Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz announced a shakeup in the police force on Sept. 2 that would put 88 more cops on the streets, even as advocates for alternatives to policing seek to reduce funding to the department as a whole.
The plan would pull detectives and other sworn officers out of their existing roles and put them back on patrol, increasing the number of police officers available for 911 calls and decreasing costly overtime. There are fewer Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers on patrol now than at any point in the city’s history, and it’s time to change that, Diaz said.
“When an emergency is happening, people call 911 and expect a first responder to get there fast,” Diaz said.
New patrol officers will be pulled from “specialty units” such as the domestic violence unit and traffic collision investigators, among other areas according to a post published on Sept. 4.
Specialty units were created as a reaction to research that pointed to “new models,” Diaz said, but they were created at the expense of the 911 response.
“These specialty units are no longer a model we can afford,” Diaz said.
The decision to put more police on the streets is at odds with the current movement to defund police and reduce interactions between the police and marginalized communities, who say that community organizations would do a better job of securing public safety than armed officers. The Seattle City Council tried to cut back the police department’s budget and invest in beefing up those grassroots organizations, only to see Durkan veto the budget adjustments as they went on recess. Council President Lorena Gonzalez said on Sept. 8 that the council would likely take up the veto on Sept. 21.
The announcement to shift the police force more toward patrol was made on the first day that Diaz was officially the interim police chief. Former Chief Carmen Best retired on Sept. 1, which she said was, in part, because of the council’s plans to cut roughly 100 police officers from the force in response to demands from protesters who called for a 50 percent cut in the Seattle Police Department budget.
Protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis continue unabated in Seattle, as do calls to reduce or outright abolish the police force.
According to the results of an annual public safety survey, the top concern of Seattle residents was “lack of police capacity.” Mayor Ed Murray, who resigned from his role amid allegations of sexual assault, proposed to hire more than 200 new police officers by the end of 2019. That was in line with a report by Berkshire Advisors that suggested that the police force was too small for a city of Seattle’s size.
SPD began recruiting a diverse class of officers. One point of contention over the City Council’s moves to cut the police budget was that many of those new officers would be let go under “first in, last out” standards SPD has set. Councilmembers said at the time that the police chief — then Best — had the ability to prioritize layoffs under other criteria. Best and Durkan held that out-of-order layoffs would be met with lengthy, expensive lawsuits.
Durkan said that she believes that the council will “respond very positively” to the new plan, despite the fact that they committed to defunding the police department by as much as 50 percent.
“People want to have a rapid response and want police officers that know the community,” Durkan said. “This is the first step in that direction.”
Increasing the number of patrol officers will mean an additional shift from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m., one of the busiest times for emergency calls. Diaz said that the influx of new officers will ensure officers can respond to those calls faster and also have additional “available time” to forge relationships within the communities that they patrol.
SPD began the process of notifying people about the impending change, according to their communications staff. The department announced what the “redeployment” changes would look like two days after the press conference with the goal of launching them by the middle of September.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC.
Read more in the Sept. 9-15, 2020 issue.