A friend in the Seattle Police Department once joked that if some of his fellow police officers were not cops, they would be crooks.

Actually, he was semi-serious. Some of the personality traits displayed by certain cops — hyper-aggressiveness, an inclination to risk-taking, propensity to use threats to gain dominance — track with gang members. In fact, when I was working in Los Angeles, a county prosecutor told me about a group of cops working in an especially dangerous area of the city who had adopted gang tactics and essentially gone rogue.

Seattle is now trying to hire a big cohort of new police officers who are far better than that. 

Following the tumultuous summer of 2020, when police were driven from their East Precinct headquarters by demonstrators and members of the Seattle City Council were advocating for a 50% cut in the police budget, the department experienced a steady drain of officers from the ranks; a drop from 1,300 cops pre-2020 to around 950 today. Mayor Bruce Harrell wants to bring that number up to 1,450 and is offering incentives of up to $30,000 to prospective hires.

Working against the mayor’s goal is the perception that Seattle is an anti-cop town. Plus, there is the permanent reality that policing is a tough, dangerous job that few people want to take on. Unfortunately, that sometimes means that the wrong kind of person is attracted to being a cop.

What Seattle needs is more officers who understand that policing takes larger skills than intimidation and toughness — and those kinds of smart, culturally aware superheroes are not easy to find.

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