News The Very Thin Blue Line
posted by March 27 at 15:50 PMon
I’ve got a feature in this week’s paper about the Seattle Police Department’s recruiting troubles.
I’ve already gotten a few emails from officers, who seem to appreciate what I wrote. One of them even takes some of the statistical breakdowns a bit further, and describes a sort of “nightmare” scenario, which shows how overtaxed the department is in certain parts of town.
I am a SPD officer and I must say, “Well done!” My colleagues and I are delighted to see you have brought this issue to light. With all the negative press lately, a less than desirable administration and a City Council that doesn’t support us, the moral of the patrol officers is low. No wonder departments like Lakewood PD and Renton PD can so easily lure officers away!
As a police officer, all we want the citizens of Seattle to know is that we try our best to work hard and keep them safe. We, too, would like to see certain “problem areas” be cleaned up. But how can we better serve the public when there aren’t even enough of us to even keep each other safe?
Your article mentions that there are 1,307 sworn officer positions. Almost half of which are detectives or officers working in specialty units. Those officers, though they are sworn and carry guns, do not answer 911 calls. Which means there are even LESS police on the streets at any given time.
It is not rare for there to only be 9 or 10 officers working between the hours of 3am-noon in the West Precinct….which covers Magnolia, Queen Anne, South Lake Union, Belltown, Pine/Pike, International District, Pioneer Square and SoDo.
Here’s what happens when only 10 officers cover all these neighborhoods:
- A simple 2-car accident may tie up three officers (one to investigate, two for traffic). Now you have only 7 officers.
- A fight breaks out somewhere around the bus stops on 3rd Ave. Two officers respond and investigate. Now you have 5 officers.
- A suspect receiving medical care at Haborview needs to be guarded by one officer. Now you have 4 officers.
- It starts to rain and there’s an accident on the Viaduct. Two officers respond. Now you have 2 officers.
- Those two officers just wait for the next high-priority/life-or-death call to come out.
And that’s why it takes 45+ minutes for officers to respond to a low-priority (but important, none the less) call about underage kids smoking and drinking.
SPD is in a sad state. And it’s only getting worse with 40-50 officers currently in the hiring process to make lateral moves to other departments. The people who suffer are the citizens. They get sub-par police services and have to live and deal with life among cracked out zombies and gang-bangers. Now you know why only 15% of SPD officers actually live in the city!
So, cops and councilmembers seem to appreciate what I wrote, but the only feedback we’ve gotten directly from the department came from SPD Chief Gil Kerlikowske, who called our office this afternoon to contest a stat in my piece.
As the city continues to pump money into the department’s budget to hire more officers, experienced cops are walking out the door. Last year, SPD lost 46 officers to other departments.
Due to an editing snafu, that stat is a bit misleading. The department did indeed lose 46 officers total last year, but it should have more clearly stated that only about 10 of those were transfers.
We asked Kerlikowske what he’d thought of the rest of the article. He “never made it all the way through it.”