SEATTLE - For an eight-hour period, the King County Jail system turned away new inmate bookings because of a staffing shortage.
Jail staff paused the bookings at the downtown Seattle jail "so staff could prioritize safe operations inside the jail," said Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention spokesperson Noah Haglund.
The pause happened between 9 p.m. on Sunday, July 10 and 6 a.m. on Monday, July 11. The department began notifying police agencies of the pause and did make exceptions for "serious and violent offenses."
Haglund said at least one person was booked under those circumstances.
"This is bad, bad business," said the President of the Correction Officers’ Guild, Dennis Folk. "There are people in our society that need to go to jail when they commit a crime and when the jail closed its doors, what option do these police officers have?"
He said he started getting calls from police officers from various jurisdictions in the county on Sunday night after they were told of the jail's pause on bookings.
"So they were concerned - what happens if I have to arrest someone and I need to book them into jail overnight? Where am I going to go?" he said of his conversations.
Two months ago, King County closed the small jail at the Regional Justice Center to booking for staffing reasons, so booking the only other country-run jail was not an option.
A spokesperson for the Snohomish County Jail said it did accept arrest bookings from King County police officers during that time. FOX 13 has learned of at least four, according to a law enforcement source.
Others were taken to SCORE, a regional detention facility in Des Moines that contracts out to cities to hold inmates.
Haglund said at least 20 officers stayed over from their previous shift to help out the needs for the next shift.
"We are losing people at a rate faster than we can hire them," Folk said.
The department has 92 correction officer vacancies out of 503 budgeted positions. All are positions represented by the Correction Officers’ Guild
The union has complained about overworked employees and showed evidence of covered cots where officers sleep at the jail between overtime shifts.
King County Executive announced in 2020 a phase-out and eventual closure of the downtown jail. That phase-out was set to begin in 2025.
During the pandemic, the jail population was intentionally kept at population roughly 1,300 to allow for social distancing. As of Monday, the population has grown to nearly 1,600. In March 2020, there was an average population of 1,900.
Because of the staffing issue, inmates have had to stay in their cell blocks for sometimes 23 hours a day because there’s not enough staff to properly supervise them.
"We have a responsibility to these people to treat them fairly, compassionately," said Folk. "I think we are failing."