As hundreds of unvaccinated city employees are placed on leave or facing termination, the city of Seattle will start offering hiring bonuses to Seattle Police Department and 911 dispatch hires to address “critical ongoing staffing challenges,” Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office said late Friday. 

Durkan announced an emergency order that would provide hiring bonuses of up to $25,000 for laterally hired and $10,000 for newly hired officers and staff to the SPD and the Community Safety and Communications Center.

“When residents call 911, they expect an officer to show up — and when they call the 911 emergency line, they expect that someone will answer the phone,”  Durkan said in a news release. “Hiring, recruiting and training takes months, and we need to act now to ensure we can have trained and deployable staff. Seattle cannot keep waiting to address the real public safety officer hiring and retention crisis we are experiencing in Seattle right now.”

Staffing in the city and nationwide had been strained by the pandemic, but took a further hit in Seattle last week when several hundred medically or religiously exempted employees were put on leave to await potential accommodations after Durkan’s citywide COVID-19 vaccine mandate went into effect.

Among those on leave were more than 170 first responders from SPD and the Seattle Fire Department. 

Mike Solan, president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, said Tuesday that SPD’s understaffing problem is less a product of the pandemic, and due instead to a lack of political support for police from the city, which he says began in the wake of protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd last year, and is highlighted by the recent vaccine mandate. 

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“The defunding narrative and the lack of political support has led hundreds of police officers to leave this city,” Solan said, noting that the department is under an emergency staffing procedure. “We’re already at a staffing crisis and then the mayor decides it’s a good idea to enact a mandate. And now since that mandate, we have 100 more officers not working the street.”

Solan said late Friday that the union would issue a statement in response to Durkan’s order on Saturday.

According to the mayor’s office, more than 250 officers have left the SPD in the last two years, causing slower response times and reducing the department’s capacity by over 300,000 service hours.

According to Durkan, the decision to award hiring incentives came after the Seattle City Council did not consider the mayor’s proposed ordinance in July, which would have restored funding to the Seattle Police Department and reinstated 2019 council-approved hiring incentives for the department.

Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz and Interim Director of the CSCC Chris Lombard endorsed the emergency order on Friday.

“Hiring is a challenge for every law enforcement agency right now, and most are offering incentives to attract new members,” Diaz said in the release. “These new hiring bonuses will level the competitive playing field and will allow the SPD to attract the highest caliber employees we need to protect and serve all people of Seattle.”