Urban Politics #222: Funding More Police

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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.




I have received a number of citizen requests for supporting additional police officers to this City’s biennium budget. Public safety is the primary responsibility of municipal government, as evidenced by the fact that 54% of the Mayor’s 2007- 2008 General Fund budget (funds generated by local taxes) is proposed to be spent on public safety.

The Mayor’s proposed 2007-2008 budget includes funding for six police officers. These officer positions were temporarily funded by Sound Transit to help direct traffic during light rail construction. That funding from Sound Transit is scheduled to end this year. Assuming the Council adopts the Mayor’s proposal, these six officers would be moved from traffic control to patrol duties, essentially adding six new officers funded out of the General Fund. Last year, eight new officers were funded, and in 2005 an additional 25 were funded restoring positions that had previously been unfilled due to lean budget times.

The Mayor’s proposed 2007-2008 budget also includes funding to put combined cameras and mobile data computers in all patrol vehicles. In addition, each officer will be issued his/her own laptop computer to be used with the new Records Management System, intended to improve efficiency and increase accountability.

I am working with all of the Council Members to put together a Public Safety Package that includes as many police officers as possible. Many have contacted my office about the need for greater public safety. Although Council Members vary on how many new officers the City needs and can afford, what I believe unites all of us is a recognition that the City needs a solid Public Safety Package that addresses maintenance, intervention and prevention. I believe, based on national studies, that just adding police alone without addressing the underlying causes for crime through intervention and prevention will not reduce incidents of criminal behavior.

We want a long range plan for increasing our police force on a sustainable basis. We do not want to be in a situation that King County found itself a couple of years ago when they had to start cutting basic services and programs because tax revenue decreased when the economy hit hard times. And Seattle itself had to cut over $120 million from our budget over a three year period when our economy went into recession. It makes little sense to incur the cost of training new officers if we can’t afford to keep them in a few years.

For this reason the request for 50 police officers next year and an additional 50 in 2008 while perhaps a worthy goal is not sustainable. The total operating cost would amount to about $5 million in 2007 and $9 million in 2008. In 2007, new police recruit/student officers will cost the City approximately $72,000 each, including salary, benefits, and one-time costs. New second year officers will cost us approximately $75,000 each, while the average 10-year officer will cost us approximately $92,000. That does not include an additional car at over $40,000 for each officer on patrol.

The Mayor’s proposed budget for this period is balanced which means that every dollar we spend is taken from another City function. The Council will make cuts in the millions of dollars to the Mayor’s budget to fund public safety and other needs that have not been adequately addressed. But to simply promote an addition of 50 police officers or any specific number that is not part of a comprehensive and sustainable Public Safety Package I strongly believe is not a responsible and thoughtful way to run government.

In addition, Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske recently appeared before the City Council to discuss the staffing issue. He said that the Department will hire some 70 new officers in 2007, largely replacing those officers who are expected to retire or quit. This is about the highest number of new officers than can be trained and deployed. (Seattle Police officers receive their training at the state-operated training academy, which has a limited number of training slots.) He also indicated that the competitive job market makes it difficult for SPD (and other departments) to find enough qualified candidates.

Despite these constraints, Chief Kerlikowske said that both he and the Mayor are committed to adding more officers in the future, and that his Public Safety Team are working to determine the appropriate number of new patrol officers needed over the next few years, as well the metrics to measure the effectiveness of adding these new officers. He expects to report back to the City Council with this information early next year.

As part of that process Council Member Steinbrueck and I are sponsoring a resolution stating the City Council’s intent to develop a multi-year plan for police staffing and requesting recommendations from the Mayor on police staffing. Such a plan must include standards of service that will allow the Council and the public an opportunity to asses the effectiveness of how our Police Department is making fighting crime and making our streets and homes safer.

As the Public Safety Chair I have visited every Council Member one on one and have solicited their advice and suggestions for a Public Safety Package. Support is starting to build to roll out a proposal for a package that will provide more patrol officers, an enlarged gang unit, greater resources for prosecuting graffiti crimes and neighborhood disturbances, and providing safer pedestrian crossings for school children as well as funding programs to engage high risk youth in constructive activities.

Ultimately the package will depend on what cuts are made to the Mayor’s proposed budget and of course having the majority of the Council Members agree to a public safety package. To date I have received positive comments from Council Members for a Public Safety Package that could range from $5 million to over $7 million in the biennium budget.

I expect that by the end of the first week in November, Council Members will be clearer in what they can support and I am confident that it will result in more police and a more comprehensive approach to public safety.

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