SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announced a $2 million plan Wednesday for dealing with what he described as a critical shortage of police officers in the city, including recruitment bonuses, reimbursement of moving costs and possible tuition assistance.
Seattle has lost more than 400 officers since 2019 as the department was heavily criticized for its sometimes violent response to racial justice protests and City Council members embraced calls to defund police following the killing of George Floyd.
Harrell’s plan includes $1 million the City Council already approved spending for recruitment and hiring bonuses. That money came from savings in unspent officer salaries.
“We want the right numbers of officers and the right kind of officers,” Harrell said. “It crosses racial lines, it crosses socioeconomic lines that people want to feel safe, and they have a right to feel safe.”
The Seattle Police Department remains down 372 officers out of a force approved for more than 1,300. That’s hurt emergency response times, prompted the department to stop responding to low-priority calls and required officers to work overtime, hurting morale.
The current number of officers is Seattle’s lowest in 30 years. Seattle’s population has soared in that time. About 40% of the department’s detectives have had to handle patrol duties, severely cutting the number available to investigate serious crime.
Harrell wants to offer signing bonuses of up to $30,000 for lateral transfers from other police departments and up to $7,500 for new officers — amounts that would make Seattle competitive with other cities trying to recruit and retain police, he said.
He called for reimbursing candidates’ applicant fees, travel expenses and relocation costs, and said he wanted a study conducted to determine the feasibility of paying tuition for college students who commit to working for the department for at least five years.
The plan also calls for redoubling efforts to attract officer candidates from minority communities in Seattle and expanding career-advancement opportunities for current officers.
The city is negotiating a contract with the Seattle Police Officers Guild, and Harrell suggested retention bonuses or other economic incentives would likely be part of those negotiations.
Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz said the department will need to keep the officers it has and add 500 over the next five years. So far this year, though, 109 have left, while fewer than three dozen. Half of the new hires this year are people of color, Diaz said.