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caption: A Seattle police officer holds down the feet of an individual who was arrested during the sweep of unhoused community members at Cal Anderson Park  on Friday, December 18, 2020, in Seattle.
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A Seattle police officer holds down the feet of an individual who was arrested during the sweep of unhoused community members at Cal Anderson Park on Friday, December 18, 2020, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Jenny Durkan on more police vs. community-based solutions: 'It's a false choice ... we need both'

After a series of unrelated shootings that left multiple people injured and at least five dead around Seattle last weekend, Mayor Jenny Durkan says the city needs more police officers.

More than 200 officers have left the Seattle Police Department in the last 17 months. Mayor Durkan said that's likely to increase to about 300 officers by the end of 2021. In an interview with KUOW, Durkan says she is not surprised about the number of officers leaving, after other city leaders took up calls to cut the police department's budget.

But the mayor argues that the city can support its police force and community-based programs to reduce violence.

"It's a false choice if we say 'do you need community-based solutions or do you need police?'" Durkan explained. "We need both. But we need them to be working in harmony to provide true community safety."

RELATED: Seattle mayor calls for more officers following deadly shootings

Durkan points to SPD's Community Service Officer program, which she plans to expand. She says those officers have been successful in gaining trust and are effective in situations when traditional armed officers may not be.

That's the other piece of the future of policing puzzle: replacing officers with service-providers when an armed response is not necessary.

"We know that there are 911 calls where you need an armed police officer to show up, but we also know there's other calls where you don't," Durkan said. "We can free up police officers, so they're not used in calls where maybe they're not the best response or it's not what they need to be doing. And then, we have our police officers available to answer those 911 calls where they really are needed."

Consider the four shootings that took place across the city early Sunday morning. Every available officer had to respond to those incidents, she says, with one shift reporting for duty early while another stayed on late.

The mayor did not comment on if, or how, SPD should have its budget cut as other city leaders have advocated for amid the defund the police movement.

"You can't just cut police," she says. "You have to have other alternatives built up to take some of the calls the police shouldn't be taking."

And that gets at the city's ability to attract and retain good recruits to the police force.

"It's really important for any employee to know that their service is valued. It's even more important when you have a very difficult and challenging job," Durkan says. "We need our police officers to know that if they do their job like we ask — they serve the community, there's constitutional policing, they follow the rules — we support them. Because we need them."

If Durkan learned anything during last summer's protests for racial equity and justice, it's that the community — including police — wants this relationship to improve.

"The criticism is fair in one regard: We need to do more," Durkan said. "But we also need to engage community deeply, because the first defense against violence is the community itself."