City Hall

Council Says SPD Hiring Freeze Could Halt Neighborhood Policing, Spark Labor Dispute

By Erica C. Barnett April 23, 2010

Yesterday, Mayor Mike McGinn said that even if he decided abandon plans to hire 20 new police officers this year in response to a midyear budget shortfall of $15 million, he would expect the Seattle Police Department to move forward with its Neighborhood Policing Plan "within the personnel that we have." But some council members are skeptical that SPD can put the plan in place without additional officers, and at least one says an attempt to do so could open the city up to a contract dispute by the police union, the Seattle Police Officers Guild.

The plan, which calls for hiring 105 new officers over 2007 levels by 2012, would allow police officers to move to longer, ten-hour shifts and give command officers more flexibility to move beat officers to parts of town and times of the day where they're needed most. That part of the plan was supposed to be implemented this year. However, if the department doesn't get funding for the new hires, they'll fall short of the 570 active patrol officers SPD says it needs to implement the neighborhood policing plan.

Council member Sally Clark, who's heading up the neighborhood policing effort on the council, says while it "may be possible" to do neighborhood policing without additional cops, "there hasn’t been a public discussion of" the possibility of a police hiring freeze. "The idea that were going to have more patrol officers was a pretty hard-fought battle by neighborhood advocates. If we're going to change that agreement, we need to do it publicly. ... There's kind of been radio silence [from McGinn] around this, and that's a problem."

Council president Richard Conlin notes that SPOG's contract with the city explicitly states that the new, 10-hour shifts are contingent on hiring a certain threshold of new officers. "If we try to implement a neighborhood policing plan without having reached the threshold, they can say, 'Hey, that’s not what’s in the contract,'" Conlin says. "You run into labor issues that are very challenging. The guild is very careful about protecting the rights of its members."

SPOG president Rich O'Neill was out of the office and unavailable for comment today.

Interesting side note: Last year, in addition to promising to fully implement neighborhood policing (which we reported on here), McGinn explicitly said that the only way to do so would be adding officers. In response to a question about neighborhood policing from the Downtown Seattle Association, McGinn said, "The current staffing levels, despite these efforts, are still not sufficient to meet the goals of the Neighborhood Policing Plan, and there are concerns that this negatively impacts safety of both the community and our officers. If the Neighborhood Policing Plan is going to be effective, we need to fully commit to bringing the staffing numbers up."

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