No Layoffs For SPD, Horses Remain Contentious Issue With Council

While the the Seattle Police Department’s plan to hold 26 positions vacant through the next year has been controversial with neighborhood groups, SPD Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer told the city council at a budget briefing Tuesday afternoon the freeze is the “least onerous of the options.”

“This is not an ideal situation but…this is the preferred option at this point,” Kimerer told the council.

SPD Chief John Diaz, Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer, and Assistant Chief Mike Sanford seemed unphazed during the briefing, noting that three quarters of other cities across the country had layoffs or hiring freezes.

Kimerer also noted the department has “some bench strength”—which, for the sports metaphor impaired, means SPD has officers assigned to proactive, non-patrol squads who are capable of going back to the streets if needed—and Chief Diaz says he’s looking at ways to get new officers on the streets quickly when the department is able to begin hiring again.

Other than the proposed hiring freeze, the most contentious aspect of the department’s budget appears to be a plan to retain the three officers and one sergeant in SPD’s mounted patrol unit.

Council member Nick Licata questioned the chiefs about how many hours the mounted unit actually spent on the street.

Diaz—who noted that the horse cops were recently able to make several arrests, including one in a stabbing case, “because they were tall enough”—told the council “I do apologize this has turned into an issue. I didn’t want that to happen.”

Other than the hiring freeze and horses, the chiefs told the council (sorry Tim Eyman) the department wants to increase the size of its red light camera unit to include 30 cameras at 21 intersections, and would “augment” the SPD van used to snap pictures of speeders, targeting traffic law violators near schools.

The current program, which the chiefs says “pays for itself,” generates $700,000 to $800,000 in net revenue every year.

All told, it doesn’t appear the department is getting ready for any drastic changes, and the department seems to be finding ways to work with what it has.

Chief Sanford noted the department has begun cracking down on crime in Belltown by upping patrols from 4:30 am to 6:00 am “It’s effective. It’s costs money, but it’s effective. Belltown looks very different,” he said, adding that if officers are “active from four to 6 we have less problems from 6 am on.”

The one sticking point in the department’s budgetary plan could be that it’s based on historical precedent and current crime trends.

If Governor Christine Gregoire goes ahead with the plan to hack an unprecedented 10 percent from the Department of Corrections’ budget—eliminating supervision for all but a few offenders upon their release from prison—it doesn’t seem far fetched to expect an uptick in crime. More crime means the department will be stretched even further. It’s the type of downward spiral that could come to epitomize the endlesss Great Recession.

However, right now, major crimes have been on a downward trend, which means SPD has some room to breathe.

“We had a fairly good summer,” Chief Kimerer told the council. “The weather of course contributed greatly to crime prevention.”

If the department is forced to deal with the fallout of drastic cuts to state corrections programs, SPD better hope for more rainy days.