'Critical' shortage: More than 100 Seattle Police officers left the department last year

SEATTLE – Recruiting and retaining qualified police officers is a problem departments are seeing nationwide, and Seattle is not immune to the issue.

City leaders and staff hosted a briefing on the Seattle Police Department’s recruitment and retention problem on Thursday.

City Councilwoman Lorena Gonzalez is the chair of Safe Communities and sat down with city staff regarding the Mayor’s budget and policy proposals to improve recruitment and retention of patrol officers.

Last year, 109 officers left Seattle Police for a new job. Those jobs were still largely in law enforcement within 100 miles of Seattle.

Another challenge includes a 20 percent decline in entry level applications at SPD since 2015.

“How do we make sure that we’re investing in the morale of our officers to turn that number around?" Gonzalez said. "We want to be able to make sure that people like where they work.”

City staff say the hiring plan in place is an aggressive one, and Seattle Police is just one officer short of that hiring plan. But the department’s officer staffing figures are still in the red by about 40 officers.

City staff said they believe the department will rebound in officer numbers between 2019 and 2020.

Mayor Jenny Durkan is proposing $1.6 million in her upcoming budget to improve hiring and keeping officers in Seattle.

Part of it will fund a hiring bonus program, among other morale boosting incentives.

“We want to make sure our patrol officers and other officers within the police department feel like they’re being valued and that they have an opportunity to succeed,” said Gonzalez.

So far this year, patrol officers have responded to about 350,000 calls for service.

City staff say despite the decline in staffing, SPD traditionally keeps the same number of responding officers on staff. That number is 538 officers.

Erin Goodman of the SODO Business Improvement Area says the number of responding officers needs to keep up with growing population size.

“The number of people living in the city has increased,” said Goodman. “So you not only have to look at the number of officers, but also the calls for service, and are those officers enough to handle the calls for service?"

Mayor Durkan’s budget proposal is scheduled to be released Monday.