The city of Seattle is officially in unchartered territory thanks to Democrat Mayor Jenny Durkan’s vaccine mandate.
Roughly 10% of the already understaffed Seattle Police Department has been pulled from the job because they have not submitted proof of vaccination. Staffing is at record lows, with the SPD initiating Stage 3 Mobilization emergency operations, which pulls non-patrol officers from their units to respond to 911 calls.
The vast majority of Seattle police are fully vaccinated, but the weekend before the October 18 deadline, approximately 400 hadn’t yet submitted their paperwork. Many viewed the mandate as an abuse of power -- government overreach forcing them to provide private medical data to the city.
The staggeringly high number of holdouts prompted a last-minute plea from interim police chief Adrian Diaz to turn in their vaccination paperwork.
"I do not want to lose anyone because of this mandate," Diaz said.
On the day after the deadline, Diaz announced there were six terminations. And thanks to some last-minute changes, sources suggest Durkan is readying a public message to claim even less than the six were fired. But these numbers are intentionally misleading.
Thanks to a disingenuous numbers game meant to downplay the public safety crisis the city created, the public isn’t being told the truth about staffing.
Over 100 officers were pulled from duty and placed on what’s known internally as the HR "unavailable list." It compiles all officers on extended leave, usually due to vacation, illness, injury, or maternity/paternity.
In this case, all the employees added to the list requested an exemption from the mandate. According to an internal memo by Diaz, they are all using accrued time as the department takes the next few weeks to determine "when or whether they will be allowed to return to work."
None of these employees are fired, at least not yet. It’s a technicality that allows Durkan and the SPD to claim they only fired a handful of officers and that it won’t impact public safety. Indeed, the mayor noted ahead of this move that "if someone calls 911, there will not be significant impacts on the response."
Whether technically considered a termination or not is irrelevant when it comes to public safety. It’s a distinction without a difference. Officers were pulled from duty, and it turned a staffing crisis into an emergency.
Before the vaccine mandate, there was only 1,048 deployable staff available to the SPD. That makes the department dramatically understaffed in a city of this size -- one that is experiencing record high violent crime. In 2020, the city experienced a 25-year-high homicide rate, and this year it’s on pace to meet or exceed it. The department couldn’t stand to lose one officer, let alone over 100.
In his memo to staff, Diaz claimed the department implemented "a series of plans" to keep non-patrol officers from returning to the streets to respond to calls. But when he made that claim, the department was already pulling non-patrol officers from specialty units and returning them to the streets to meet minimum staffing requirements for the city.
On both October 19 and 20, non-patrol officers from Domestic Violence, General Investigation, and the High-Risk Victims units, among others, were pulled onto patrol. This has significant consequences.
When detectives are pushed into patrol, they aren’t solving cases, leaving criminals out on the streets to reoffend. And this reallocation of staff will continue. The department announced that it would extend Stage 3 Mobilization through at least the end of the month and that they are restricting new time-off requests until at least November 1. Unless the city changes course on the mandate, it will likely be extended.
The SPD staffing crisis isn’t happening in a bubble, and it comes with unintended consequences as both Seattle Fire, and Washington State Patrol suffered crippling losses.
The Seattle Fire Department is dealing with a similar crisis. According to the Seattle Fire Fighters Union, Local 27, five members are being terminated, with up to 73 pulled from duty pending another review of their denied accommodation requests.
Like the SPD, Seattle Fire was also understaffed prior to the mandate deadline. In fact, several units went offline just days before the mandate deadline. Further staffing disruptions, on top of a debilitated SPD, could lead to more death or serious injury.
In some instances, firefighters and EMTs will not respond to an emergency call without police protection. This was due largely to unruly and aggressive homeless who were attacking firefighters or EMTs when they were called to medical emergencies. If both departments are understaffed, how can the city ensure 911 calls will get a quick response?
At the same time, the Washington State Patrol terminated 74 troopers -- some with decades of experience and training. SPD relies on WSP during area protests where BLM, Antifa, and anarchist radicals have shown a propensity to disrupting freeway traffic. If any one of the large protests that plagued the city in 2020, fueled by anti-police animus in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, occurred today, law enforcement would be overwhelmed.
So what now? It’s a waiting game.
The roughly 100 SPD officers on the HR unavailable were already denied accommodations, initially, signaling they are in line for termination. According to the Mayor’s chief of staff, an "escalation team" will now review the denials, and if they concur with the decision, the employee is given one more opportunity to plead their case. If the decision-makers remain unmoved, the employee will be terminated.
But as this weeks-long process unfolds, Seattleites will experience life without a fully functioning police force. That will almost certainly put them at risk. Unfortunately, it may take crime to spiral even more out of control to get the city to rethink its accommodation denials.