Nickels to urge restructuring, 105 more officers for police
To get a police officer to any city address within seven minutes of a priority 911 call, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels is expected to propose...
Seattle Times staff reporters
To get a police officer to any city address within seven minutes of a priority 911 call, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels is expected to propose today a department reorganization that includes hiring 105 new officers over the next five years.
The change, he said, would allow the department to use officers more efficiently. It would smooth out inconsistent police response to emergencies throughout the city, balance officers' workloads and give them more time to work on preventing crime instead of running from one 911 call to another, Nickels said.
"This is the most significant redeployment in 30 years," he said at a Tuesday briefing. "It's putting officers where they are needed when they are needed, in addition to having new officers."
Neighborhood police staffing is expected to be the highlight of his State of the City address, which begins at 12:55 p.m. today at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center. Last year, the public-safety message in his speech was about removing graffiti on public property within 48 hours, which the City Council voted not to fund.
His proposal for new officers extends the hiring plan that City Council members already put into the 2007-08 city budget -- 10 new officers in 2007 and 20 in 2008. Nickels' plan to recommend 105 new officers includes the council's 20 in 2008 and adds about 20 officers per year through 2012. The plan would cost $12.2 million, or between $2 million and $2.5 million annually. Since 2005, 49 new officers have been added. The department currently has more than 1,200 officers.
Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said the current average response time of seven minutes to highest-priority 911 calls is in line with comparable cities. But the Seattle response times vary from four to eight minutes, depending on whether it's a busy Thursday at 5 p.m. or slow at 3 a.m. Monday.
Kerlikowske hopes to negotiate new shift hours with the Seattle Police Officers' Guild so he can assign more staff to work during busier hours.
Mayor to speak
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels will give his annual State of the City address at 12:55 p.m. today in Room 6C on the sixth floor of the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in downtown Seattle.
The speech also will be broadcast on the Seattle Channel and at www.seattlechannel.org. The event is open to the public, and seating begins at 12:45 p.m.
The plan is subject to City Council approval. Council President Nick Licata, chairman of the public-safety committee, said he is not sure that 105 officers is enough but added, "Overall, I like it."
The city would probably have to cut spending elsewhere in the general fund, the discretionary part of the budget that pays for most services, said Councilman Richard McIver, chairman of the budget committee.
It's a step in the right direction, he said, but "you're talking about a $2.5 million-a-year add. I don't see our income growth absorbing that."
Southwest Precinct Capt. Mike Fann supports the plan, but said the true test is putting it in place.
"Philosophically, it will balance the workload," Fann said. "It makes sense on paper. If we can pull it off the way it's written, it should be good for the folks."
Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer said officers would be assigned based on computer-generated statistics, a strategy some cities call geopolicing.
This strategy has been implemented in the North Precinct, Kimerer said, where about two dozen new officers have been assigned in the past nine months.
Teresa Lord Hugel, executive director of the Greater University Chamber of Commerce, said she already has noticed a change.
She said that in the past, when residents or business owners have called 911 to report drug or property crimes, police have either not shown up or taken hours to arrive. The recent addition of officers has noticeably improved response times, she said.
But Carole Jordan, a member of the Belltown Community Association, said she doesn't think police should try to predict when crime will happen.
"Look at the Capitol Hill massacre: That happened at 7 a.m.," Jordan said, referring to the slayings on March 25, 2006. Gunman Kyle Huff killed six and wounded two before committing suicide.
Rich O'Neill, president of the Seattle Police Officers' Guild, said the union was surprised to hear of the plan to hire more officers.
"We are very encouraged by the mayor's offer of 105 new officers specifically dedicated to patrol," he said. "This is a major step to correct decades of neglect when it comes to staffing."
O'Neill said the union is in the midst of mediation with top brass of the Police Department about the terms of the new policing plan. The union is most concerned with how the plan would alter the patrol shifts. O'Neill expects a resolution by summer.
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When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.
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