Seattle police staffing woes prompt emergency dispatch plan as vaccine mandate for officers looms

Seattle’s police department is sending detectives and non-patrol officers to respond to emergency calls because of a shortage of patrol officers that union leaders fear will become worse because of COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Due to the staffing crunch, the Seattle Police Department activated its emergency three-stage mobilization plan on Wednesday, KING reported. 

It involves all on-duty sworn personnel, including detectives, education and training section employees and people within the department with patrol backgrounds reporting to their shifts in uniform and ready to respond to 911 calls if necessary. 

Should the department receive a credible threat “that has the potential to cause significant harm, property destruction or wide-spread public fear,” the plan requires that normal dispatch will be modified, impacting its ability to conduct routine operations. 

SEATTLE RESIDENTS DEMAND POLICE CHIEF ADDRESS HOMELESS CAMP AS VACCINE MANDATE FURTHER THREATENS PATROLS

The department has lost more than 300 officers over the past year, KOMO reported. Nearly 300 more could face termination if they do not comply with an Oct. 18 deadline to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“We can’t afford to lose one, that’s how desperate we are to hold onto people,” police union president Mike Solan said. “If we lose more officers, the public safety situation will become that much more untenable here.”

According to figures from the Seattle mayor’s office, 782 officers have submitted proof of COVID-19 vaccination, while 98 officers are seeking exemptions and 186 have not turned in paperwork. Officials hope more will submit the required paperwork as the deadline approaches.

Seattle Police officers confer after taking part in a public roll call at Hing Hay Park in Seattle's Chinatown-International District Thursday, March 18, 2021. Seattle's police department is having detectives and non-patrol staff respond to emergency calls because of a shortage of officers union leaders fear will be made worse by COVID-19 vaccine mandates. 

Seattle Police officers confer after taking part in a public roll call at Hing Hay Park in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District Thursday, March 18, 2021. Seattle’s police department is having detectives and non-patrol staff respond to emergency calls because of a shortage of officers union leaders fear will be made worse by COVID-19 vaccine mandates. 
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

“Come October 19th, [we’ll] look at what the next steps are for the officers who at this point have not turned in their vaccination cards,” police spokesman Sgt. Randy Huserik said last week.

The staffing shortage came as the Seattle area, like other U.S. metropolitan regions, is experiencing a gun violence surge. Fatal shootings over the first nine months of 2021 in King County, which includes Seattle, already exceed last year’s year-end total. As of the end of September, 73 people had been killed and 283 were injured in shootings in King County this year, according to data from the King County Prosecutor’s Shots Fired Project. For all of 2020, there were 69 firearm-related homicides and 268 non-fatal shootings in King County.

Meanwhile, Seattle residents from the North Ballard/Crown Hill neighborhood met with Seattle Police Department interim Chief Adrian Diaz Tuesday to discuss increased instances of harassment, open-air drug dealing and use and break-ins and thefts at local businesses all associated with a homeless encampment at Ballard Commons Park, KOMO reported. 

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On Sunday, Seattle fire paramedics attempted to resuscitate a 56-year-old woman at the encampment but were unable to save her life. Diaz participated in a community walk, allowing residents to voice their frustrations after a fire last month tore through tents at the encampment and multiple propane tanks exploded, KIRO reported. 

Seattle’s mayoral election is set to take place this November. Democratic Mayor Jenny Durkan said the Ballard Commons Park camp is on the city’s “priority list for removal” but has not provided a timeline. Durkan is not seeking a second term after a year of controversies related to pandemic-era lockdowns, anti-police protests and an eventual autonomous zone.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 


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