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SPD Numbers Game: McGinn’s Initiative Edition

September 24, 2010

There have been a lot of questions, concerns and confusion about Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and the Seattle Police Department’s efforts around policing across the city, particularly since beefed up patrols in trendy Belltown began via the new Nightlife Initiative was announced in mid-July.

The eight point plan focuses on everything from flexible liquor service hours, noise ordinance enforcement and upwards of 20 extra police from the SWAT, anti-crime, and DUI sectors of the department, patrolling the neighborhood every weekend.

Both Chief Diaz and Mayor McGinn have said the residents of Seattle expect a strong response from the department when and where violence happens as justification for the plan. The problem was that in doing so, they set a standard of response- but only applied it to one neighborhood, not to Seattle as a whole.

The initiative gained high praise from residents in Belltown with legitimate safety concerns- and sharp criticism from other neighborhoods around Seattle, including the Central District and Rainier Beach. The overwhelming cry: what about the rest of us?

As reporters, journalists and community members began comparing policing levels across neighborhoods and asking questions, the mayor’s office adopted a talk-to-the-hand response style, often refusing to respond or provide information.

Neighborhoods started accusing the mayor and SPD of taking cops from crime riddled areas and putting them in Belltown to appease the business community.

Eventually, the mayor’s office came up with a response, saying the city is policing neighborhoods equally through the Late Night Public Safety Initiative, announced a month before the Nightlife Initiative.

According to Aaron Pickus in the mayor’s communications office:

“On June 22nd, the Mayor and Chief Diaz announced the Late Night Public Safety Initiative. The Late Night Public Safety Initiative was devised by Chief Diaz with his command staff and precinct captains. Its purpose is to re-prioritize officers from SWAT, Traffic (DUI) and the Anti-Crime Team (ACT) to put more officers on the street. The precinct captains also offered two patrol officers per precinct to help staff this citywide emphasis. All told, we have about twenty officers available for deployment anywhere in the city on Friday and Saturday nights.”

The problem? That statement isn’t exactly true. Here’s another description of the same plan, as outlined by SPD on their blog:

“…The The deployment of precinct based Anti-Crime Teams (ACT) and on-duty SWAT personnel on Friday and Saturday nights to areas that are popular nightlife destination points will be a major part of the initiative. Right now, the primary focus will be in Pioneer Square and Belltown, but this model will work in any neighborhood and those resources can be deployed to other neighborhoods as needed. The redeployment of these additional resources will provide approximately 20-plus officers downtown on Friday and Saturday nights with the specific mission of maintaining a visible and uniformed presence to deter crime and promote safety. Neighborhoods outside of dowtown can expect 4-6 more uniformed officers working in a similar capacity. The plan is for officers to be where the people are. The hope is that the additional uniformed patrols will encourage citizens from all over Puget Sound to visit popular Seattle destination points and do so without fear of harm…”

Wait- what? Isn’t that the Nightlife Initiative?

No matter what name the city puts on the plan, the reality is Belltown gets 20 extra cops every weekend, no matter what. The cops who work that shift aren’t going to be sent to other areas of the city because they’re exclusive to Belltown.

The rest of the city has to share 4-6 police officers total. Furthermore, the officers are not guaranteed like the officers working in Belltown. Those 4-6 cops are offered up by precincts as they see fit- there is no mandate. If a precinct decides it can’t do without 1 or 2 of its cops, the cops stay put.

When I specifically asked the mayor’s office if the police officers for the two separate initiatives were from the same pool, they responded that they weren’t sure, and referred me to SPD. How could the mayor’s office suddenly not be sure about that?

I discussed the issue with Seattle Police Department Spokesperson Sgt. Sean Whitcomb who confirmed the 20 + 4 to 6 officers all come from the same pool.

Why does this matter? Because the mayor’s office has presented these two initiatives as being equal to each other, saying basically, ‘don’t trip about Belltown, we’ve already done the same thing everywhere else,’ when they really haven’t.

Belltown is getting preferential policing simply because they have some trendy night clubs, and because the mayor has said clearly, he wants people to feel comfortable coming to Seattle to spend their money. Apparently he could give a rat’s cheese about the people who already live here.

Update:

I’ve gotten a call from Sgt. Sean Whitcomb of SPD’s communication office.  He read the article and wanted to clarify some things.  First and foremost, the two initiatives are not “the same”.

The Late Night Public Safety Initiative is about recalibrating existing resources to put more uniformed officers on the streets; it is specifically about deployment, where as the Nightlife Initiative is a broader, conceptual plan, and within it, extra policing is not defined (see the link below for the 8 point plan). Nevertheless, Belltown does have an increased presence of 20 police officers. Where do they come from? The Late Night Public Safety Initiative.

Sgt. Whitcomb agreed that the officers being deployed to Belltown are from the same pool of officers being deployed city wide, which is the crux of the issue for all neighborhoods that aren’t named Belltown.

It’s sort of confusing (join the club), but important because it’s the difference between 20+ cops and 40+ cops across the city.  The way the mayor’s office has presented the two, is as if there are 40+ cops on the streets every weekend in addition to those usually working; 20+ for the Nightlife Initiative, and 20+ for the Late Night Public Safety Initiative.

There is not a recalibration of 40+ cops every weekend working across the city- there are 20+, the bulk of which have been placed- at least initially- in Belltown. Clear as mud, right?  Right.

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