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Seattle council member defends comment that ‘infuriated’ police

Seattle City Council member Mike O'Brien says he has "serious concerns" over the price tag of a new police precinct. (Jessa9/Creative Commons)
LISTEN: Mike O'Brien responds after infuriating the Seattle Police Department union

The man who “infuriated” the Seattle Police Guild president says his biggest concern over a much-needed police precinct is the price tag.

Seattle City Council member Mike O’Brien told KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz that the cost of the new north precinct was in the $80 million range. That increased to $160 million.

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“I don’t disagree with replacing the north precinct,” O’Brien told Rantz. Among the issues with the current building on College Way N. in Northgate is flooding. “We’ve outgrown it and I agree with the location [Bitter Lake]. But vetting an $80 million project that’s ballooned to $160 million … I have some serious concerns spending that kind of money on a building when we have so many public safety needs.”

O’Brien told The Seattle Times that a gym and shooting range in the precinct would encourage officers to stay inside, instead of policing. He told the Times that communities have been treated unfairly by the police in the past.

That comment, even more than saying police don’t need a gym and shooting range, are what irked Police Guild President and Detective Ron Smith. Smith told Rantz that the comment, “infuriated me more than his uninformed comments about a workout facility and a firing range.”

O’Brien stands by his comment. He told Rantz that he hears of “some of the slowest response times” in his community, and, “constantly hears they can’t get police to show up because they’re too busy.” There’s a “general desire for a bigger police presence,” he added.

O’Brien supports the idea of officers staying in shape and “using it during off hours.” He didn’t know officers pay an annual fee to use the gyms until Rantz told him.

“Great. So I’m learning more from you…,” he said.

Still, O’Brien told Rantz he wants to make sure he knows what city money is being spent on.

But a gym and shooting range might be out of the question. According to Detective Smith, every precinct, including the north precinct, has a workout facility. The north precinct is the only one with an indoor shooting range, he added.

So if every precinct has a gym, why is it a concern for O’Brien now? Rantz asked. How much savings will you really get from cutting a gym from the plans?

O’Brien said he hasn’t seen any construction documents that detail how large the health facility is.

“If it’s a relatively small part and there’s no cost savings to get there, then I can withdraw that specific concern about that,” he continued. “But I do have a serious concern that when a project has gone from $80 million to $160 million we have lost sight of what we need to do. And I get that if someone is designing a project and they want everything makes sense, to them the price tag goes up. And I think my job as a city council member is to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to put some constraints on this.’ Show me the precinct you can build for $80 million or $100 million and that might what we have to live with.”

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