Seattle police official disputes union claims of large officer exodus
The union recently said Seattle officers are leaving in larger numbers due to unhappiness about the city’s politics
By Steve Miletich
The Seattle Times
SEATTLE — A Seattle Police Department official on Monday disputed recent claims by the police union’s vice president that officers are leaving in larger numbers because of unhappiness about the city’s politics.
Brian Maxey, the department’s chief operating officer, took issue with the assertion in response to a query from U.S. District Judge James Robart, who is overseeing court-ordered reforms requiring the Police Department to address findings of routine use of excessive force and evidence of biased policing.
During a hearing, Robart read aloud comments made by Sgt. Rich O’Neill, the vice president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, to Q13 Fox TV (KCPQ).
“I have never seen the number of officers who are leaving and the way they are leaving,” O’Neill told the station last month, contending many officers are afraid to do their jobs.
“Less officers on the streets, less safe for the citizens — and when you have all these officers you have invested all this money in and they are leaving for Tacoma, Olympia, Pierce County and Snohomish County,” O’Neill added.
“It’s just depressing to serve in a place where many City Council members who are coming out at times with negative comments about the police,” O’Neill said.
Maxey told Robart that 41 officers had left so far this year, compared to 39 in the same period last year. He said 21 had retired and 20 had departed this year.
Maxey noted that officer salaries are frozen at 2014 wage levels because the city has been unable to reach a contract since then with the guild.
As a result, the wages don’t compare favorably to those in other jurisdictions who are offering bonuses to officers to make lateral moves, Maxey said, attributing departures to economic reasons and not politics.
Mayor Jenny Durkan handed numbers to Robart showing total strength at 1,403 officers, described as more officers than at any time in department history.
O’Neill, reached by phone after the hearing, stood by his remarks, saying the city’s position was to be expected.
Robart opened the hearing by saying he didn’t plan to discuss the city’s ongoing search for a new police chief, in which a shake-up among the three finalists occurred over the weekend.
Robart, in a January ruling, found the Police Department in compliance with a 2012 consent decree mandating the reforms.
His decision triggered a two-year period in which the city must show policies and procedures are locked in place.
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