Seattle police: faster, smarter, stronger
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels will use his State of the City address today to announce a laudable rethinking of how the Seattle Police Department...
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels will use his State of the City address today to announce a laudable rethinking of how the Seattle Police Department can put more law-enforcement resources closer to the customer.
Yes, the mayor wants to hire more police, but that is not the most important part of the proposal drafted by Chief Gil Kerlikowske and Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer. The approach uses a stronger police force in smarter ways to achieve better results, including faster, uniform response times. A basic citizens measure of how well they are served will always be how long it takes to hear a knock on the door after a complaint is made.
Seattle's great advantage going into the first significant administrative overhaul in three decades is the stability of current conditions. Check out the numbers: Violent crime, serious crime, property crime and crime per capita are all down.
The mayor is really taking on a tougher assignment: perception. Do Seattle residents feel safer, and what about those spotty response times?
The department has already added 49 new officers and rethought their deployment. They would be supplemented by another 105 police officers over a five-year period starting next year. Those are not insignificant numbers, but they pale before proposed new hires bid up by Seattle City Council members. The cost to hire and equip Nickels' recommendation is estimated at $12.5 million a year, to start.
Local taxpayers are already paying overtime to stretch the existing 1,100 sworn officers to meet the needs of the city. For all the grousing about government spending, the outrage is rarely aimed at public-safety expenditures.
The heart of this plan is a new way of staffing and assigning officers for a better fit with peak demand. The department will still be divided into five precincts, but their boundaries would be redrawn to spread out the workloads. Precincts will be subdivided into sectors and those further reduced into smaller districts.
Smaller, manageable and knowable patrol districts put police and citizens in closer contact. The department is calling it "staffing to service, staffing to safety."
The mechanics of this change include revamping shift times, hours worked per shift and days off. This is all subject to labor negotiations, so the Seattle Police Officers' Guild is a key partner in the reorganization. Likewise, the City Council has to help pay for it.
Keep in mind that faster, smarter, stronger law enforcement is more than numbers alone.
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