Seattle Struggling With ‘Police Staffing Shortages’ Amid Skyrocketing Crime

Seattle is experiencing a violent crime crisis while the city is struggling with staffing shortages in its police department. Violent crime hit its highest level in 14 years last year. During his annual state of the city address last week, Mayor Bruce Harrell told residents that his Administration has funding in place to hire 125 new officers. However, the city is struggling with recruiting and retention of staff.

He said in his address that the department’s depleted staffing is affecting its ability to “react to emergencies and crime with the response times our residents deserve.” The mayor added that the department’s “specialty teams” are not adequately staffed. The specialty teams deal with particular issues like DUI, domestic violence, and financial scams against older citizens. Current staffing is prohibiting the level of investigations needed to make “sustainable change,” he added.

Last month saw 20 police officers leave the department, following the loss of 171 officers last year and 186 in 2020. The initial surge in departures coincided with the height of the “defund the police” movement and riots in mid-2020. During the same time frame, only 137 new officers were hired.

Seattle saw a 20 percent jump in violent crime last year, with a 24 percent increase in aggravated assaults and an 18 percent surge in robberies. Reported homicides in the city fell last year by 25 percent. 2021 saw 612 criminal shootings in the city, 40 percent more than in 2020 and 86 percent more than in 2019.

Former Mayor Jenny Durkan authorized police officer hiring bonuses last year ranging from $10,000 to $25,000. Those funds are not available in this year’s budget. The city council voted against a budget amendment last November that would have eliminated an additional 101 officers from the department.

Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz said that the city can “retain and hire amazing officers.” Still, some sources continue to believe that fewer officers will lead to more excellent public safety. Diaz said that message makes recruiting “nearly impossible.”

In a possible shift away from the soft-on-crime attitude from the city over the last two years, newly elected City Attorney Ann Davidson announced that her office would decide on moving forward with charges on every case that comes into her office within five days. She said that the best way to interrupt violent crime is “quickly and efficiently” moving on the cases brought to her office by the Seattle Police Department.