Urban Politics #224: Council’s Public Safety Package


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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.  (Portions of this UP appeared in my guest column in the Real Change newspaper).

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.

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CONTENTS:

  • COUNCIL’S PUBLIC SAFETY PACKAGE
  • INTERVENTION AND PREVENTION PROGRAMS
  • LONG-TERM PLANNING

 

COUNCIL’S PUBLIC SAFETY PACKAGE

Last week the Seattle City Council unanimously passed the 2007-2008 Budget that contained a Public Safety Package to address citizen’s growing concern about crime in Seattle. The Council broke new ground by presenting a $6 million comprehensive approach to prevent, reduce, and address crime and its impacts. In addition to adding more police officers funds were provided for youth intervention and crime prevention programs and programs that link human services and public safety.

This package is a direct outcome of the Council’s Citywide Neighborhood Crime Forum that I sponsored in the spring of 2005. The forum was an unprecedented opportunity for more than 200 residents, police precinct commanders, and Councilmembers to discuss how to work together across the city to promote security for each of our neighborhoods.

Although there has been much focus on the number of new officers needed by Seattle’s police force, just increasing the number will not necessarily reduce crime, as confirmed by criminal justice studies of metropolitan areas across the nation. For instance, San Jose has the fewest police per capita of seven West Coast cities comparable in size to Seattle yet its crime rate is the lowest. Meanwhile San Francisco has more police and more crime than we do.

When comparing Seattle to these seven comparable cities, we have the second highest number of police on a per capita basis. When we make a comparison to East Coast cities, we find that we have more police per capita because, for one thing, East Coast cities tend to have more uniformed officers at desk jobs.

Nevertheless, while Seattle has had a lower murder, rape, and assault rates than most comparable cities across the nation, we do have one of the highest property crime rates, particularly involving auto thefts. This problem must be addressed and one of the best ways to do so is to increase police visibility on the streets, in and around our schools, libraries, and in other public places. More foot beat and bike patrols would go a long way to reduce outdoor drug markets, car prowls, and car thefts. To help achieve this goal, the Council budget added 30 more officers than the Mayor proposed for 2007 and 2008.

I consider this just the first step in ramping up the number of police officers that Seattle needs. But we must proceed carefully so that we do not lower the quality of our applicants. I believe Seattle’s Police Force is one of the most professional in the nation and I would not want that standard lowered. Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske personally told me that he has seen other police departments expand too quickly hiring many new officers without the proper skills or attitudes resulting in many problems in those departments. It is not a quick or easy process to hire a new police officer. It takes about 9 months once someone is hired to be on the police force as a full time independent officer. And out of about 2,200 applicants received in 2005, only 3% were finally hired.

Other Council public safety budget highlights also include funding four civilian police assistants, to relieve police officers in each precinct of tasks that, while not direct law enforcement, still support a valued public safety objective. Funding for an additional precinct liaison attorney in our two southern precincts will assist police and citizens when the rule of law is needed to reinforce community expectations for responsible business practices and property maintenance. The Council’s budget also funds another investigator for the Office of Professional Accountability to shorten the length of time it takes to investigate citizens’ allegations of police misconduct.

In the end, each city has its own problems to overcome. Intervention and prevention programs must be tailored for the communities they serve. Towards this end, the Council’s Public Safety Package devotes 46 percent of added funds for programs that focus upon public safety problem areas and problem people, while not forgetting to also address the problems that people have that contribute to our most intractable public safety challenges and frequently affect the entire community.

 

INTERVENTION AND PREVENTION PROGRAMS

These are some of the programs that would be supported by the Council’s Public Safety Package.

Rainier Beach and South Park Community Center TechNet Programs teach at-risk youth creative computer use as a job-training strategy.

Reinvesting in Youth provides one-on-one help for troubled youth who need support to fulfill high school graduation expectations.

The Seattle Youth Employment Program employs youth from disadvantaged families.

The Late Night Recreation Program provides a secure environment for youth to engage in chaperoned recreational activities.

Crime prevention efforts of Seattle Housing Authority communities provide community-building skills to residents fighting crime.

And finally, funding was extended for the Council’s own pilot programs to integrate social services and law enforcement efforts in two neighborhoods: the GOTS (Get Off the Streets) Program in the Central Area and the Clean Dreams Program in Rainier Beach. Both programs have police officers and social workers working together to identify specific individuals who need an array of social services to stabilize their lives and keep them out of the criminal justice system.

Seattle’s quality of life is directly tied to the sense of safety that our residents feel when they visit downtown, shop in their neighborhood business districts or when they walk their community’s residential streets. The City Council is committed to investing in strategies, personnel, and programs to promote public safety for citizens in all of our neighborhoods.

 

LONG-TERM PLANNING

As part of the budget the Council passed Resolution Number: 30930 sponsored by CM Peter Steinbrueck and myself.

The resolution requests that the Mayor present by March 31, 2007 a recommendation on the appropriate number of police officers for the next five years, 2008 through 2012, with a plan for funding the number of police officers and that he present a 2008 proposed budget that is consistent with this plan.

The Council requests that the Mayor explain his recommendations with a clear rationale based on specific desired public safety outcomes and an explanation on how the Council and the public will be able to assess whether the desired outcomes have been achieved, and that he propose a schedule for measuring the outcomes.

The Council also requests that the Executive conduct the planned 2007 survey of Seattle residents’ opinions about public safety and police in the first half of the year so that the results can inform the Council’s discussions and deliberations about police staffing and public safety outcomes. Pursuant to Seattle Municipal Code Chapter 5.09, the Council requests that the Executive present a description of the survey to the Council in the first quarter of 2007.

See prior UP #222 for more information about public safety in the 2007-2008 Budget.

Keep in touch…

 

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