Apr 4, 2023 - News

How Seattle's police hiring bonuses are working so far

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Seattle's cash bonuses for new police recruits have yet to reverse the trend of the police department losing officers.

Yes, but: City officials say it's still too early to rule the incentive program a success or failure.

What's happening: Numbers shared with a city council committee last week show the Seattle Police Department's total number of police officers has declined since the start of the year, for a net loss of six officers.

  • That's despite the city adopting a policy last August of giving new recruits $7,500 signing bonuses, and giving bonuses up to $30,000 to lateral hires who come from other departments.

Why it matters: Last year, the city's number of deployable officers dipped to about 950, the lowest staffing level in more than three decades, according to Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell's office. Harrell set a goal of increasing police staffing by 500 officers over five years.

Latest: Despite the city welcoming 42 new police hires and one lateral transfer between July and February, the city's total number of officers in service didn't inch upward in that timeframe.

  • That's because dozens of officers also separated from the department, offsetting the hiring gains.
  • According to city council staff, the Seattle Police Department had 948 officers in service at the end of February.
  • That's about where the department was when Harrell announced the hiring incentive program last July.

Zoom in: Through February, 38 new officer recruits had received their first payments as part of the planned hiring bonuses, which are paid in two installments.

  • The city had spent $154,000 on the bonuses as of Feb. 28, with another $191,000 still scheduled to be paid out, mostly as the new officers complete their probationary periods.

What they're saying: Seattle City Council member Lisa Herbold, who chairs the council's public safety committee, said that while the recruitment numbers are not what the city had hoped to see at this point, "it does feel like we're starting to turn a corner."

  • Although the city had a net loss of six officers in the first quarter of this year, that's less than the net loss of 28 officers the city saw over the same period in 2022, according to city data.

Plus: The city had twice as many new police recruits this quarter compared to the first quarter of last year, and fewer officer separations.

What we're watching: The city has launched a new video ad campaign to try to attract more police officer applicants, and plans to engage in more targeted marketing in the coming months.

  • Last month, Harrell told Axios he hopes to see further progress on police hiring as a result of streamlining the application and background check process.
  • While it used to take eight months for a successful police applicant to receive a conditional offer, that timeline has now been cut to four or five months, city staff said.

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