Seattle Police hiring incentive package yet to pass in city council

Millions of dollars in incentives could lure hundreds of new recruits into the Seattle Police Department.

Elected leaders hope all this cash will stop the hemorrhaging at SPD, which lost more than 400 officers in the past two and a half years-- all of this is happening as SPD speeds through overtime budgets, struggles to keep emergency response time targets and is dealing with double-digit increases of some gun crimes.

Around $30,000 is up for grabs for an experienced officer to move into a lateral position, but SPD has a lot of competition.

"[A] really crucial time for staffing level-- about 350 people could retire at this time. Making sure we have adequate staffing and making sure officers are working two shifts a day to augment and provide different services is a struggle," said interim SPD chief Adrian Diaz.

Diaz told the Seattle City Council Public Safety Committee (PSC) that his department is stretched thin.

He said SPD lost 109 officers within the first six months of 2022-- twice more than anticipated. SPD has hired 30 new officers during the same time, but the gap to fill is wide.

Diaz says SPD is competing with local agencies and agencies across the country, and on top of that, Seattle itself has its own challenges.

"The cost of living is much higher, there are expenditures most of our recruits are having to buy. We supply a vest and gun, but duty belt and uniforms our recruits take on," Diaz said.  

Seattle mayor, police chief announce $2M recruitment plan, but no cash incentive to keep officers

City officials said staffing with the Seattle Police Department is at its lowest levels in more than 30 years. More than 400 police officers have left since 2019, according to the city.

On Tuesday, PSC sweetened the offer to include amendments for bonuses like covering moving expenses and more.

The multi-year plan could run $3.8 million, covering the search for a new chief, new human resource and recruiting positions meant to speed hiring and testing, and negotiations with labor unions for compensation packages meant to retain officers, streamline career advancement opportunities and more.

Councilmember Sara Nelson voted ‘yes,’ calling public safety a crisis in Seattle.

"Year to date, homicides are up 19% with 31 incidents. Of 31 incidents, there were 33 victims," Nelson said.

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda voted no, saying a bill that pays for a marketing blitz and hiring incentives does nothing for those suffering a lack of housing, shelter, mental health, substance abuse and acute services.

"The officers themselves have told human service providers, there’s no money that can compensate for them having nowhere to bring people," Mosqueda said.

Mosqueda said the city’s 2021 recruitment and retention workgroup final report did not recommend incentive bonuses as a way to attract new hires.

"Signing bonus, for example, for newly hired external personnel, can negatively impact morale. If that’s what we’re concerned with, hiring bonuses negatively impact existing employee morale," Mosqueda said.

The incentive proposal will go before the full council for review on Aug. 16.