For the last year of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s term, the Seattle Police Department has staffed a security detail outside her home for 24 hours a day.

Durkan has faced continuous threats with no modern precedent for a Seattle mayor, according to SPD, and the department’s assessment of her security began to change in late June of 2020. That was when demonstrators first marched to her home and made public her address, which is protected under a state confidentiality program because of threats against her while she was a U.S. attorney.

Durkan said in an interview that she takes threats seriously, pointing to her friendship with Thomas Wales, a federal prosecutor who was shot to death at home in 2001, and her acquaintance with Esther Salas, a federal judge in New Jersey whose son was killed on her doorstep by someone looking for Salas.

“Those impacts on a family are real, which is why it was so important to me to have that protection,” she said. Citing the first protest that brought people to her home, she said, “Now when I get death threats from people, I don’t have the security of knowing they can’t find my family.”

Police did not say precisely when the mayor’s home detail began, but officers assigned to it logged at least 2,964 hours — 60% of them overtime — for a cost of nearly $230,000 from October of 2020 through early August, according to records reviewed by The Seattle Times.

The department said it has generally fielded two officers a day — drawn from the North Precinct and the Collaborative Policing Bureau — to safeguard the mayor’s residence.


Randall Huserik, a Seattle Police Department spokesperson, said Durkan’s safety “would not have been an issue” had her address not become public. He said, “We are not aware of a mayor that has had continuous threats” like Durkan, whose security risk was compounded by having served as the region’s top federal prosecutor.

Durkan, whose salary was about $230,000 in 2020, donated her pay back to the city beginning in late May through the end of last year, according to a Durkan spokesperson and Glen Lee, the city’s finance director. She said at the time it was to help the city cut costs amid a revenue shortfall.

Mayors of other large cities, such as New York and Boston, have long had 24-hour police details, but until now that hasn’t been the norm in Seattle. Past mayors may have had round-the-clock protection for brief periods, but most security details generally have accompanied a mayor at work or to and from events, said a former senior Seattle police official.

“We kind of assessed it from time to time on a case-by-case basis,” said the official, who declined to speak publicly on security practices that may have changed.

Durkan isn’t the only elected official whose home has been a target of protesters. Council members Alex Pedersen and Debora Juarez were visited by demonstrators last year who tagged their property with insults after they declined to sign on to a push, supported by other council members, to cut SPD’s budget by 50%.

“It does have a chilling effect,” Juarez said of receiving such threats. “Nobody should have to weigh violence to themselves or their family when they make the decision to be a public servant.”


Durkan has received more than two dozen graphic, derogatory messages and death wishes over the last year and a half, according to a review of social media posts and emails provided by the mayor’s office. They are among thousands of hateful emails that Durkan received, according to spokesperson Stephanie Formas, who added that the mayor personally paid to have graffiti cleaned up at her home.

The mayor has received at least five separate death threats since 2017, according to court records and voice and email messages provided by her staff. Three people have been prosecuted.

Formas said there have been additional threats against the mayor and her family that are being investigated.

A turning point came when protesters marched to Durkan’s home in June 2020 and returned there on later dates, leaving graffiti that read “Guillotine Jenny” and “Resign Bitch,” according to the mayor’s office. Durkan has blamed Councilmember Kshama Sawant for leading the march and compromising her safety.

Sawant, who survived a recall election this month that was based in part on her participation in the protest, didn’t respond to requests for comment. She has disputed the accusation that she knew the mayor’s address or led the march.

As Durkan dealt with personal safety concerns in the summer of 2020, she clashed with the City Council over its push to cut SPD’s funding by 50%, blaming council members for an exodus of officers that included former Chief Carmen Best.

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“We need alternatives to armed police responses, and we have significantly ramped up these alternatives,” Durkan said this fall. “But when someone calls 911 with a dangerous, potentially life-threatening emergency — we need enough police officers to respond.”   

Durkan said she publicly took this position before SPD began providing security at her home and that her views were informed by years of working in and around law enforcement.

Seattle police declared a staffing crisis after a historically high number of officers left the department in 2020. The time it took officers to respond to 911 calls jumped that summer, with SPD attributing it to staffing and critics charging that it stemmed from an overly aggressive approach to policing demonstrations.

“While there is a staffing challenge, we cannot have the mayor [be] a victim of multiple threats and subjected to potential harm,” Huserik, the department spokesman, said in an email.

Just 20 days after Durkan was elected in 2017, a man in Canada left a voice message at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Western Washington threatening to kill her, court records show. The man previously had been charged by the office for threatening to kill a prosecutor and was ultimately found not competent to stand trial.

He was arrested in May 2018 after crossing the border into Washington, where he was found with handcuffs and a fake FBI badge. He was again found not competent to stand trial.


In February, Durkan obtained a protective order against a woman who repeatedly visited her house and allegedly threatened her life on Christmas Eve in 2020. The woman returned to the mayor’s home and tossed a bag of papers onto her property in August, and she was charged in Seattle Municipal Court with violating the court order and trespassing.

A police report says the papers contained “no threatening notes.” An attorney for the woman claims she was exercising free speech and is seeking the dismissal of the charge for violating the order.

In April, a man with a lengthy history of mental illness and criminal convictions left the mayor a voice message, saying, “I’m going to kill you and going to kill your whole family,” according to charging documents.

The man pleaded guilty in mental health court, court records show. Durkan wrote a letter to the judge supporting the man’s participation in the court-supervised mental health program.

Durkan said the continuous threats contributed to her decision not to run for reelection.

“It was hugely impactful on me and my family,” she said. “For me, the real question is how do we stop that tide,” referring to the rise in threats against elected officials nationally. “People will quit wanting to serve if they can’t protect their families.”

Seattle Times staff reporters Sarah Grace Taylor and Daniel Beekman contributed to this article.