Seattle police response times increase amid recruiting crisis

"...he's on record saying that we've lost 525 cops... that's a lot more accurate, but we've lost more than that. We're close to 600 now."

Ari Hoffman Seattle WA
Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz told a City Council committee on Tuesday that priority response call times are up. Financial incentives have done little to help address low staffing levels in the beleaguered department, which has been understaffed by hundreds of officers since the council began defunding the police in 2020.

According to the chief, just as many officers are joining the department as those that are leaving, causing levels to stagnate in the first quarter of 2023.

Diaz reported that the Seattle Police Department is at least 300 officers short of full coverage at pre-2020 levels which has caused longer call times across the city.

But the exodus of officers is far worse than Diaz presented.

Seattle Police Officers Guild president Mike Solan told The Ari Hoffman Show on Talk Radio 570 KVI, "100 percent it's way worse, and I don't think couching it to 2020 levels and playing games politically with the reality gets us to where we want to be. He (Diaz) did an interview with the Seattle Magazine and it was published on May 22nd, where he's on record saying that we've lost 525 cops... that's a lot more accurate, but we've lost more than that. We're close to 600 now".

During the chief’s presentation, council member Alex Pedersen, who originally opposed, but then supported cuts in the department and the reallocation of funds in response to the 2020 riots that rocked Seattle in the wake of the death of George Floyd remarked, "Median time for 911 response is completely unacceptable."

Though the department has worked with the mayor's office on a new recruitment plan to make hiring easier and faster, trying to attract new recruits with compensation and bonuses, altering hours, and launching a new marketing campaign, none of it seems to have worked. Mayor Harrell originally set a staffing goal of 1,500-1,600 officers, which was then downgraded to 1,400, which the department is not even close to achieving. Meanwhile, crime has continued to skyrocket.

This has been complicated by Diaz recently ordering officers not to pursue suspects.

Councilmember Sara Nelson, who supported $30,000 signing bonuses for recruits, told KOMO News, “I think we have to pick up the pace on on on recruitment and retention efforts. Clearly, the money is there. We've got to get it out the door because hiring incentives only work if we're spending them to hire more officers.”

Nelson, who was not on the council when the body defunded the police, and was elected by an electorate hoping for a return to law and order policies in response to spiking crime, noted that police overtime levels are already outpacing 2022. "We don't have enough officers. That's what I make of it. They are stretched too thin. God forbid if there's ever a major event, multiple shooter event or something like that, an earthquake or something where we'll be, we get the officers to respond to emergencies."

Seattle Democratic Mayor Bruce Harrell, who has refused to hire back officers who were terminated due to COVID vax mandates, said in a statement to KOMO, "The initial proposed plan included hiring an external marketing consultant firm to make materials for recruitment at the beginning of the project. The City re-evaluated that plan after the hiring of new staff and a review of existing staff capabilities, and determined that the initial marketing campaign could be developed and implemented in-house. Marketing in the first quarter of 2023 focused on limited social media campaigns to gather data, conduct initial audience research, and test different messages including hiring incentives to determine the most effective tactics for future campaigns.”

“By starting with social media data collection and message testing in the beginning of the year, the City will be able to better target and engage audiences to recruit for critical open SPD officer positions in future campaigns. The City plans to use these analytics to increase spending significantly in future quarters and marketing phases guided by evidence of what works. Part of that increased spending will be production costs associated with new marketing content and part will be expanding advertising to additional outreach channels.”

“The City’s updated marketing plan takes full advantage of new staff, existing capabilities, and initial analytics to attract new recruits and advertise incentives effectively and cost-efficiently. This updated marketing plan allows the City to test, iterate, and improve initial messaging and tactics over the first half of the year, and then be more confident that increased spending in the second half of the year will drive results. The SPD staffing crisis is a significant and urgent challenge, but the City is following best-practices to be a responsible steward of public dollars and make evidence-based marketing decisions. While this approach will take longer to ramp up, it will ultimately lead to better results per marketing dollar compared to the initial proposed plan. The process for hiring new police officers will take time, and updated plans will drive consistent and sustainable recruitment results to reach the right audience with the right message and recruit the best possible quality candidates to serve Seattle."

Solan told Hoffman, "The reality is you're going to keep losing quality police officers until they're treated in a matter that's reasonable here in the city of Seattle. And what does that look like? It looks like, number one, you get political support by your elected officials publicly, and two, which I think would be equally as important as public support from elected officials, is agreeing to cost of living increases for officers and getting us a contract."
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