patrols in problem areas.

Between the lines: The police guild, some downtown business leaders and others blame declining patrol officer numbers for increased crime, slowed response to 911 calls and failures to investigate some violent crimes, among other issues.

  • "To return to our most responsive levels," Diaz said, "SPD has to keep the officers we have and hire at least 500 more over the next five years."

Yes, but: Some police reform advocates and other critics contend that SPD doesn't spend its $363 million budget well and doesn't need more money for hiring.

What they're saying: City council public safety chair Lisa Herbold said separately in a statement Wednesday that staffing troubles aren't isolated to Seattle and more hiring isn't the only solution.

  • Any long-term plan should seek "to lessen the load on officers and create new, more effective ways of responding to calls that do not require an armed police response," she said.
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