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caption: A Seattle Police Department officer wears a patch that reads, 'Stop Screaming, I'm Scared Too,' at the intersection of 11th Avenue and East Pine Street following the Youth Liberation Front march in solidarity with Portland, on Saturday, July 25, 2020, in Seattle.
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A Seattle Police Department officer wears a patch that reads, 'Stop Screaming, I'm Scared Too,' at the intersection of 11th Avenue and East Pine Street following the Youth Liberation Front march in solidarity with Portland, on Saturday, July 25, 2020, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

'Unprecedented' number of officers leaving Seattle Police Department, report says

A record number of officers left the Seattle Police Department in September, according to the Seattle Mayor’s Office. The report said 39 officers — including three trainees — left SPD last month.

The attrition comes after a summer of protests against police violence and widespread calls to "defund the police."

September 2020 saw double the amount of departures from the Seattle Police Department during the next-highest months on record: according to the Mayor’s office, June 2020 and June 2018 both saw 17 officer departures.

A statement from the Mayor’s Office said that if a hiring freeze remains in place in 2021, there will be “undeniable impacts” to the Seattle Police Department’s emergency responses and investigations. And the newest officers were the ones most likely to leave.

This year, 28 officers resigned who had fewer than five years of service with the department. “These are the exact officers we want to keep as we transform the department,” Durkan’s office said.

Fourty-nine senior officers have retired so far this year. Fourteen more officers were added to the "extended leave" roster in September for medical reasons.

Victoria Beach, who chairs the Seattle Police Department’s African American Community Advisory Council, said she’s dismayed by the loss of officers. “We’re in trouble,” she said. “I don’t blame them for leaving. I want to leave Seattle!”

Beach said she fears poorer communities will be most affected by short-staffing, and blamed the Seattle City Council for cutting the navigation team and other pieces of the department's budget.

“Yes, we need to make changes in the police department,” she said. “But you don’t do something without a plan. Why would you take the navigation team away before you had a plan?”

Beach said she’s come to occupy what feels like a lonely position in the debates surrounding policing. She attended a rally in support of the Seattle Police Department before the last round of budget cuts.

“I was a little discouraged because there were a lot of people that were supporting SPD that had Trump shirts on, ‘Make America Great Again’ hats — they actually, I feel like, are hurting police departments,” she said.

“I had my sign supporting SPD but I also had a Black Lives Matter mask on. And so many people were confused like, ‘which side are you on?’ And it was like, why do I have to be on one side or the other? I’m for change — and to be reasonable.”

Meanwhile, the mayor said she would continue to support alternatives to policing, as well as hiring to fill Seattle Police vacancies.

“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 in a statement. “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.”

In a series of exit interviews released by the Seattle Police Department in 2019, departing officers complained about attacks and criticism from the Seattle City Council. One said officers felt like “a political punching bag.”

That was before people took to the streets this year to denounce racial injustice and police brutality, and the Seattle Police Department was criticized by accountability groups for indiscriminately using tear gas and other crowd-control weapons. In June, a federal judge banned the department from using chemicals or projectiles against peaceful protesters.

Beach said she wishes the City Council would start a fresh dialogue with the Seattle Police Department. “We can still want a police department, and want the [police] killings to stop,” she said.