Seattle Police Chief taking a rare political stand on recruitment and retention

SEATTLE - On the heels of a violent weekend in Seattle, Police Chief Carmen Best says it underscores one fact.

“It highlights the fact that we have some critical staffing issues,” Best said.

SPD says without emphasis patrols already underway, they would have been short about 20 officers to respond to the Seattle Center shooting over the weekend which she called a melee.

“The officers did an incredibly good job, really calm down some really tense situations I would say the situation at Seattle Center could be described as a real melee,” Best said.

Shortly after that shooting, officers had to scramble to Capitol Hill where a woman was randomly and fatally stabbed.

But Best did not call Monday’s press conference to talk about a specific case, instead, she took a rare political stand on police recruitment and retention.

“We really need our support of our public officials,” Best said.

Media outlets have been reporting on exit interviews including Q13 News that shared some of the details back in June.

“It is extremely frustrating to constantly hear nothing but attacks and second-guessing from Seattle City Council members who frequently make accusations based on their own biases and with no regard to fact,” said one officer.

Best says those statements are concerning to her.

“I don’t want to see another good, talented officers leave this organization because they don’t believe the city supports what they are doing,” Best said

The Chief’s comments came just hours before Council Member Lorena Gonzalez led a gathering to talk about police accountability and the consent decree.

She was asked repeatedly about comments made by Best.

“What we saw was a very small set of exit interviews, approximately 72, that is a very small percentage,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez says she disagrees with SPD’s characterization of the issue.

Both Gonzalez and Council Member Lisa Herbold say their budget allotments for the department should be a sign of support but at the heart of the issue is not money but rhetoric.

“We need them to not undermine public safety in the city of Seattle,” Best said.

“She’s the boss she gets to set the terms and it’s also my expectation that she address the morale concerns with the tools that are available to her,” Gonzalez said.

SPD says last year they lost 90 officers, more than 60 of the 90 were resignations with many of the officers leaving for other forces.

This year from January to June, SPD recruited 36 officers but lost 39 officers. About 18 of the 39 were resignations.

The city’s budget can afford 1,457 officers.

Right now Seattle has roughly 1,400 officers which breaks down to 19 officers for every 10,000 people

In cities like Boston they have 32 officers for every 10,000 people with 2,100 officers on their force.

The Mayor’s Office sent a statement supporting what Best had to say on Monday.

“Under Chief Best’s leadership, we are advancing public safety and building the best community-based police department in America. Despite skepticism from Council, our recent emphasis patrols are working, and I am hopeful that City Council will listen to residents, workers and employers who support the work being done and that City Council will partner on more public safety efforts across the City.”