Local law enforcement tackle officer shortages with different tactics

Two King County police agencies are both combating officer shortages, but are taking different approaches to recruit new people. The verdict is out on which agency is taking the better approach.

The Seattle Police Department is approaching 400 separations since the beginning of 2020. That represents 36% of the officers at the beginning of that time period.

However, the King County Sheriff’s Office is suffering a staffing crisis of its own.

"It’s a challenge" newly-appointed sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall told members of a King County Council committee on Tuesday.

She revealed a significant number officers where either fired, retired or resigned after refusing to follow the vaccine mandate issued by King County Executive Dow Constantine.

A report found 27 commissioned deputies were fired, then another 20 resigned or retired because of the mandate. Combined, the departures represent 6% of the current deputy staffing.

"We had a large number of vacancies before this played in and this just added on top" said Cole-Tindall.

Currently, the department has 113 vacancies for commissioned officers. That’s 13% of the 895 commissioned officers that department was budgeted for in 2022.

Sheriff is offering cash bonuses for lateral hires and new recruits to compete with 11 nearby police agencies doing the same. The lone exception is Seattle, which is offering no hiring or retention bonus.

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Cole-Tindall said four people accepted the department $15,000 lateral hiring bonus while 16 accepted a $7,500 bonus to sign on as a new recruit this year.

"The defund, disarm and disparage movement against the police has created an environment where we have this huge number of vacancies," said King County council member Reagan Dunn, who wants all separated unvaccinated deputies and professional staff to be reinstated because of the staffing crisis.

"If our numbers continue to increase in terms of commissioned vacancies, we are at risk of not being able to provide basic public safety," said Cole-Tindall.

Meanwhile, the union representing Seattle police officers claims the SPD has lost 59 officers from the beginning of the year through the beginning of May. As of April 25, the department said it’s seen 43 officers leave and has hired 13.

SPD Union president: City underreporting officer loss, alternative policing needs collective bargaining

The president of the union representing Seattle police officers says the city is not being "accurate" with the public about the rate depletion rate of officers leaving the department and warned any "alternative policing" model is subject to collective bargaining.

"You’re gaining one person and losing 15 a month," said Seattle Police Officer’s Guild President Mike Solan. "If you're operating a business, that's operating in the red; that's not good."

There may be harmony among several members of the Seattle City Council and Mayor Bruce Harrell over lifting a budget proviso to allow unspent salary at SPD to go to some form of hiring incentives.

The Public Safety Committee approved a bill on Tuesday freeing $1.5 million dollars dedicate to salaries and allocated it for new recruiter position and payment of moving expenses for newly hired officers.

A non-binding resolution demonstrating the Council’s intent to use unspent salaries for recruitment and retention also passed a committee vote.

SPD has been budgeted to hire 125 officers in 2022, but last week, Police Chief Adrian Diaz said the projection has been lowered to 98, resulting between $4.1 and $4.5 million in salary savings.

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The lone dissenting member for both votes was Budget Committee Chairperson Teresa Mosqueda who argued the city is facing a budget shortfall next year and needs to start saving money now in preparation.

"I don't think this is the best use of funds when the city is currently facing ongoing budget structural issue," said Mosqueda.