Democratic Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan — who once called the police-free autonomous zone in her city a "block party" amid a "summer of love" — is now "deeply concerned" over the mass exodus taking place within the city's police department.
What's the situation?
KING-TV reported early Friday morning that a record number of officers had left the department in September, according to a new Seattle Budget Office report. The report noted that 39 officers and officers-in-training "separated" from the department while an additional 14 officers extended their leaves.
The exodus is part of a continuing trend that has resulted in at least 118 officers leaving the force this year, KTTH-TV reporter Jason Rant said. He added that "even this number is misleading" because "many officers are using their accrued sick time as they begin their escape to other agencies or wait for retirement."
The total number of officers in the department now sits at just over 1,200, which the report noted is on par with police staffing levels in the early 1990s, even though the city's population has grown 44% since then.
As a result, 911 call response times have been increasing and police investigative services have been crippled.
What's she saying?
In a statement, Durkan called the levels of attrition "unprecedented," yet doubled down on the re-imagination of community safety and calls for "community-based alternatives" to policing.
"We will continue to improve policing and reimagine community safety in Seattle by shifting some responses to community-based alternatives and civilian programs like Health One or Community Service Officers," Durkan said. "But the City also needs a sufficient number of officers who can respond to the most urgent 911 calls in all parts of our city at any time of the day. We are losing an unprecedented number of officers, which makes it even more critical that we recruit and retain officers committed to reform and community policing that reflect the diversity and values of our city."
A spokesperson for the mayor, Kelsey Nyland, added, "If we don't act now, we'll soon see undeniable impacts to 911 response times and investigative services. It could also impact the department's ability to sustain the gains and meet the requirements of the federal consent decree."
"The Mayor is deeply concerned by the fact that some of our youngest officers — those who joined the department knowing it was under a federal consent decree — are leaving at an extremely high rate," she continued. "These are the exact officers we want to keep as we transform the department. They're the ones who entered the department with an emphasis on de-escalation training and community-based, constitutional policing."
The exodus follows the City Council's decision in September to override a mayoral veto and slash the city's police budget, leading to the cutting of as many as 100 officer positions and the elimination of the Navigation Team, which cleared homeless encampments.
Durkan, who is in favor diverting police funds to social programs, only vetoed the measure because it lacked "the type of collaboration" she desired.