Urban Politics #198: A Public Safety Initiative

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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.


A Public Safety Initiative

My Resolution On Public Safety

Last week the City Council voted for Resolution 30773, that I authored and was the prime sponsor on (joined by Councilmembers Della, Rassmussen, and Conlin), doing 3 primary things:

1) Supporting funding new Seattle Police Department officers;

2) Requesting an 2006 Executive budget submittal to the City Council that supports public safety recommendations from the public; and

3) Supporting continued Council deliberations for a November 2005 public safety levy.

You may recall that in 2003 the Seattle Police Department was required, as a result of budget cuts that impacted all City Departments, to reduce sworn positions. After the 2004 budget cuts, I began acting as Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Arts Committee Chair. Over this period of time I have heard a consistent plea for more visible policing as well as restoration of police functions that support community policing.ÊÊ

Crime Summit

In April this year, the Council sponsored a Citywide Neighborhood Crime Summit and Public Hearing. Attending members of the public from all precincts expressed a belief that the number of patrol officers needs to be increased. My resolution expresses support for the bill submitted by the Mayor to fund 25 officers and restore the 2003 position reductions.

Additionally, attending citizens from all precincts let the Council know that they believe that we are most successful in addressing crime when the Seattle Police Department works to share information, identify problems, and create solutions in collaboration with citizens and other relevant agencies including city departments, business organizations, and community-based organizations. This resolution asks the Mayor to deliver a budget that restores the police department functions that help citizens and SPD to work together, such as funding Community Service Officers (CSOs), Crime Prevention Coordinators, and School Resource Officers.

Finally, many citizens attending the summit shared my believe that we must support a comprehensive approach towards fighting crime that addresses the underlying causes of criminal behavior as well as the behavior itself. Specifically, for particular kinds of crime, law enforcement must be linked to providing human services to those offenders who have severe alcohol or drug addictions or mental illness in order to emphasize prevention and treatment as a means for changing in their behavior. Otherwise, after being arrested these folks will end up back on the street. And without any case managers or treatment options, they will most likely be arrested again. This is a pattern that must be broken.

The experience of other cities trying a similar approach, where best practices address public safety in a comprehensive manner; combining traditional law enforcement with the delivery of critical human services have proven to reduce crime rates.

A Public Safety Initiative

The Council has begun discussion of a small potential November 2005 property tax levy to fund a program that addresses both law enforcement and emergency human services. I initially labeled by proposal as the “Civil Streets Initiative” but Council Member Jean Godden has suggested using the name “Safe Streets Initiative”. Whatever the name, it would be a public safety initiative that would provide funds evenly divided between the Seattle Police Department (SPD) and the Human Services Department HSD. But the initiative would mandate that they work together to focus their resources on reducing street level drug and property theft crimes.

In particular the SPD funds would provide for 30 new police officers, above the Mayor’s proposed 25 new police officers. However, they would be assigned differently. Unlike the Mayor’s officers, who would go into patrol cars, these would be assigned to work only in bike and foot patrols during the afternoons and evenings. And they would be distributed throughout the City, six officers per precinct. In that manner, all 30 officers would be deployed at once throughout the city and in a very visible manner.

But just adding patrol officers will not permanently reduce crime. A more effective approach requires involvement of the City’s Human Services Department to provide follow up case management to those arrested who have drug, alcohol and mental illness problems. In the past we would arrest them and then release them back onto the street. In a short time too many would find themselves without the resources they need to keep them out of trouble. The initiative would provide for drug treatment, detox programs, housing and employment opportunities. And most importantly a case manager would work with the offenders to keep them on track towards a more responsible life.

The basic framework for the funding is a 3-year property-tax levy, raising $9 million a year, to be divided equally between SPD and HSD, raising a total of $27 million over the life of the levy. The estimated cost to the average homeowner hit would be about $38 a year, based on a median home being worth $340,000.

The most frequent response that I get from people about this proposal is support for the innovative policy approach, but confusion as to why I propose a property tax levy. People say, “great idea, but shouldn’t the City’s general fund pay for it, rather than a funding source that requires a public vote?”Ê

You might recall that Washington State voters approved Tim Eyman’s Initiative 747, although it was defeated in Seattle. Eyman’s initiative limited the ability of jurisdictions to increase property taxes to meet the costs of services. Absent voter approval of a greater increase, jurisdictions are limited to a 1% increase each year. Prior to I-747, the Council could fund the general fund with a property tax increase sufficient to pay the increased cost of services each year. The cost of City services rises at the rate of inflation, not at the I-747 1% cap.ÊÊ

Initiative 747 essentially cut the City budget by $9 million a year, which is the same amount that the Public Safety Initiative would provide.

The challenge that Tim Eyman laid down was, “Make government accountable. Show us where the money is being spent and then let the people decide.” My initiative does just that. It shows where the dollars will be spent. It takes back the general revenue we lost from I-747 but does not just apply it to general government. It spends it on a specific plan to address a specific problem. And then it offers the plan to the people.

Do you want to hear more? Check out:

City Inside/Out: (June 3, 2005) All the Seattle News you need to know in just 30 minutes! Join host C.R. Douglas in the studio this week as he discusses the Civil Streets Initiative with City Councilmember Nick Licata and Josh Feit, News Editor of The Stranger. http://www2.cityofseattle.net/media/DispVideoList_SC.asp?CatID=24

After you have a chance to see this interview. Please let me and the other Council Members know what you think of this initiative. Your advise and comments are important to me and others on the City Council.

Keep in touch…

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