Policing In Seattle A Numbers Game
EDITORIAL: Policing In Seattle A Numbers Game
By: Capitol Hill Times Staff
The Obama administration may think the Seattle Police Department (SPD) is a model of police reform, but those much closer to home have a different perspective of its police force. Not only are a few “bad apples” still being investigated for using excessive force, residents are saying they’re not getting the protection they’ve paid for as taxpayers. And they’re willing to pay extra for their own private patrol.
Several North Seattle neighborhoods have subscribed to private patrols since 2009. They respond to mostly property crimes, such as car prowls and burglaries, which organizers say are “low priority” for SPD, and offer a visual deterrent to criminals who might target the neighborhoods. Magnolia is the latest to buy into private security, and Queen Anne is considering it.
It’s no secret that Seattle has a shortage of police officers. Even current union president Ron Smith went as far as to publicly cite the low number of officers able to respond to incidents. He said on KIRO Radio that nine officers covered the entire West Precinct — which includes downtown, Pioneer Square, International District, South Lake Union, Queen Anne and Magnolia — during the midnight shift on Black Friday; Queen Anne and Magnolia had one officer each that shift.
SPD officers are spread too thin because of their sheer numbers, not being able to respond to “lower-priority” incidents or to check on the RVs that have taken over much of the city. They’re also called in larger numbers, on occasion, to clear out homeless encampments under and along freeways and in vacant buildings.
Yet, they also work overtime providing security details for the increasing number of parades, protests and foreign dignitaries visiting our city and now for private neighborhood patrols. And officers are also placed on administrative leave after police shootings and other cases under more intense investigation.
Mayor Ed Murray aimed to hire 100 more police officers by the end of his first term in December 2017; only seven had been hired for 2015, as of Oct. 1, according to a Crosscut story published last November.
This year’s budget includes enough funding for five officers above attrition. SPD will test its current group of new entry-level recruits on Jan. 30, followed by nine months of training. But this won’t keep up with the increasing workload of a growing city, nor with the number of officers who retire or are fired in the interim.
But who would want to become an officer with SPD? It has a reputation for excessive use of force and is still working under the Department of Justice’s scrutiny. Officers also encounter more people with mental illness and violent histories than ever before, as well as people who have a distrust of police.
Regardless of what SPD officers face on the streets, will there even be enough eligible recruits, especially with our ever-expanding collective waistbands, to pass the rigorous training?
While residents elsewhere say their more recent complaints about slower response times are still going unanswered, problems such as homelessness, drug dealing and car prowls have been rampant in the International District for decades.
Seattle doesn’t need yet another citizen task force to find long-term solutions over a span of months, as it’s doing with the International District. Nor does it need numerous smaller security forces to do the work of publicly paid employees. To be the world-class city it wants to be, Seattle needs to put its best feet forward — that of police officers deserving of such, and lots more of them on the street.