Nearly 20% of Seattle‘s police force left the job in the past 18 months due to budget cuts and additional reform measures following widespread protests against police brutality, the city’s police chief said.
Protests after the May 2020 death of George Floyd turned into violent clashes with Seattle police officers. The stress for many officers was exacerbated after city leaders chose to abandon a police precinct and allow demonstrators, some armed, to occupy a city block for a whole month, said Officer Clayton Powell.
Two-hundred and sixty officers left the force in the past year and a half, Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz told CBS News.
When asked whether the number of officers leaving concerns him, Diaz replied, “It does because we saw our shootings go up. We saw our homicides go up.”
Fifty people were killed in 2020, marking a 61% jump from the 31 murders reported in 2019 and “the highest number of murders in 26 years,” Diaz wrote in a public memo Jan. 11.
Powell has served on the force for nearly 27 years in Seattle. His goal was to remain on the force for 30 years, and even though he is three years away from that goal, he will retire early, he said.
“The support that we had in my generation of policing is no longer there,” Powell said, later adding that defunding the police would further inhibit the department’s public safety efforts: “If anything, you need more funding.”
Former Police Chief Carmen Best retired from the force in March after serving 28 years and announcing her retirement plans in August 2020. Her retirement was in protest of the $3 million budget cut Seattle City Council approved, which included a loss of 100 officers through a combination of layoffs and attrition.
City Councilwoman Tammy Morales, who has said that funding should be reallocated from police budgets down to community investments, voted for a 13% cut in the police budget in November 2020.
“We spend about $400 million a year on the police department, and as a city, we don’t spend on the kind of things that could really support neighborhoods — affordable housing, neighborhood planning, small business development,” Morales said.
The funds that the council cut from the police will be thrust into a still-undefined process involving community members.
When asked if that is acceptable if the crime rate increases, Morales said, “If we’re investing in communities the way we should be, then we can begin to address that.”