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Mayor unveils $1.6M plan to recruit, retain Seattle police officers

The 12 new strategies are meant to address an alarming gap last year between new hires and departures

By Daniel Beekman and Steve Miletich
The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — Mayor Jenny Durkan rolled out a $1.6 million plan Tuesday to bolster Seattle’s recruitment and retention of police officers, identifying 12 strategies meant to address an alarming gap last year between new hires and departures.

After growing steadily from 2013 through 2017, from 1,308 sworn officers to 1,424, the police department’s force shrank in 2018 to 1,388.

New strategies to bring on more officers will include recruiting from other city departments and allowing out-of-area applicants to take tests online.

Initiatives to keep officers from leaving will include striking unsubstantiated complaints from personnel cards. The department also may move to longer shifts with three-day weekends.

Most of the strategies are expected to cost little, with most of the money dedicated to a project manager, analyst, web developer and trainer to carry out the plan. Durkan intends to unveil the entirety of her proposed 2020 budget later this month.

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“As Seattle grows, we must make sure we are recruiting, hiring and retaining the most experienced officers who can provide public safety and are committed to lasting reform,” the mayor said in a statement, referring partly to changes mandated as part of the city’s consent decree with the federal government.

The 12 strategies were recommended by a work group that included representatives from the mayor’s office, police department, budget office and human-resources department, according to a report by the group dated Aug. 30. Representatives from the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, Seattle Community Police Commission and Seattle Police Officers Guild were among those consulted, according to the report.

The work group relied partly on information from more than 100 employees and recruits, including 76 officers who chose to complete an anonymous survey.

Only 10 survey respondents said they would refer friends and family to work for the department, as Crosscut first reported, with many unhappy officers raising concerns about unsupportive Seattle leaders, toxic politics and unreasonable restrictions.

“No support for officers. Policies limit the officer,” read a typical comment.

Durkan administration officials say the department’s recruitment and retention struggles align with a nationwide trend. They say hiring has been hampered by a healthy economy and less interest in police work as public scrutiny and social issues have made the job more demanding. Baby boomers are retiring and other jurisdictions are using bonuses to poach other officers, the officials say.

For recruiting, the police department will reach out to employees in departments such as Seattle City Light and to young people in city-sponsored programs.

The department also will train some officers as “recruitment ambassadors,” knowing most recruits are brought in by friends and relatives who work in policing. And it will promote a ride-along program, which allows potential applicants to see the work.

To improve hiring, the department will try to speed up background checks with new software and experiment with third-party testers to make the process more convenient for applicants, among other strategies.

For retention, the department wants to adopt a “clear my card” policy, removing some complaints against officers that were investigated and not sustained from individual personnel cards after a certain, shorter period, such as three years.

The removals would be limited to cases where the department’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA) determined allegations to be bogus or officer conduct to be lawful and proper.

Records on such complaints and investigations would continue to be retained elsewhere, Durkan administration officials say.

Andrew Myerberg, the OPA’s civilian director, described the move as a “low-risk proposal” that could “significantly boost” morale while maintaining the department’s obligations to save information on officer conduct.

The work group recommended the “clear my card” policy based on officer dissatisfaction. The files in question are reviewed during interviews for promotions, as well as by recruiters from other jurisdictions and police department watchdogs.

In 2018, 60% to 65% of patrol officers received at least one complaint, according to the report. Fewer than 10% of the complaints were sustained.

©2019 The Seattle Times