An ongoing scrap between the city council and the mayor over a looming budget deficit could have serious implications for the Seattle Police Department.
Mayor Mike McGinn has given the Seattle Police Department until the end of the month to bring back a proposal for cutting $3.4 million from its budget, and the department has ceased hiring new officers in anticipation of the cuts.
The city is facing $15 million budget shortfall this year, and SPD isn’t the only agency facing cuts. Mayor McGinn has asked police, fire, and human services departments to draw up proposals for cutting 1.5% from their budgets, while other city agencies have been asked to trim their budgets by 3%.
If in fact the hiring freeze sticks, it would put an end to the city’s plan to hire 20 new officers annually through 2012, and could have a dramatic impact on the Neighborhood Policing Plan, designed to lower police response times to emergency calls and reduce crime through pro-active policing. The department will however continue to hire to fill positions vacated by officers who transfer or retire.
Other departments across the country have already implemented hiring freezes, layoffs, and pay decreases, but a cut to police hiring in Seattle has implications for a mayor who has already been criticized for being absent on public safety issues.
While McGinn may be steering the ship during these lean times, the mayor points to the council as the reason for the hiring freeze.
"They don’t get it both ways," McGinn told Seattlecrime.com this afternoon. "They don’t get to say they’re tough on public safety and hand out business tax breaks so we can’t hire police officers."
"Welcome to the down economy," Councilmember Sally Clark told us, responding to the Mayor's shot at the council. "It is the mayor’s misfortune to step into the mayor’s role at a time when revenues are declining faster than anticipated. I can look in the rear view mirror and say I wish we had been more draconian [but] the council in no way passed a budget that is not balanced."
McGinn says he has asked the police department to look at how it might implement the Neighborhood Policing Plan without additional staff. However, Seattle Police Officers Guild president Rich O’Neill believes the hiring freeze will have a catastrophic effect on the plan and will be a blow to morale in the department.
“The neighborhood policing plan would be over and done with.,” O’Neill says. “We’ve been hearing about this big hiring swing and how we’re going to finally fully staff SPD. It’s going to be very discouraging.” However, O’Neill adds, the hiring freeze is “not unexpected.”
More as this develops.