County jail booking for Seattle shut down for eight hours from Sunday night to Monday morning due to a staffing shortage that has plagued the region for months.
"For about eight hours overnight, bookings at King County Correctional Facility downtown were paused so staff could prioritize safe operations inside the jail," communications specialist for the King County’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention Noah Haglund told Fox News Digital on Monday evening.
King County is the most populous county in Washington state, with Seattle serving as county seat. The pause on booking occurred between 9 p.m. on Sunday and 6 a.m. on Monday, but exceptions were made "for serious and violent offenses," Haglund told Fox News Digital.
The temporary closure of booking at the jail comes two months after the smaller jail at Regional Justice Center was closed for booking due to staffing issues, according to Fox 13.
The temporary pause on booking in King County set off intense criticisms from the President of the Correction Officers’ Guild in King County, Dennis Folk, who called the move "bad, bad business."
"There are people in our society that need to go to jail when they commit a crime and when the jail closed its doors, what option do these police officers have?" Folk said, according to Fox 13.
Folk said that he began receiving an influx of calls from law enforcement officers on Sunday asking what they should do if they arrest a suspect.
"So they were concerned - ‘what happens if I have to arrest someone and I need to book them into jail overnight? Where am I going to go?’" he said of the calls.
At least one person was booked at the King County jail, according to Haglund. While at least four other suspects were transported and booked at Snohomish County Jail, Fox 13 reported.
Staffing shortages among law enforcement officials in the Seattle area have been raging for months.
There are currently 92 vacancies for corrections officers in King County. While the King County Sheriff’s office said in June it "did redeploy from some of our specialty units" due to staffing issues. Among the Seattle Fire Department, it has been understaffed 69% of the time in 2022 and has spent more than $11 million to fund overtime for the remaining personnel to cover the gaps, KTTH radio host Jason Rantz reported Monday.
"Police officers, corrections officers, everyone is facing a staffing shortage that really impacts everyone countywide," Casey McNerthney, spokesperson for the King County Prosecutor’s Office, told KIRO 7.
Seattle has continued its coronavirus vaccine mandates for government employees, which triggered widespread worry last year that law enforcement departments would be gutted for not complying. At the Sheriff’s office alone, at least 39 deputies were fired for not complying.
Haglund told Fox News Digital that "COVID has presented unique challenges for staffing," similar to "many employers across the region." More than 20 officers stayed on an extra shift Sunday night to help fill the gaps, while the King County jail system has hired "more than three dozen new corrections officers" in recent days.
But Folk stressed, "We are losing people at a rate faster than we can hire them."
Coronavirus vaccine mandates came at a time when staffing shortages were plaguing police departments across the country following 2020’s anti-police rhetoric, which echoed from coast to coast during protests and riots following the death of George Floyd.
In Seattle, riots raged continuously in the summer of 2020. Murders spiked by 61% that year compared to 2019, notching the highest number of murders in 26 years. As of April of this year, violent crime was up 32% compared to 2021, the Seattle Times reported.