New incentive for experienced officers to work for Seattle Police

New incentive for experienced officers to work for Seattle Police (PHOTO: KOMO News)

After months of watching officers leave for other nearby police departments, the City of Seattle is firing back.

On Thursday, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced that experienced officers who are hired by the Seattle Police Department will receive a one-time $15,000 hiring bonus.

Police Chief Carmen Best, in a statement, said “our compensation needs to stay competitive.”

Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, a spokesman for the department, said “it’s a great time to be a police candidate.”

Seattle police said they were hit hard in 2018 with retirements and officers quitting to join Port of Seattle, Bellevue, Everett and the King County Sheriff’s Office.

Durkan’s office, in a statement Thursday, said the other departments are offering hiring incentives like extra sick and vacation time hours as well as paid moving expenses, airfare and three-nights of lodging for out-of-state applicants.

Kevin Stuckey, president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, said he has spent months talking to Best and other city leaders about potential staffing shortages. He said he’s happy they’re offering something to incentivize people to come to SPD, but believes it’s long overdue.

Stuckey said the shortages have resulted in longer 911 response times, being more selective about which 911 calls get responded to and, most recently, re-training detectives to fill in shortages in the patrol ranks.

“It’s getting pretty bad,” Stuckey said Friday. “We have to have people in uniforms on the streets.”

Stuckey said the city needs to launch a public relations campaign showing how it backs its officers.

“There needs to be a shift in policing and how people view policing. Maybe those people who talk about how we can do it better get in front of a camera and go for it, say ‘be a police officer,'” Stuckey said.

Cloyd Steiger, a retired Seattle officer, said he’s been watching the staffing crisis closely. He said he still has friends on the force and his two sons are police officers in Seattle.

Steiger said Seattle officers are some of the highest paid in the state, he doubts a $15,000 hiring bonus is enough to attract that many extra bodies when every department nationwide is struggling to find qualified applicants.

“When I was hired by the department in 1979, 2,000 people took the test when I did, now they’re likely to get 20.”

Though he spent more than 30 years with the department, Steiger said if he was in patrol now he isn’t sure he’d stay on the force.

“It’s just demoralizing that every little minor technical issue becomes an OPA complaint that if you do something you’ll be second judged over and over and over,” he said.

The Seattle Police Department is in its seventh year of being under Department of Justice oversight as part of a federal consent decree.

“The city is ruining a once-great police department and because of that a once-great city is being ruined right alongside it,” he said.

Stuckey, who was pulled out of a meeting with Best early Friday after a death threat was called into the Guild office, said “the reality is whether you like police or not, we’re needed.”

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