SEATTLE, Wash. — Police departments across the country are facing a staffing crisis. Seattle is just one department that has the chance to use these openings for real change.
The streets of Seattle look very different since the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. Sgt. Randy Huserik says as an officer, his life has changed drastically over the last year.
"Anybody that saw the George Floyd video was horrified by it. For me two reasons, one as a human being to see a human being treating another person like that, but worst yet for me, it was a police officer," Huserik said.
Huserik says that killing was a defining moment for the Seattle Police Department and other departments across the country.
“But to have seen 200 plus officers leave in such a short amount of time, it’s been devastating to the department, it’s been devastating to the city, it’s hard," Huserik said.
They are experiencing a staffing crisis with hundreds of officers leaving the department. Chief Adrian Diaz had to change the entire layout of their team.
“But really last year was an anomaly," Diaz said. “Where we lost 186 officers last year and this year we’re at 74 officers. I had to put 100 officers back into patrol, that meant I had officers that were in specialty units and I had to move them back into patrol.”
Fewer officers on the streets is certainly a concern for them, but the bigger problem is why many of these officers left in the first place.
“Not only the demonstrations and the protests and everything that surrounded it, but what many of them saw was a lack of support from elected officials in the city," Huserik said,
Some resigned to work at departments with more community support and others decided to retire.
“The guys that I came up with and have spent my entire career working with are leaving," Huserik said. “A lot of the new student officers that I supervise that have five-six years on or less have left.”
Even Huserik has considered leaving but there is a reason he has stayed.
“I’d be lying if I said no so let’s put it that way," Huserik said. “Why have I stayed? Because I want to be a part of the continued change.”
Now with more than 200 officers gone, the department has a fighting chance.
“And this is a great opportunity for us to really start to have discussions with our community about what does it expect of its police department? What does it want out of its police department?” Diaz said.
“You want to see new officers coming to the department that are a reflection of the community we serve," Huserik said.
Alongside Seattle, departments in New York, Minneapolis, Louisville, Portland, and Atlanta are just a few of the others facing a similar issue. These cities, along with numerous smaller departments, are watching their staffs decrease. Now the goal is filling the void.
“That part of it has been difficult because I’ve seen so many of my peers leave," Huserik said.
“The thing that changes the culture of the system, it’s really partnerships, problem-solving and organizational transformation," Diaz said.
Both Huserik and Diaz say permanent change is about community trust, local support, and finding the right officers.
“I guess that’s the idea I want to leave people is, if you need help you find a police officer because that’s what they are going to do," Huserik said.