Civil liberties and homeless advocates including Real Change director Tim Harris and civil rights attorney James Bible stand by Mayor Mike McGinn.
This post has been updated with comments from City Council members Tim Burgess and Nick Licata.
In the Bertha Knight Landes room at City Hall today, a couple hundred opponents of Tim Burgess' proposed aggressive-solicitation ordinance applauded uproariously this afternoon as Mayor Mike McGinn signed a letter explaining why he planned to veto the legislation. The event felt like a political rally—appropriately so, perhaps, for a mayor whose first major victory has consisted of vetoing legislation opposed by activists.
Just two of the four city council members who voted against the measure, Nick Licata and Bruce Harrell, showed up for the occasion. Mike O'Brien and Tom Rasmussen did not come to the signing.
After comments by several homelessness and civil-liberties advocates—including Real Change executive director Tim Harris, who compared Burgess' legislation to "trying to cure cancer by putting leeches on people," council member Nick Licata received a standing ovation. "Panhandlers are not criminals," Licata said. "The vast majority of people who contacted City Hall [about the legislation] said these are not the values of Seattle."
Harrell, who spoke next, griped pointedly that he was "being portrayed as someone who would not have the sympathy or the empathy [for] smaller people or women or the disabled," a reference to comments made by Seattle Times editorial board member Joni Balter suggesting that women and smaller or disabled people might have a different perception of public safety and their own vulnerability than large men.
Harrell added, "Mayor McGinn could cure cancer tomorrow and the headlines would read, 'Mayor cures cancer too late.'"
During his remarks, McGinn said he was working to "accelerate the [implementation] of the neighborhood policing plan."
After he signed the letter (the legislation itself still has to be transmitted to McGinn by the city council), I asked McGinn how he planned to speed up the neighborhood policing plan without adding new police officers to the force. The police department has said repeatedly that implementing new 10-hour shifts, which will give officers more flexibility to deploy when and where they're needed most, will require additional officers beyond the number SPD currently has.
"The neighborhood policing plan that was adopted by the city a number of years ago is not determined by the number of officers, it’s determined by the objectives in the plan" such as the ability to respond to 911 calls and work within communities, McGinn said. "We are working within the police department, with our existing resources, to ... meet the objectives of the plan earlier." McGinn mentioned the fact that the police department has redeployed a number of officers to foot patrols downtown; however, those officers are former bike cops, not patrol officers.
After McGinn's veto letter signing, Burgess said he did not believe it was possible to complete the neighborhood policing plan without hiring new officers.
"The most important element of neighborhood policing, strategically, is the creation of minimum, purposeful, proactive policing time for each officer’s shift," Burgess said. "And the second, most important strategic element of neighborhood policing is the so-called power shift or fixed shift, which is a Wednesday through Sunday night shift designed to allow the police department to move officers to where and when they’re needed most.
"If we don’t reach the full component of the officers that we need, those two elements especially are at risk."
However, Licata said he believes the city could meet some of its neighborhood policing goals without hiring additional officers. "You'd have to shift some police from other functions" like staffing the front desks at city precinct offices and getting rid of expensive programs like mounted (horseback) patrols.
The contract for the police officers' guild, however, stipulates that new ten-hour shifts can't be implemented without additional officers. The Neighborhood Policing Plan, meanwhile, calls for 105 new officers over 2007 staffing. "The additional officers are needed to meet the targets for faster response time and ability to do more proactive problem solving," the plan says.
McGinn's predecessor, Mayor Greg Nickels, issued just two vetoes in his eight years in office. In 2007, he vetoed legislation regulating nightclubs because it did not include a provision creating a nightclub license. And in 2002, he vetoed a change of land-use rules that would have benefited developer Richard Hedreen.