SEATTLE — A Seattle City Council committee was told Tuesday that police priority response call times are up, and incentives have done little to change the staffing levels in an already stretched police department.
The information indicates that just as many officers are entering the Seattle Police Department (SPD) as exiting, meaning that levels have stagnated in the first quarter of the year.
Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz has suggested his department is at least 300 officers short of full coverage at pre-2020 levels, and the briefing from Council Central Staff corroborated those totals.
It has meant significantly longer call times across the board and the city, and the slide caused Seattle Councilmember Alex Pedersen to remark that the "median time for 911 response is completely unacceptable."
The SPD has worked with the mayor's office to create a new recruitment plan to make hiring easier and faster. The goal is to attract recruits with compensation and bonuses. The department launched a new marketing campaign, changed work hours, and invested in social media.
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However, it is clearly not working fast enough for Councilmember Sara Nelson's taste. She was a big proponent of pushing $30,000 signing bonuses to recruits, but the data shown on Tuesday revealed the executive's office had only tapped $228,000 of a $3.8 million approved budget. It was unclear to Nelson what was taking so long.
"I think we have to pick up the pace on recruitment and retention efforts,” Nelson told KOMO News. “Clearly, the money is there. We've got to get it out the door because hiring incentives only work if we're spending them to hire more officers.”
Overtime levels are already outpacing 2022 as well.
"We don't have enough officers," Nelson continued. "That's what I make of it. They are stretched too thin. God forbid if there's ever a major event, multiple shooter event or something like that, an earthquake, or something where we'll be we get the officers to respond to emergencies."
KOMO News reached out to Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell's office for an explanation of the lack of money being used from the incentive pool. We were sent a lengthy reply from a spokesperson for the mayor:
"The initial proposed plan included hiring an external marketing consultant firm to make materials for recruitment at the beginning of the project. The City re-evaluated that plan after the hiring of new staff and a review of existing staff capabilities, and determined that the initial marketing campaign could be developed and implemented in-house. Marketing in the first quarter of 2023 focused on limited social media campaigns to gather data, conduct initial audience research, and test different messages including hiring incentives to determine the most effective tactics for future campaigns.
By starting with social media data collection and message testing in the beginning of the year, the City will be able to better target and engage audiences to recruit for critical open SPD officer positions in future campaigns. The City plans to use these analytics to increase spending significantly in future quarters and marketing phases guided by evidence of what works. Part of that increased spending will be production costs associated with new marketing content and part will be expanding advertising to additional outreach channels.
The City’s updated marketing plan takes full advantage of new staff, existing capabilities, and initial analytics to attract new recruits and advertise incentives effectively and cost-efficiently. This updated marketing plan allows the City to test, iterate, and improve initial messaging and tactics over the first half of the year, and then be more confident that increased spending in the second half of the year will drive results. The SPD staffing crisis is a significant and urgent challenge, but the City is following best-practices to be a responsible steward of public dollars and make evidence-based marketing decisions. While this approach will take longer to ramp up, it will ultimately lead to better results per marketing dollar compared to the initial proposed plan. The process for hiring new police officers will take time and updated plan will drive consistent and sustainable recruitment results to reach the right audience with the right message and recruit the best possible quality candidates to serve Seattle."