I was listening Tuesday to the Seattle City Council and the police chief talk about — or rather, talk around — how they still haven’t figured out the cop shortage in the city, when Cory Gassmann called.

“I’m done,” he said. “I’m getting out of having a retail business in Seattle ever again.”

Gassmann owns School of Bike, a popular bicycle shop in Wallingford. Like a lot of businesses in Seattle he’s suffered repeated break-ins, including one this month where someone smashed a rock through the front glass door to steal bikes. And another last week when a man lying on the sidewalk, who got angry after being asked to move, forced the door while Gassmann was inside.

An officer who stopped by later commented Gassmann should consider moving his shop to Bellevue. That’s when he knew it was over.

“Here’s a police officer telling me to get the [bleep] out of Seattle, or else it’ll just happen again,” Gassmann said. “I can’t have $30,000 worth of bikes sitting behind a thin layer of glass in this neighborhood, with no protection and nobody to call. There’s just no way I can continue to run this business.”

As Gassmann was telling me this, Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz was testifying before the City Council. He was there to present last year’s crime report.


But then the council and the chief also had an extended group struggle session about how the city hasn’t been able to either hire more cops, or stand up much in the way of alternatives to the traditional gun-and-badge response.

To put some numbers to it: Since 2020 the department has lost 515 officers and hired 190. That’s a net loss of 325. Last year, nearly 160 officers left and fewer than 70 were hired, despite Mayor Bruce Harrell’s much-publicized recruitment efforts and hiring bonus programs.

At the same time, the council and two mayors have talked for nearly three years about forming responder teams of social workers or mental health counselors to go to some calls in lieu of police.

Two council members, Alex Pedersen and Andrew Lewis, said during Tuesday’s hearing that they’ve noticed when meeting with police that morale is low. “There’s a real skepticism from front-line officers,” Lewis said about the city’s plans to set up alternative responder groups.

Right. That’s because back in the defund-the-police days, the council vowed to whack the police budget by 50% and use that money to fund alternative responders. So there’s a very human reason the cops aren’t really down with this program — it was proposed at their expense.

The council has since abandoned defund the police, and now wants to create the social worker teams in addition to, even alongside, the police.


“It’s in cahoots with the police, not in an adverse way,” Lewis suggested Tuesday (channeling the name of an Oregon social services program called CAHOOTS). “We need a rhetorical reframing of this conversation.”

To Mr. Gassmann, the bike shop owner: If you’d like to know why cops are grousing that you should move to Bellevue, and also why there’s no one to help when you call — not the police, and also not social workers — it’s ultimately because city leaders from the council to police brass still haven’t gotten past the wounds of that defund-the-police debacle.

By the description of three recent incidents at Wallingford’s School of Bike, there’s a strong chance these cases wouldn’t be best handled by traditional policing anyway. (I say this because the men who broke in all were sleeping in the doorway beforehand, or were in some stage of crisis, according to Gassmann.) The bike shop needs protection, but the people most likely need a clinic, not jail.

It’s beyond maddening then that our city hasn’t scaled up a health-focused alternative to the cops. New Jersey’s doing it, Denver did it, Houston, Austin and so on. The Seattle Fire Department has a small, paramedic-led service, called Health One — so there’s no need to invent a new team, they could expand Health One citywide. Diaz did say Tuesday that some firefighters on drug calls have reported being assaulted, so one catch is these units may need police backup as well.

But whether you loathe the police or think they’re the answer, the fact is that 300-plus bodies who used to respond to 911 calls are gone — and haven’t been replaced with anything but small pilot programs.

“We don’t really have these prevention services or substance abuse services” to refer any cases to, Diaz told the council. So the cops last year went to 3,200 drug overdose calls, up from 1,400 the year before. Everyone nods that this is a poor use of crime-fighting resources. Yet here Seattle is doing it more than ever.

A plan for a new crisis team is coming soon, both the mayor and council insist. The bike shop owner says whatever it turns out to be, it’s too late for him.

“My front door is plywood, I’ve got it locked all day during business hours, I can’t do this anymore,” Gassmann said. “I’m angry to say, the bike shop is done. I’m thinking of going into the painting business.”