Report finds it takes Seattle police longer to respond to high-priority calls compared to previous years

Police response times for people in need in Seattle are dramatically up as the Seattle Police Department struggles with a staffing crisis, according to a new report

Since January of 2020, more than 400 officers have left the Seattle Police Department, which is more than 30% of sworn officers on the force.

Response times have been a concern for well over a year.

But the new data shows that the situation is getting worse, with the highest-priority calls in some parts of Seattle taking on average over 11 minutes.

The average and median responses are up in nearly every part of the city when compared to the last four years, according to the report.

The North and Southwest precincts are struggling the most with response times for Priority 1 calls, which means there is an immediate threat to life. Response times on average are just over 11 minutes for those two precincts, which has increased from last year. The Southwest precinct includes West Seattle.

In 2019, response times were over 10 minutes for the North precinct and around eight minutes for the SW precinct for Priority 1 calls.

The West precinct has the quickest average response times at under nine and a half minutes for the highest priority calls,

 That is also up from 2019, when it took officers just under seven minutes to respond to calls for help, according to the report. The West precinct includes areas like Queen Anne, Magnolia and downtown Seattle.

When it comes to Priority 3 calls for the West precinct, it takes nearly two hours for officers to respond compared to 2019 when it was on average just over an hour.

These calls are cases that present no significant threat of serious physical harm. 

The report also dives into overtime numbers for SPD, and it shows that 55% to 88% of overtime is for patrol, including big events like those at Climate Pledge Arena.

Over the years, Seattle police officers, along with the union representing them, have said that many officers are leaving over the political climate in Seattle. They say officers are not supported by Seattle City Council members, after most called to defund the police in 2020, following protests over the deadly police shooting of George Floyd.

The new data on response times was presented to council members on Tuesday. Outside of Alex Pedersen, Sara Nelson and Debora Juarez, the rest have called to defund police in 2020.

Only one council member on the five-person Public Safety and Human Services Committee commented on the new response times. Council member Alex Pedersen calling them "disturbing" and made a request for officers to stay. 

On Tuesday, FOX 13 reached out to the council members who supported defunding police for comment about the latest response times. We only heard back from Council member Lisa Herbold.

"With 300 plus fewer officers in service, we need SPD patrol officers deployment to Priority 1 911 calls to take precedent over directing traffic at events," said Herbold. "In the first quarter of 2022, SPD has deployed officers to 23,000 hours of overtime for events staffing, much of it exclusively for traffic enforcement.  Parking Enforcement Officers should be doing much of this work. Let’s prioritize deploying officers to overtime work to respond to high-priority public safety incidents, not directing traffic."

During the campaign trail, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said long response times were a concern for him and something he planned to address as mayor, if he won.

A spokesperson for Harrell released a statement in response to the new data:

"Every community in Seattle deserves to feel safe and be safe. Facing increasing crime and gun violence, Mayor Harrell is fully committed to addressing SPD’s historic staffing crisis and hiring more officers to improve response times and ensure investigations are swift, thorough, and complete."