The Center Square) – Seattle has been in the process of “reinventing” its police department over the last few years, at the same time as crime has been on the rise. Critics charge that the two trends are firmly related.
According to city stats, crime has increased in 2021 and 9-1-1 response times are at historic highs. The city has scale back the budget for law enforcement and move many functions out of the police department.
“The violent crime rate reached a 14-year high in 2021,” the Seattle Police Department stated in its 2021 final crime report.
“What you are seeing in Seattle is disaster. This is pure disaster. Crime is out of control in Seattle,” Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said in an email to The Center Square. “They can not keep personnel. It’s been a really bad thing for the citizens.”
The 2021 budget eliminated 167 full-time positions from the police department, a 7.6% reduction.
The 2021 budget proposal stated, “the 2021 Proposed Budget for the Seattle Police Department outlines a solid first step in reinventing policing and reimagining community safety. The budget reduces the size of SPD’s sworn force, [and] transfers functions from SPD that are better performed in a more civilianized practice.”
That budget helped bring SPD’s officer count to a 30 year low with less than 1,000 officers in the department.
Departures helped too. 109 officers left the department so far this year alone, according to SPD Chief Adrian Diaz.
Complicating all of this is the fact the city council, in its own words, has cast policing itself in a very negative racial light.
The 2021 budget stated that “there are many contributing factors that lead to racial disproportionality in the criminal legal system. These include the Seattle Police Department’s arrest decisions and the Seattle City Attorney’s decisions on what cases to prosecute. The Court acknowledges disproportionality exists and is committed to reducing disproportionality in how it works with and affects individuals . . . Communities are not only protesting race based disparities in interactions with SPD, but the systemic racism built into government.”
Non-traffic criminal filings were at a historic low in 2021. According to city stats, the number of filings in 2021 were 3,989. That was a drop from 6,044 in 2020.
As part of reinventing policing in Seattle, SPD moved functions to different departments. The Seattle Emergency Communications Center, which consists of almost entirely civilian staff members, are now responsible for receiving incoming communications, triaging calls and dispatching sworn and civilian officers, such as parking enforcement officers, as needed.
The Office of Emergency Management is now responsible for coordinating the city’s efforts to prepare and respond from natural disasters and emergencies that Seattle may experience.
And the Seattle Department of Transportation is now responsible for parking enforcement within the city. This turned into an issue because a misstep by the city in turning over the responsibilities from SPD to SDOT caused parking enforcement officers to not have special police commissions at the time of issuance, according to the city.
That mistake cost Seattle about $5 million in refunds and more in voided parking tickets from Sept. 1 2021 through April 5 2022, at the same time as the city faces a budget deficit of $117 million.