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SPD union president: The city is hiding an important staffing study

Seattle police detective Ron Smith is not surprised to hear of an officer reaching into his own pockets to purchase plane tickets for people who have 'typically hit rock bottom." (AP)
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The president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild is calling out the city for not properly funding and staffing its police department.

“They can figure out how to fund a levy to pay for transportation, they can figure out how to pay for early pre-school, they can figure out how to pay for painted crosswalks,” Ron Smith told KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz. “I think they can figure out how to pay for the right amount of officers in the 21st century.”

Smith recently sent a message to the public via the union’s Facebook page, saying that the guild will be “turning up the heat” on the city that is failing to properly staff its police department.

The City of Seattle has a moral obligation to safely staff the patrol ranks of SPD…. Sadly this isn’t the case…. We will be turning up the heat higher on those who the responsibility falls upon their feet….

The Seattle police detective told Rantz that when he came onto the force 22 years ago, the city would send 12-14 police officers out to cover a neighborhood. That isn’t the case anymore.

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“I’ll give you an example,” Smith said. “Two Friday nights ago, downtown in the west precinct &#8212 which covers the downtown core, Pioneer Square, Magnolia and Queen Anne &#8212 they had nine police officers working the midnight shift. They had one officer covering all of Magnolia and one officer covering Queen Anne.”

“That’s not safe, especially with the call load and the entertainment district downtown,” he said.

Turning up the heat

Smith alleges that the city knows about the staffing issues with its police department. He claims an outside organization was hired to study the city’s police staffing levels, and a report from that study was due in July. But it has not been made public.

The “heat” Smith alluded to in his Facebook post is his search for that study. He is submitting public records requests for records relating to it.

“I got good sources telling me that the report was written and the people at City Hall didn’t like what it said,” he explained. “That’s telling me it probably said we need 300-400 more officers at the police department, but they don’t want to pay for it.”

“The study was done. Somebody is hiding it,” Smith said. “I want to see what it says.”

By the numbers

Smith likened Seattle to the City of Boston, which, despite having different crime statistics and demographics, is similar in size to Seattle.

“They have 1,800 police officers in Boston, and here we are with sergeants, detectives and officers, roughly 1,250,” Smith said. “It’s the same number we had in the ’70s.”

“Here we are in almost the year 2016 and we roughly have the same number of police officers as we did in the 1970s; while the city’s population has grown by 175,000 people during that time frame,” he said.

The city engages in shifting its officers around departments, Smith said. This creates a false impression for staffing.

“What’s been done over and over again throughout the years is somebody will ask how many police officers are assigned to patrol. And they’ll shoot out a number that is well in excess of 650,” Smith said. “What they are not telling you is that 150 of those people that are assigned to patrol are available to answer 911 calls because they are on loan to another assignment.”

For example, according to Smith, officers are pulled from patrol duty to work in the CSI unit or the traffic collisions investigative unit. But the staffing in the overall department remains low.

Smith further alleges that the city knows this but does nothing about it, which is evident in its recent budget that puts millions towards the homeless issues, bike lanes, crosswalks and more. But not much consideration is given to police.

“And yet the public safety budget rarely goes up except to account for increase in wages and benefit costs,” he said.

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