As record number of officers leave SPD, community leaders say public safety is at risk in Seattle

After months of civil unrest, political discord, and efforts by city council leaders to defund Seattle police, record numbers of officers are leaving the force.

The city of Seattle says 39 officers left in the month of September that is double the next highest month on record.

The typical departures in September are usually 5 to 7 officers.

Several months ago, Q13 News uncovered that dozens of officers were either inquiring or applying to different police departments so the latest city data is not a shock. But it's still alarming to many people in the community who are voicing concerns about the ramifications, impacts to 911 response times and the overall public safety decline in the city.

Erin Goodman who represents businesses in SODO says public safety has gotten so bad that she is hearing from business owners losing employees over it.

“They are now dealing with public safety concerns with employees who have just quit, they won’t come to work because they don’t feel safe,” Goodman said.

Goodman says what she is mostly hearing is a sense of abandonment. She is also monitoring 911 response times with officers strained across the city.

Overall in Seattle, you want 911 response times at a maximum to be 7 minutes but in September that time increased to 9 minutes for the North precinct.

“Nine minutes is a really long time to wait for help to come,” Goodman said.

Goodman says she’s not surprised with the record number of officers leaving SPD following protests and the community’s efforts to defund police including the city council.

“Would love to live in a society where we didn’t need a police force but that’s not reality, we need a city council to focus on the reality of our city,” Goodman said.

Q13 News requested an interview with any council member willing to speak on the matter. Lisa Herbold, the chair of the Council's Public Safety and Human Services committee, was the only one who sent a statement on Friday.

She says one month’s data is not a trend. She also says many of the officers who left were the ones reassigned from specialty units to the patrol unit.

Herbold implying many of the departures were over the dissatisfaction of recent changes made by Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz.

It is unclear why Herbold says many left due to reassignment considering 85% of the officers who departed in September had not faced reassignment.

Diaz highlighted the creation of the new community response group last week, moving detectives from specialty units into the patrol unit . The community response group is made up of 100 officers and 10 sergeants. Diaz said the restructuring was necessary because 911 response times were becoming unacceptable.

Herbold says the city expects attrition and retirement every year and her calculation shows that only 11 more officers have left so far than expected this year.

Herbold also says the council allocated $10 million to ramp up resources for other professionals including mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence. That way the city can reinvent a system that does not solely rely on police. 

 But Durkan says if the trend continues the city will be in trouble. She says if the council moves forward with their planned layoffs and a hiring freeze, in place now, remains, Durkan says the city will end up with the smallest force in decades.

The city projects deployable officers to drop to 1,072 by 2022. Those numbers are comparable to 1990 but the city has seen a 44% population increase since then.  

“Obviously we have to work with city council because on top of these numbers they still want to move forward on laying off 100 officers and if we move forward on laying off those 100 officers we will continue to lose the newest, diverse recruits we have,” Mayor Durkan said.

Goodman says the business community supports the idea of reimagining police but losing an unprecedented number of the most diverse officers on the force is not helping the cause.

“Council has a responsibility not only to lift up this community voice but also govern for the entire city and we have not seen that,” Goodman said.