Tim Burgess Fires Off Parting Shot At SPD

Apparently not content to quietly hand Bruce Harrell the reins to the public safety committee, council member Tim Burgess fired off a 12-page parting shot at the Seattle Police Department on his web site Monday, calling for city officials to drag the police department kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

During his term as chair of the council’s public safety committee, Burgess—a former Seattle cop—has pushed SPD to use more statistical analysis and “hot spot” policing, along the lines of what the NYPD uses to prevent crime, rather than fight it with the traditional cops vs. robbers model.

“I’ve been here four years and the level of citizen complaints about street crime only gets worse, not better. And I don’t understand why that is,” he told PubliCola.

Street disorder has been Burgess’s pet issue on the council, so much of Burgess’s essay—”A New Philosophy of Policing”—reads like a Greatest Hits compilation from his years as public safety chair, including pitches for stat-based preventative policing and diversion programs.

“Crime locations are more stable and more easily identified than are the thousands of individuals committing crime. The policing of place makes sense in terms of efficiency and effectiveness,” Burgess wrote. He cited the “Safer Union”  project at 23rd Ave. and E. Union St., which drastically reduced the number of 911 calls police received about problems at the long-troubled intersection.

Burgess also hammered home the need  for more diversion programs and treatment for repeat offenders, and suggests  the department look at trends in street crimes like drug dealing and prostitution for context when touting drops in major violent crimes like murder and robbery.

In addition to pushing for a shift in policing philosophy at SPD, Burgess also suggested a few changes in the department’s internal structure—specifically, how officers are promoted, saying the department should base promotions and job evaluations on “crime solving outcomes” rather than tenure. “[C]ivil service promotion testing should measure an officer’s ability to embrace and use this new skill set, rather than memorization of facts and procedures,” Burgess wrote.

Burgess also made the pitch for the department to open up more jobs to civilians, who might be more qualified.  “There are jobs in the Police Department that don’t require the authority to arrest,” he writes. “[S]ome cities employ highly trained and skilled civilians…because they have critical statistical and analytical training and experience.”

Given that Burgess is completely stepping away from the council’s public safety committee, it’s a bit strange that he’s submitting his manifesto now—when he won’t be around to do anything about it. Burgess told PubliCola he’s simply trying to help out his colleagues on the council, who he hopes will “exert more influence and to provide more direction about how we want our city policed” in the future.

But he sure sounds like a guy who’s making one last push to be remembered as the law and order council member before he makes a run for mayor in 2013.