Seattle Police chief warns new bill aimed at helping officers could lead to more departures

What’s good news for law enforcement and firefighters around the state may turn into another incentive for officers to leave the Seattle Police Department, Interim Chief Adrian Diaz warned. 

A bill waiting for Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature will add an additional 5% in retirement pay for officers and firefighters who have served 25 years or more. HB1701 will increase the retirement benefit multiplier for certain members of the "Law Enforcement Officers’ and Firefighters’ Retirement System Plan 2" also known as LEOFF 2.

For departments like Seattle Police struggling to retain an experienced workforce, it could add yet another reason for officers to leave.

"Because of the change in LEOFF 2, we could end up seeing people leave a little bit earlier than they were thinking about," Diaz told FOX 13 News.

There is an incentive in the legislation for officers to stay longer in the departments. The previous threshold for a retirement bonus was 15 years. If people stay for 25 years, the retirement bonus is bigger.

Since January 2020, roughly 375 officers have left the department, many citing the lack of support of the city’s political leadership in their exit interviews.

The most recent Seattle Safety Index put out by the Seattle Police Officers Guild says the department has 890 deployable officers, with a goal of 1,400. That goal reflects a department at its highest number of deployable officers and doesn’t reflect recent reallocation of officer positions now performed non-uniformed city staffers.

"I got to be able to retain our people, but I also got to make sure that we are on a level playing field with other local agencies," Diaz says. "We are all competing from the same pool." 

But SPD must do so without offering any financial hiring or retention incentives.

When comes to lateral hiring incentives for officers with experience that come from other police departments, Seattle must compete with its closest neighbors.

The King County and Pierce County Sheriff’s departments are offering lateral hiring bonuses of $15,000.  In Bellevue, it’s $16,000 and in Tacoma, it’s $25,000. Everett is offering up to $30,000.

Seattle is offering zero.

King County paying sheriff's deputies $4,000 bonus to stay on through end of 2022

The King County Sheriff's Office is paying commissioned employees a $4,000 bonus to stay with the department through the end of 2022.

Throughout 2021, the department was offering bonuses to new and lateral hires, but the City Council did not budget any money for 2022. It did backfill bonus money for hire in January that was mistakenly offered that wasn’t appropriated.

"Public safety remains my number one priority," says Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin. Her office and the Everett City approve of the aggressive moves to recruit experienced officers.

"We’ve got great support from the mayor's office and our city council supports us," says Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman.  "Those are issues that new recruits are asking about".

To counteract cities poaching experienced officers, Everett is offering of a retention bonus of 2% of a staff member's annual salary if the employee stays with the department for the 2022 calendar year.

The King County Sheriff's Office is offering a $4,000 retention bonus. Again, Seattle is offering zero.

"It’s important to retain our people as well," says Diaz. "I don’t want them to go to another agency." 

FOX 13 News asked SPD for the number of potential officers effect by the new legislation.  We have not heard back from the department.

The Seattle City Council hasn’t killed the idea of a retention or reinstatement of a hiring bonus. Public Safety Committee chairperson Councilmember Lisa Herbold wants a review of all city departments and their hiring needs first.

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