The Seattle Police Department did not meet its goal to respond quickly enough to 911 calls over the last seven months of 2020, and the agency's top brass are using the issue to stave off a proposed $5.4 million budget cut under current consideration by Seattle City Council members.
During a meeting Tuesday of the council’s Public Safety and Human Services Committee, acting Police Chief Adrian Diaz and members of his staff laid out reasons why the committee should not recommend a cut to its budget as some members had promised to do in 2021.
The committee discussed but took no action on the presentation. There were no adversarial comments made by council members that were directed to the department.
The police department has set seven minutes as the average response time for a 911 Priority 1 call, which could be a possibly life-threatening situation.
But the agency fell short of that goal even after Diaz moved to patrol beats 100 additional officers who had been previously working in specialized units inside the department.
“So many people have left the department and we are so hamstrung in our ability to hire back, it is starting to really have risks to public safety and our obligations under the consent decree,” Mayor Jenny Durkan told KOMO News.
Until last year, the department had averaged 56 separations a year going back to 1998.
But last year, there were 186 separations even though 51 new officers joined the force, making for a net loss of 135 officers, a new record.
The Seattle Police Department currently has 1,260 sworn officers.
“The best way to stop the losses and to drive hiring is to stop the ad hoc cutting of the budget,” Diaz said.
According to Diaz, his department said there were 221 days in 2020 where his officers were only responding to Priority 1 or Priority 2 calls, which meant fewer or no response calls of lesser priority.
“We will have to say no for requests for service, something we have already had to do this year,” Diaz said.
Under a federal consent decree overseen by U.S. District Court Judge James Robart, the department must maintain consistent staffing levels and officers must be involved in constitutional policing.
Police officials have lamented the staff shortages in the past.
“I have a staffing crisis,” Diaz told KOMO News two weeks ago, but added that the future prospect of new officers offsetting the loss of officers to patrol is looking better. “For the amount of people that have left to the amount of people that we've hired, we are projected to backfill those positions,” he said.
The meeting ran longer than scheduled but ended abruptly after the clerk realized there was no longer a quorum council member to legally continue the meeting because several had left during the police presentation.