Seattle mayor, police chief announce $2M recruitment plan, but no cash incentive to keep officers

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell and interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz announced details on a comprehensive plan to recruit more officers to the city’s police department, but the plan does not include any financial incentive to retain officers.

City officials said staffing with the Seattle Police Department is at its lowest levels in more than 30 years. More than 400 police officers have left since 2019, according to the city. 

During a Wednesday news conference, Harrell and Diaz shared the actions and steps to recruit and retain officers. 

Some highlights of the comprehensive plan include:

  • Offering hiring incentives of up to $30,000 for lateral transfers and $7,500 for new recruits, ensuring Seattle is fully competitive with neighboring jurisdictions
  • Reimbursing candidates’ applicant fees, travel expenses, and relocation costs when hired
  • Redesigning recruitment systems and modernizing application processes to accelerate hiring
  • Exploring development of new programs to support officer tuition assistance and to create a pipeline of potential recruits through local colleges and universities

"Despite our current staffing crisis, this is not a numbers game. Our mission is simply to help people, so we will hire only the most compassionate, dedicated and qualified employees," Diaz said. 

The department said 106 officers have left since the beginning of the year, and 31 left in June. More than 400 have left department since the beginning of the movement to defund police began during the middle of 2020.

The department budgeted to 125 officers in 2020. The officer’s union say the department is on track to lose 214.

"We are down 500 cops, and we are losing more each day," said Mike Solan, President of the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG). "This is such a crisis that I’m not sure they are taking it as serious as they should.

Seattle has been late to the game when it comes to incentives and lateral transfer bonuses. Most of the neighboring police agencies have been offering bonuses for months, while Seattle has offered nothing.

"I want to thank those that have stayed with this department we cannot afford to lose, especially to other law enforcement agencies," said Diaz.

One recipient of experienced Seattle officers has been the King County Sheriffs' Office. The sheriff has hired six SPD officers since 2019, and two more are currently in the hiring process.

"While I don't want to be a bad neighbor and take from Chief Diaz, the reality is that officers are going to go where they think it is better for them personally, and I’m glad to have them," said Sheriff Patti Cole Tindall.

To be fair, the Mayor can’t offer a retention bonus, which is subject to collective bargaining with the union. Currently, the City and SPOG are in discussion for a new contract, and retention bonuses could be an element of the contract.

The roughly $2 million hiring plan includes money to market the department and overcome what many perceive to be a public relations problem that some city lawmakers don’t support the police.

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"There is a reputation about the City of Seattle not politically supportive of their police department—it is palpable," said Solan.

The plan now goes to the City Council for approval. Some council members had asked the Mayor’s office to consider hiring incentives for other city departments that are short-staffed.

Despite the lack of a retention bonus, the mayor plans to use his charm to convince officers the department is a good place to work.

"I’m a pretty darn good recruiter, and I’m a pretty darn good leader," said Mayor Harrell. "I need them to understand my vision because they have been demoralized and disrespected."