Seattle police chief warns of staffing crisis as council weighs more budget cuts

Seattle's interim police chief issued a dire warning to the City Council as some members weigh more cuts to the department: If you continue chipping away at SPD's budget, officers "will have to say no to requests for service."

"(It's) something we've already had to do this year," Interim Chief Adrian Diaz told the council's Public Safety Committee at a meeting Tuesday. 

The committee was discussing potentially cutting another $5.4 million from SPD's budget in response to the department overspending by that amount last year. That's on top of the $4 million it slashed in 2020 amid protests over police brutality and the death of George Floyd - far short of the 50 percent budget cuts that activists were seeking. 

Diaz told the council that officer shortages at SPD - the department is currently 158 officers short of minimum staffing levels - have increased 911 response times for priority one calls.

SPD's goal is 7 minutes when responding to calls for active, life-or-death situations, like rape, shots fired or domestic violence. In 2020, the department averaged 9.5 minutes to respond to emergency calls. 

Diaz said those extra two-and-a-half minutes could be the difference between life and death. He also revealed that the department spent 221 days last year in "priority status," meaning one or more precincts were so overrun or understaffed that officers were only allowed to respond to priority 1 and 2 calls. 

"The continued cuts to the budget ... will only continue to drive further staffing losses," Diaz said. 

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said she, too, is worried that more cuts will lead to more departures and hopes the council will reconsider. 

"We’ve been asking them not to restrict SPD’s ability to be innovative with its funding to kind of fill some of these gaps," Durkan told Q13 News. "Let’s make sure we rebuild the police department that we need. As we also build these alternatives, let’s just not keep cutting, cutting, cutting in order to cut. Let’s be thoughtful."

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Council member Lisa Herbold said the $5.4 million in proposed cuts wouldn't directly impact officer staffing, but Diaz said the council's continued rhetoric and threats to SPD's budget are prompting officers to preemptively leave the agency. 

Committee members said they hope to develop amendments for the legislation by March 16th. There's no word yet on whether the council will move forward with the cuts. 

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