The Seattle Police Department and the King County Sheriff’s Office are struggling to find new recruits to join their respective forces, according to multiple sources to the Jason Rantz Show KTTH/Seattle.
The Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC) trains new recruits to become officers. They recently cut the allotted seats to recruits for both the SPD and KCSO over the last several months because both departments have been unable to reliably fill them.
“This is not good news,” Seattle Police Officers Guild Vice President, Sergeant Rich O’Neil, explains to the Jason Rantz Show. “We’re in this critical staffing shortage and we already know … the officers that are leaving and going to other departments. What this is now telling us, we’re not even getting the new recruits. This won’t even keep up with normal attrition, which is very alarming.”
Though the SPD and KCSO share similar problems, how they got there is markedly different.
In Seattle, police officers have been working without a contract for nearly four years, are constantly belittled and demonized by the Seattle City Council, and the Office of Professional Accountability is perceived as investigating every minor issue, treating them like major acts of misconduct. It’s become a major problem for the rank and file, and, cops argue, it’s why they don’t see the recruitment numbers they think they should.
“This mass exodus is on epic,” one SPD officer explained to me. I’ve granted all officers quoted in this piece anonymity, unless otherwise noted, because they fear retribution for speaking out and have not been authorized to talk to the media. “[SPD] is in total denial of the ongoing staffing issues. Seattle Police used to be the place everybody tested for and wanted to work for.… It was an honor to work here. I was one of the very few that made it and was hired. Fast forward a few years and those tables have turned. Now Seattle is a butt of most jokes.”
“Remember the time Seattle officers saved their own lives when a convicted rapist and drug dealer pulled a gun on them?” a second officer told me. “I can’t remember, what did the city council say? Oh yeah, that the cops were racist murderers.”
Police officers were recently thrown by the news that the Office of Professional Accountability recommended punishment for an officer who successfully, and safely, subdued a man running around Seattle wielding an ax. The Seattle Police Chief would later reject the recommendations.
The King County Sheriff’s Department lost academy seats for a different reason.
“... The last administration was focusing solely on hiring lateral officers from across the nation,” Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht told me. “When [Sheriff John Urquhart] stopped intake of entry level hires locally and from surrounding states, it put us in a place where we weren’t using those [CJTC] slots in the Academy that we were given, like SPD. There are other agencies that have to wait and don't get the options as often as we do. So the Academy … took us down from five to three.”
While the SPD seems to be downplaying their issues, Johanknecht is acting urgently to address the problem, especially since she expects 60 vacancies by the end of the year. In a worst-case scenario, it could be 80 vacancies, which they’re not ready to fill.
“I wouldn't describe it that way now, but in a few short months, it will be a crisis, because of how these things are staggered,” Sheriff Johanknecht explained. “It takes a few months before you can get someone new into place without them needing training.”
And unlike with the SPD, law enforcement agents I’ve spoken to generally say they feel more supported because they don’t answer to an angry Seattle City Council. Indeed, officers are making lateral moves to KCSO from the SPD.
Jason Rantz is the host of the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH 770 AM in Seattle/Tacoma weekday mornings from 6-9am. His podcast is available on iTunes.