'Justice crisis'; Staffing shortages affect criminal justice, say WA law enforcement unions

The three presidents of King County’s largest law enforcement unions are calling on lawmaker to "take the politics out of justice system," claiming staffing shortages are jeopardizing a victim’s right to justice.

The leaders of the Seattle Police Officers' Guild (SPOG), the King County Police Officers Guild and the King County Corrections Guild say recent incentives to hire new officers are helpful, but the departments are still losing more officers than are being hired.

"With all the stuff going on over the last two years, no one really wants to do this job anymore," said Mike Mansanzarez, President of the King County Officers Guild.

"We are down 100 officers; inside the jail, it's pretty much emergency staffing," said Dennis Folk, President of the Corrections Guild.

The presidents made their remarks to the media when they announced their joint endorsement of Jim Ferrell—the current Mayor of Federal Way—and his bid for King County Prosecutor in the November election.

"The victims should be the focal point in this post-defunding nonsense we are living in," said Mike Solan, President of SPOG. "It’s historic that these three labor unions have gotten together to form this coalition to engage reasonable communities across our King County region to amplify how serious this is."

"The old guard is all retiring and it’s leaving a lot of holes," said Mansanarez.

Solan said the Guild has counted roughly 500 separations from the Seattle Police Department over the last two years, and 350 currently on staff are eligible to retire this year.

"We have just about 850 deployable officers and detectives that are still employed," said Solan. "If you remove 350, you're decimating our ability to answer 911 calls."

The presidents say there are ways to improve the criminal justice bottleneck of cases that are clogging jails. They are asking lawmakers to approach criminal justice with the victim’s rights in mind and still keep offenders behind bars.

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"We can’t book people, so where do you take people that victimize our communities?" said Solan.

The King County Department of Adult & Juvenile Detention has admitted staffing issues have led to inmates staying in their cells for prolonged amounts of time.

"What it boils down to is the inmates in our custody are also suffering," said Folk.

Terri Stanley said her boyfriend, who has been in jail for 18 months awaiting trial, has experienced the long lockups over the last year.

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"When you are only out for an hour, you've got to try and take a shower and take care of your personal hygiene, and yet still try and call your family," she said. "It’s not even physically possible, they have to wait in line to use the phone."

The three unions are considering a campaign to raise awareness of the staffing issues similar to the one SPOG did addressing the Defund the Police movement, following the Minneapolis Police killing of George Floyd.