SPD Officers Return During Budget Spat; Police Club Dumped Debris in Wetland; and Inmates Begin Hunger Strike Over Transfer

1. Two officers rejoined the SPD on Tuesday after quitting and transferring to other law enforcement agencies during the surge in attrition last year.

Sergeant Lauren Truscott, who worked in SPD’s homicide unit before transferring to a command role at the Issaquah Police Department last fall, said during her swearing-in that she decided to return to Seattle after the death of Officer Alexandra Harris, a member of SPD’s protest response team killed in a hit-and-run on I-5 in June. Truscott previously worked with Harris in SPD’s officer wellness unit. Truscott won’t return to her position in the homicide unit; instead, SPD has assigned her to a patrol shift. Officer Tyler Poole—the other returnee sworn in on Wednesday—will also join a patrol unit; Poole previously worked as a patrol officer based in the north precinct. For now, the department has opted to assign new hires to its patrol operations instead of investigative units.

Truscott and Poole aren’t the first former SPD officers to return to the department this year; according to Interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz, nine people have returned to SPD in the past six months. Like Truscott, most returnees transferred to other police departments in Washington in the summer and fall of 2020. During Wednesday’s ceremony, Diaz said his department hopes to double the number of returnees. He added that officers who previously left SPD might be enticed to come back by the new $25,000 hiring bonus available to officers who transfer from other departments—a bonus that Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan introduced by executive order in late October. According to Diaz, the incentives allow SPD to compete with other nearby law enforcement agencies for recruits.

Because the returning officers left SPD in the recent past, Diaz noted that the department can send them into the field after only a week or two of training.

During the swearing-in ceremony, Diaz took a moment to criticize the 2022 budget rebalancing package City Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda introduced on Tuesday afternoon. The package includes slightly more than $10 million in reductions to the SPD budget originally proposed by Durkan; most of the reductions target salaries for positions that the council does not expect SPD to fill in 2022. “We cannot take from the Seattle Police Department’s budget because it compromises public safety,” he said, claiming that the council’s budget package would require “eliminating 30 officers.”

“It is really misleading for Chief Diaz or anybody in the mayor’s administration to assume that this will result in a cut in staffing.” —Council Member and Budget Chair Mosqueda

The council’s budget proposal likely would not require SPD to lay off any existing officers. While the council’s rebalancing package would provide enough money for SPD to hire its goal of 125 officers, it assumes that a higher number of departures will cancel any growth of the department’s ranks, leaving SPD with 31 fewer officers than the mayor and Diaz hoped.  According to Mosqueda, of the 80 officers who received exemptions from the city’s vaccine mandate, about a dozen will likely lose their jobs by January because SPD won’t be able to accommodate their health risks. 

“There is not a single cut to an officer, maybe to the chagrin of some. But there’s no reduction in staff,” Mosqueda told PubliCola on Wednesday. “There’s no reductions in salary, there is the full funding for SPD’s hiring plan. It is really misleading for Chief Diaz or anybody in the mayor’s administration to assume that this will result in a cut in staffing.”

Councilmember Andrew Lewis, however, raised skepticism on Wednesday that an increase in attrition would neatly cancel out SPD’s hiring plans. “I’m not saying [the council’s estimate for attrition from SPD] should be lower or higher,” he said. “I’d just like [our estimate] to be based on something more defensible than the number of hires, which is what it appears to be.”

Mosqueda responded that the council could lower its attrition estimates and leave SPD with more money to spend on salaries, but she argued that the current estimate of 125 departures “may actually be conservative.” So far, neither the council nor SPD have found a reliable way to predict attrition; in the past year, departures from SPD have outpaced both the council and the department’s estimates.

2. The Seattle Police Athletic Association—a 70-year-old nonprofit that runs a clubhouse and firing range for Seattle Police Officers—and the City of Seattle are still working to clean up a wetland in Tukwila after the association dumped truckloads of dirt, tires, concrete and other debris onto the marshy banks of the Duwamish River. The project, intended to build up the backstop for the association’s firing range, caught the attention of Tukwila’s code enforcement office in April.

After a community member complained that the association was dumping debris into the wetland without a permit, an environmental impact study, or erosion prevention measures, a Tukwila inspector visited the site and found a 300-foot-long mound of dirt and debris on a bank above the river. Elsewhere on the site, the inspector found a small wetland partially filled with broken concrete.

Tukwila’s code enforcement office issued a stop-work order in May, requiring the removal of the mound of dirt and an impact survey by early June; the order also requires the replanting of trees and other wetland vegetation.

Part of the damaged wetland sits on property owned by Seattle’s Department of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS); an agreement from the early 1950s allows the association to use the FAS property. According to Seattle City Attorney’s Office spokesman Dan Nolte, the city has taken on responsibility for complying with Tukwila’s orders. He could not divulge how much the restoration will cost.

The Seattle Police Athletic Association has not responded to a request for comment.

Inmates in a minimum-security unit at the Coyote Ridge Correctional Facility in the Cascade Mountains began a hunger strike last week to protest their upcoming transfer to a medium-security unit within the same prison. 

3. Inmates in a minimum-security unit at the Coyote Ridge Correctional Facility in the Cascade Mountains began a hunger strike last week to protest their upcoming transfer to a medium-security unit within the same prison, claiming that they will be targets for harassment and assault in the new unit. The Washington Department of Correction’s (DOC) is set on consolidating a shrinking inmate population. Since 2018, the number of people in state custody has dropped from 18,000 to fewer than 14,000; to cut costs and cope with a mounting staffing shortage, the DOC has begun closing some lower-security units, particularly at the Monroe Correctional Complex in Snohomish County. Additionally, the state’s 2021-2023 biennial budget requires the DOC to reduce prison spending by $80 million over the next two years—a deadline that has spurred the DOC to speed up its consolidation.

According to DOC spokeswoman Rachel Ericson, the unit closure at Coyote Ridge is also intended to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak: the medium-security unit has in-cell bathrooms, while the minimum-security unit has shared bathrooms.

According to one inmate in minimum-security custody at the Coyote Ridge facility who asked to remain anonymous, the DOC will begin relocating the inmates housed in his unit—roughly 225 people, including some inmates with sex offenses—to higher-security cells next week. The goal of the hunger strike, he said, is to pressure the DOC to call off the transfer. While strike organizers hope that the protest will spread unit-wide, the exact number of strikers remains uncertain.

The transfer may only be temporary: as courts across the state work through their backlogs of criminal cases—a widespread consequence of the pandemic—the DOC may need to reopen the minimum-security unit to make space for new arrivals.

3 thoughts on “SPD Officers Return During Budget Spat; Police Club Dumped Debris in Wetland; and Inmates Begin Hunger Strike Over Transfer”

  1. Erica: Having arrived at the most recent article, I find your silence on the wasted $800,000 in homeless funds in Seattle to be deafening. Apparently, the rampant fraud in these homeless programs does not fit your narrative. I eagerly await your fake news excuses. Steve Willie.

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