Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell and the Seattle Police Department (SPD) have witnessed a significant uptick in officer applications due to ongoing recruitment efforts, but acknowledged it will take several years to fully replenish their dwindling police force.
Currently, the SPD grapples with its lowest number of officers in more than three decades, a situation exacerbated by the departure of approximately 580 officers since 2020.
Mayor Harrell noted that the city was taking steps to resolve the issue.
“From our administration, we’re pushing public safety investments, our recruiting strategies,” the major said.
As part of these efforts, a new police recruitment video featuring Mayor Harrell was recently released to the public to attract potential candidates.
“In ‘One Seattle,’ everyone deserves to feel safe and be safe. You can help to make this vision real, we are seeking leaders to serve our community right now,” Harrell said in the video.
“One Seattle” refers to the department’s recruitment campaign.
SPD data revealed that the officer exodus began in 2020 when 186 officers left the force, followed by 171 departures in 2021 and approximately 151 in 2022.
This year, 72 officers have already left. Despite low recruitment in recent years, SPD is currently seeing a surge in applicants undergoing testing and background checks.
“We’re finally getting officers interested in becoming part of our police department again. We’re getting, in a month, between 150 to 200 applications now,” the mayor stated.
Despite the recent optimism, there are just 937 active SPD officers, with 375 positions left to fill.
According to the mayor, 120 more officers are either on extended leave or still in the academy, which will help to cut down that number.
Still, many city leaders and law enforcement experts remain pessimistic about the department’s objectives, as the Seattle Police Department continued its trend of failing to meet its annual hiring targets.
To meet the goals set for 2024, the department would need to increase hiring by nearly two-thirds.
The situation persists despite receiving full funding for a recruitment and retention plan, including bonuses of up to $30,000 for recruits.
The council’s central staff recently presented these concerning statistics, forecasting a net loss of 27 officers by the end of the year when considering both new hires and departures.
This comes in contrast to earlier predictions that SPD would hire 82 new officers this year. Instead, only 46 officers were recruited. Of these, just six were fully trained “lateral” hires from other departments.
Despite the consistent attrition, SPD continues to anticipate robust hiring.
For the upcoming year, they project hiring 120 new officers and losing 120, resulting in a net gain of 15 officers. If this plan goes unfunded, any leftover money may be allocated to unrelated priorities.
Mayor Harrell’s 2024 budget proposal for SPD allocates $8.1 million in salary “savings” from unmet 2023 hiring projections to cover $6.3 million in unanticipated overtime, which SPD claims is necessary due to the staffing shortage.
The remaining $1.8 million is slated for new surveillance technology, including a gunshot detection system, which the council rejected last year.
However, some council members expressed reservations about the proposal, stating that they did not want to provide SPD with an ongoing surplus fund that could grow as positions remain vacant.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold said she intends to propose a spending limitation on SPD’s salary savings, while Councilmember Sara Nelson countered that this might not be the right time to discuss reducing the department’s budget.