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Seattle Police Department staffing drops to lowest level since the 1990s

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(The Center Square) – Seattle Police Department staffing levels are at their lowest levels in some 30 years despite city actions to boost the number of officers.

The Seattle City Council Public Safety Committee received an update on Tuesday about police recruitment and retention from the Seattle Public Safety Civil Service Commission and the Seattle Police Department.

According to the presentation, the Seattle Police Department has lost more than 725 officers since 2019. Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz said that means more than half the department has left.

As of January, the department has 913 fully trained and deployable officers, the lowest level since the 1990s when the department first started keeping track of that statistic.

“I am personally alarmed and dismayed to see that [number] – if rock bottom was ever a thing, we’re probably here,” Seattle City Councilmember Rob Saka said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Seattle’s goal is a net gain of 500 officers over five years since announcing the Seattle Police Recruitment and Retention Plan in 2022. The department estimated that implementing the plan and offering hiring incentives through 2025 will cost more than $5 million. The funds are meant to aid in financial incentives for recruited officers. New hires would get a one-time cash bonuses of $7,500, while lateral transfers would receive $30,000.

The considerable number of officers who have left the Seattle Police Department have had a detrimental impact on the department’s deployable resources and officer morale, according to Diaz. This is because many officers have come into the department because there were opportunities to join specialty units. However, many of the department’s specialty units are now gone, Diaz explained.

The resources to conduct proactive policing have diminished due to the lack of officers as well.

The city simplified the hiring process and reduced the hiring wait time for Seattle police officers by half, from five to nine months to three to four months in 2023.

The passing rate of applicants in 2023 averaged at 73%, which is an increase from the 10-year average of 68%.

Seattle looks to recruit from out of state due to other public safety jurisdictions in the Pacific Northwest paying well. The Seattle Police Department currently ranks 15th in the Puget Sound region for entry level base salaries with $83,000. This does not include overtime pay, which the city has spent over its dedicated budget, as previously reported by The Center Square.

The highest entry-level base salary was $101,844 at the Redmond Police Department, followed by the Kent Police Department at $96,268, and the Bellevue Police Department at $95,850.