Former Seattle Police officer says lack of support from city leaders affecting retention and recruitment

SEATTLE - If you ask any police officer in Seattle they will tell you it's a very difficult job.

The department is faced with retention and recruitment challenges, but there is something else that continues to affect staffing numbers.

Q13 News obtained 42 exit interviews of officers between January 2018 to February 2019. Some left for retirement, but others highlighted other officers leaving for various different agencies.

Parting words praised the camaraderie among SPD officers, but a common complaint that popped up over and over again was about city politics.

Officers say they feel a lack of support from city council.

“It doesn’t come as a surprise that they left but it’s frustrating because I saw it coming,” former Seattle Police Officer Brendan Kolding said.

Kolding recognizes some of the names in the exit interviews because last year he was a sergeant with Seattle Police.

“We can’t hire officers as fast as they are leaving,” Kolding said.

Kolding says recruiting officers is hard in any city but especially so in Seattle.

“Having a city where the city council does not appear friendly to the police and really appear to not want police officers doing their job certainly doesn’t help,” Kolding said.

That perceived lack of support is what Kolding says motivated him to run for Seattle City Council against incumbent Lisa Herbold.

“I recognized that our city is truly in crisis right now,” Kolding said.

When he says crisis he is talking about a variety of factors, including public safety and homelessness.

“They are not asking for a trophy at the end of the day they just want to be supported by city government and they haven’t felt that way for quite some time,”Kolding said.

One officer in his exit interview wrote that he least enjoyed ‘city politics and biased media.’

Another one leaving for a different agency said ‘criminals are more empowered than people that protect the city.’

Meanwhile a retiring officer wrote ‘It is extremely frustrating to constantly hear nothing but attacks and second guessing from Seattle City Council members who frequently make accusations based on their own biases and with no regard to fact.’

“We’ve had high profile incidents where officers have referred to as murderers by city council,” Kolding said.

He is talking about council member Kshama Sawant.

Herbold says she does not agree with what Sawant said in that incident.

“I do believe that has an impact on officer perception of the city and city government,” Herbold said.

But Herbold says she is not responsible for what other council members say.

She says city leaders do support officers and evidence of that is their budget actions.

“We’ve increased SPD’s budget by $100 million,” Herbold said.

But for current and former officers, the budget isn’t the issue. It’s about the culture and rhetoric.

“We need a city that is supportive of law enforcement where the officers know they have representatives on the council that understands their job,” Kolding said.

On Friday Q13’s Brandi Kruse questioned Police Chief Carmen Best on Kolding’s sentiments.

Best called it one perspective but she did agree that support overall is important.

“Officers just want to know they are supported by everybody not just the elected,  by management we have some ownership there, it's also the community,” Best said.

Best acknowledged they are trying to do a better job of retaining officers, she's noticed officers with 4 to 6 years of experience leaving the force.