How many cops does Seattle actually need? Union says city dragging feet on study

Feb 15, 2016, 12:22 PM | Updated: Feb 16, 2016, 8:50 am

A long-awaited report commissioned by the Seattle Police Department is expected to determine the ci...

A long-awaited report commissioned by the Seattle Police Department is expected to determine the city needs more than 350 new officers. (AP)


When you call the cops, you expect them to show up pretty quickly. But more and more, that is rarely the story told by neighbors in Seattle.

There are fewer officers on the streets than ever before, as reports of car prowls, burglaries and other crimes increase, according to Ron Smith, the president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild.

And there are growing tensions about how many more cops the city actually needs.

“You’ll be lucky now if you have five to six officers per patrol squad,” Smith said. “When I came on this department in 1993, that number was 12 to 14.”

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

According to statistics provided by Smith, the city had 1,252 officers in 1995, with a population of 530,000 residents. That’s a ratio of one cop to every 423 residents.

Last year, there were 1,323 officers serving 670,000 residents, a ratio of one to every 506 residents.

“It’s dangerous and unacceptable,” Smith said. “The FBI says the national average is one to every 294 citizens. And the current numbers don’t even take into account the tens of thousands of business people who work in Seattle and demand police services as well.”

The need for more officers is hardly in contention. For years there’s been consensus that the city is short-staffed, but paying for more cops remains the sticking point. And with mayor Ed Murray asking for millions of dollars more to combat the homeless crisis, the budget is already stretched thin.

Murray vowed to hire 100 more police officers over attrition by the end of his first term in December 2017. The city has hired 53-55, new officers over attrition since January 2014, halfway to Murray’s initial goal, according to spokesman Viet Shelton. And the City Council has approved the hiring of 33 additional officers in 2016.

But how many is adequate? The police department commissioned a study more than one year ago to determine how it should be staffed and structured.

The $500,000 study by Berkshire Advisors of Ohio was expected to be finalized and released last fall, but it still remains a work in progress. Smith alleges the mayor’s office and SPD leadership were unhappy with the results and sent it back for “scrubbing.”

“My sources tell me that that study said we need roughly 353 more police officers,” Smith said. “That study has not been released. I am suspicious why that has not been released.”

Spokespeople for both Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and the Seattle Police Department refused to comment officially to Smith’s allegations the report was returned because of dissatisfaction with its findings. Requests for comment by members of the Seattle City Council were declined.

A spokesperson for the SPD does acknowledge the department questioned some of the methodology being used by Berkshire consultants and provided “relevant input” that could potentially change the final report. And spokespeople for SPD and the mayor both say that while they’re awaiting the report, city leaders do not dispute the need for more officers.

In the meantime, Smith says Seattle cops are frustrated as citizen dissatisfaction grows.

“There’s nothing that they dislike more than knowing that they’re going to a call that’s been holding for an hour, hour-and-a-half, knowing that they’re going to find an upset taxpayer,” he said. “Because in their off time, when they’re at home, they’re a taxpayer, too.”

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How many cops does Seattle actually need? Union says city dragging feet on study