SPD Disputes Rumors of De-Policing Within the Department

For months, tensions within the Seattle Police Department over several high-profile incidents of alleged officer misconduct have led to widespread rumors within SPD that officers, afraid of becoming the latest cop to make headlines, have pulled back on their patrol duties.

Officers have previously told PubliCola that while they are currently responding to 911 calls during their shifts, they are also avoiding making pro-active contacts on the street when possible—such as stopping someone they believe may be involved in a car prowl or burglary—which could lead to them, as cops put it, get them “jammed up” in an internal investigation or on the wrong end of prosecution.

Pro-active work is supposed to be a major component of the city’s Neighborhood Policing Plan, designed to give officers more time on-shift to build relationships in the communities they work in, rather than rush from 911 call to 911 call.

Earlier this year, a patrol officer told a DOJ investigator, among other things, “maybe 20 or fewer officers in patrol are doing pro-active work right now.” The officer’s conversation got back to Assistant Chief Mike Sanford, who sent the officer a terse letter telling him to strongly consider his future with the department. The exchange was the subject of a Seattle Times story Monday.

On Tuesday, in an attempt to address ongoing rumors about widespread de-policing, the police department provided PubliCola with statistics which, it says, disproves officers’ claims about ongoing de-policing. However, SPD’s stats don’t appear to disprove the rumors as much as the department would like.

Disputing officers’ claims of de-policing, SPD says officers have been busier than ever, responding to emergency calls.

According to Seattle Police Department spokesman Sean Whitcomb, through September of this year police have been dispatched to 156,033 911 calls. In the same period last year, officers responded to 152,074.

That means officers have had three percent more 911 calls to respond to this year, but it still doesn’t address whether officers are actually going out and looking for crimes.

SPD’s pro-active work is perhaps better measured by on-view calls—pro-active police work, like when an officer on patrol spots an in-progress burglary, assault, or car prowl and deals with it—which dropped six percent this year.

In 2010, police logged 107, 795 on-view incidents through September. This year, that number dropped to 101,058 over the same period.

Whitcomb attributes the drop in on-views to an overall six-percent decrease in crime this year, and says some of the pro-active work which takes up officers’ time on the street simply isn’t being logged, such as “giving directions to a tourist or checking in with a merchant to see if everything’s alright.”

“I’ve heard the talk of de-policing, too,” says Whitcomb, who asserts rumors of de-policing fall apart when you ask officers who’s actually sloughing off their workload. “Everyone says they’re doing their jobs, but they’ve heard [others] are doing less,” he says.

Whether de-policing is real or simply rumor, it’s clear the department needs a better yardstick to measure how officers are spending their time when they’re not rushing to 911 calls.

Photo by Chris Daniel via Flickr.