Are Seattle’s police officers fleeing the department in a “mass exodus” thanks to an oppressive political climate that just won’t let them do their jobs?

That’s the case being made by conservative talk radio host Jason Rantz and Hana Kim of Q13 Fox News, who recently published stories full of police union leaders and frightening off-the-record quotes from Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers, but their narrative didn’t hold up when the story came up in federal court this week.

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Watch U.S. District Judge James Robart, who is currently monitoring court-mandated reforms within SPD, fact-check the story with the help of SPD’s Chief Operating Officer Brian Maxey.

Now before you pile on in the comments saying that “It’s true! SPD cops hate their life right now!” keep in mind that Robart is not claiming that morale is high among SPD cops, because that’s not the point of Rantz and Kim’s story.

The story Rantz, Kim, and the police union are pushing is not just that morale is low, but that it’s forcing cops out of the city and creating a public safety disaster in the process.

That is simply not the case, as Robart and Maxey clearly demonstrate.

Let’s start with whether or not a mass exodus is creating a public safety hazard.

Are more cops leaving this year than years past? Rantz claims that 41 officers have left so far, “putting them on pace to exceed last year’s 79…” But Rantz fails to include the fact that 39 officers left the department over the same time last year, which means we are currently at the trivial difference of only two officers in a department with around 1,400 people.

That, my friends, is what you call a lie of omission. Yes, Rantz is correct to say that 41 is, in fact, a larger number than 39, but without telling his listeners and readers the minuscule difference between the two numbers he has obscured the true nature of the situation.

Kim also committed this lie of omission, but she at least provided another piece of perspective that further erodes this “mass exodus” narrative. Kim points out that the city’s police force is actually growing – last year 79 officers left but the city recruited 102 new people.

And neither journalist pointed out that of the 41 officers that left so far this year, 21 are due to retirement, according to Maxey.

Rantz told me over Twitter that he omitted the 39 number because he “printed what I thought was relevant to the actual point…” Kim directed my questions to her news director, Erica Hill, who told me that she couldn’t answer my questions about missing facts in their story, but that “we stand by what we reported.”

Now that we have established that there is neither a “mass exodus” nor even a simple “exodus,” let’s discuss the second part of this narrative put forth by Kim and Rantz: that the political climate is forcing these officers out.

Kim writes:

“The source says the number of younger officers leaving the force and frustrated over city politics is higher than usual.

“Worker bees on the street, they don't feel appreciated. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” said the source.

The union calls what’s happening a mass exodus—something it says will have a direct impact on public safety.

“Less officers on the streets, less safe for the citizens—and when you have all these officers you have invested all this money in and they are leaving for Tacoma, Olympia, Pierce County and Snohomish County,” O’Neill said.”


Now, this is a bit frightening—are our city's policies forcing the fresh young faces of our police force to flee to other counties?

This could very well be the case. Last year, the City Council passed a historic rewrite of how the police force is governed, including the policies surrounding how officers are investigated and punished for wrongdoing. Those policies are now being implemented across the department which could naturally be ruffling some feathers.

But what if there’s some other reason those 20 officers left? What if there were a $15,000 bonus and the chance to move to a place with a lower cost of living?

That, it turns out according to Maxey, is not a hypothetical but rather a reality. Other municipalities across the state are offering officers incentives, sometimes as high as $15,000, to leave Seattle and join their departments.

So, not only are we not dealing with a mass exodus, but these departures might have more to do with the financial self-interest of the departing 20 officers than their views on police reform.

Maxey brings up one more point that is hardly mentioned in the Rantz and Kim stories—that the department is having difficulty recruiting new police officers because officer wages haven’t increased since 2014, when the city’s contract with the union expired. The city and the Seattle Police Guild, which represents around 1,200 officers in the department, have been at an impasse since then.

If a contract were approved it would presumably increase those wages to 2018 levels and attract more officers to the department. What’s holding up the negotiations? We do not know, because the police unions have fought to keep every aspect of the negotiations secret. What we do know is that, as Robart puts it, “it takes two groups to dance or two parties to dance in contract negotiations.”

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“If the officers wanted to reach a contract they could reach a contract,” Robart said.

Let’s recap: there is no mass exodus, the officers that have left might be leaving more for financial reasons than political, and the union itself is partly to blame for the trouble in attracting new talent.

It turns out what holds water in off-the-record interviews on conservative radio doesn’t stand up to the rigor of a court of law, where lying is called perjury and judges understand basic statistics.

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