Seattle’s police department is sending detectives and non-patrol officers to respond to emergency calls because of a shortage of patrol officers that union leaders fear will become worse because of COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
The department on Wednesday moved to the emergency officer dispatching scenario because of the staffing crunch.
KOMO reports the department has lost more than 300 officers over the past year. Nearly 300 more could face termination if they do not comply with an Oct. 18 deadline to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“We can’t afford to lose one, that’s how desperate we are to hold onto to people,” said police union president Mike Solan. “If we lose more officers, the public safety situation will become that much more untenable here.”
According to figures from the Seattle mayor’s office, 782 officers have submitted proof of COVID-19 vaccination, while 98 officers are seeking exemptions and 186 have not turned in paperwork.
Officials hope more will submit the required paperwork as the deadline approaches.
“Come October 19th will look at what the next steps are for the officers who at this point have not turned in their vaccination cards,” police spokesman Sgt. Randy Huserik said last week.
The staffing shortage came as the Seattle area, like other U.S. metropolitan regions, is experiencing a gun violence surge. Fatal shootings over the first nine months of 2021 in King County, which includes Seattle, already exceed last year's year-end total.
As of the end of September, 73 people had been killed and 283 injured in shootings in King County this year, according to data from the King County Prosecutor’s Shots Fired Project.
For all off 2020, there were 69 firearm-related homicides and 268 nonfatal shootings in King County.