When Mayor Bruce Harrell took office, he summarized his plan for transforming the Seattle Police Department by saying it was all about hiring “the right number and the right kind of officer.” That sound bite, repeated often, reflects a persistent delusion among liberal police reformers that reduces policing’s ills to a matter of mere personnel. According to this view, the path to reform entails weeding out the “bad apples” and recruiting a diverse new generation of cops with a “guardian mindset” and a community-centered outlook. 

During the protests over the murder of George Floyd, we heard renewed calls to hire more women officers, who police reformers claim are less likely to use excessive force and more likely to de-escalate. SPD subsequently signed on to the 30 by 30 Pledge, vowing to take steps to increase its proportion of women officers to 30 percent by 2030. It isn’t going so well. 

Women officers feature prominently in SPD’s recruiting materials and make up 40% of the “Meet Our Officers” profiles on the department’s webpage, but they account for only 14.4% of sworn officers, just above the national average. 

The issue appears to be retention, not recruitment. From 2017 to 2022, women comprised 17% of recruits annually on average, yet the proportion of women officers fell by 1 percentage point during that period. 

An SPD spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Before new blood spurs an imagined “culture change,” the “right kind of officer” must first survive in the department’s existing culture. Lawsuits, Office of Police Accountability (OPA) records, and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaints testify to the mistreatment women face at the department, revealing the harsh reality that SPD just doesn’t seem like a great place for women to work. Among other things, this reality frustrates the City’s efforts to wash away the department’s problems with gestures toward diversity and inclusion.

New Suits 

Right now, the City simultaneously faces two high-profile discrimination lawsuits. Denise Bouldin, the public face of the department’s community policing efforts, is suing the City for “daily” racial and gender discrimination. In early January, one of the department’s most senior woman commanders filed a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination after SPD Chief Adrian Diaz unceremoniously demoted her from assistant chief, a position she has held since 2018.

In that latter suit, Capt. Deanna Noellette claims that Diaz has a “history of misogyny,” noting one incident in which he reportedly responded to her concerns about women playing flag football with male officers by suggesting the women could participate as cheerleaders. 

The makeup of Diaz’s command team represents one of the suit’s key pieces of evidence. With the exception of one woman assistant chief, SPD top leadership is now entirely composed of men, all of whom are significantly less experienced. Noellette, first promoted to captain a decade ago, now reports to Asst. Chief Daniel Nelson, who was only a lieutenant for less than three years before Diaz tapped him as interim assistant chief. Asst. Chief Tyrone Davis held a lieutenant’s rank for just two years before taking over Special Operations.

In 2022, the City settled a suit by former SPD Lieutenant Christine Robbin for $270,000. Robbin alleged she faced discrimination and “workplace bullying” from then Assistant Chief Eric Greening, whom she claims berated her, humiliated her, and relieved her of duty on several occasions. Robbin was passed over for a promotion to a job considered a stepping stone to captain. That promotion was given to a male lieutenant who allegedly “did not want the position” against the wishes of Robbin’s precinct captain, who had hand-picked her for the job. Robbin alleged that Greening held a vendetta against her for an earlier complaint she filed with the Office of Civil Rights. 

Not Just the Top Brass

Work life appears no easier for women further down the chain of command, either. According to a 2022 OPA investigation, a junior woman officer received unwanted attention from a veteran cop that she described as “stalkerish.” She said the officer, Det. Greg Tomlinson, did things that set off her “creep-o-meter,” such as manufacturing reasons to bump into her, pulling strings to get them assigned together, and writing a bizarre letter to her ailing father. 

The OPA found Tomlinson didn’t cross the legal threshold for stalking or for violating sexual harassment policies because he didn’t hold rank over her. However, he is a senior officer with prestigious task force assignments, status, and connections, which he apparently used to try to win her affection. The woman officer was later the subject of a frivolous OPA complaint about her lying during the investigation. She had walked back some of her statements—no doubt feeling some pressure. The officer told the OPA that she didn’t want to be “that female officer who complained,” or “that female officer who got special treatment” because a male officer was interested in her.

Another woman officer was allegedly harassed and stalked on the job by her estranged husband, Brian Rees, who is also an SPD officer, according to an affidavit she filed in Snohomish County. The two separated following some conflicts that escalated into violence, she wrote. Rees reportedly would lurk at the precinct where she worked, because he was convinced she was dating another officer. She said he showed up at her new apartment in the middle of the night, accusing her of dating her partner. Rees told her if she were seeing anyone at the precinct, there would be “problems,” and she was scared there would be a “physical confrontation,” according to the affidavit.

The officer told her lieutenant, Matthew Allen, that Rees’s behavior left her “upset and frightened,” but her superiors did little to stop him. Rees was involuntarily transferred but continued to show up at the precinct and wander around for hours after his shift. They did not trespass him from the precinct or facilitate the return of her belongings in a way that respected her comfort or safety, according to the affidavit. 

Command arranged for him to bring her belongings to the precinct without consulting her, a scenario she found “embarrassing.” Rees only brought half of the stuff, and Allen encouraged her to get the rest directly from him in the parking lot of the Everett Police Department, though the prospect made her uncomfortable. Unsurprisingly, the woman left the department a few years later. Rees was promoted to sergeant, and Allen became the captain of the West Precinct. 

Other male officers have troubling histories that could make them terrifying prospective coworkers for women. Several current SPD officers have faced credible accusations of domestic violence, stalking, and inappropriate behavior, but they remain on the department’s payroll.

Ofc. Daniel Perez-Puga threatened to slash his ex’s tires and allegedly assaulted her. He received a lengthy suspension but wasn’t fired. Another officer, Andrew Swartz, has been on paid leave for more than two years while under investigation for claims that he stalked his ex-girlfriend using an electronic tracking device. Though OPA sustained allegations last fall, he still appears on the roster. 

A DV court stripped Officer Benjamin Stanford of his firearm, calling him a high risk for violence. His wife alleged he pushed her down while she was carrying their infant son. In a suspiciously fast investigation, the OPA cleared Stanford without speaking to his wife or any other witnesses who submitted statements supporting her petition for a protective order. 

Higher up the chain, Sgt. Scott Moss was arrested after police responded to find his wife with cuts on her hand. He was later acquitted because his wife would not cooperate with the prosecution. Moss wasn’t charged for another incident in which he allegedly assaulted his teen son. He is now a captain.   

Some officers have also shown a questionable sense of boundaries vis-à-vis women and yet managed to keep their jobs. Officer Daniel Aguirre only received a training referral for “converting a police contact with a DV victim into a romantic relationship” and helping her retrieve property from her ex. In a similar vein, Officer Marcus Jones was suspended for sliding into the DMs of a DV victim’s girlfriend. Officer Micah Smith used police records to get the phone number of an EMT and sent her unwanted texts, claiming he involuntarily committed people just to see her.

It’s reasonable to assume that a department so tolerant of the way its cops treat civilians might also have a light touch when it comes to disciplining the sexual harassment of its female officers. Indeed, self-described “predator” John Knight groped and harassed female officers in the training section for nearly a decade before he was terminated and charged with sexual assault. John Brooks, the supervisor who oversaw the unit, became a captain. 

The department has its work cut out for it if it wants to reach its goal of having 30% women officers in six years. Though SPD’s “women-focused recruiting” materials are chock full of women in uniform smiling, the actual experience of women officers at the department seems decidedly less cheerful. If a woman does somehow survive the boys club of policing and claws her way to the top after years of working cheek-by-jowl with sex pests and abusers, the best she can hope for is getting belittled, passed over, and kicked off a glass cliff. That’s hardly an appealing sales pitch.