City Hall

McGinn Public Safety Budget: Cop Hiring Freeze; Preserve Advocates, Mounted Unit

By Jonah Spangenthal-Lee September 24, 2011

Mayor Mike McGinn appears to be headed for a showdown with the city council over public safety in Seattle.

At a briefing Friday evening, McGinn announced the Seattle Police Department would continue with its already-months-long hiring freeze, leaving 26 officer positions open through next year, and told PubliCola he's backing a controversial plan to preserve the department's Mounted Unit  with private funds.

Mayor Mike McGinn briefs the press on the budget on Friday afternoon

McGinn says holding off on hiring cops to fill positions left empty by retirements and transfers will save the city $2.4 million, and believes the department can still meet the goals of the Neighborhood Policing Plan, designed to increase proactive policing (i.e. making citizen contacts and stops in addition to responding to 911 calls) and give officers a greater connection and accountability to the beats they patrol.[pullquote]"Public safety's a lot more than the number of positions. If we're going to use [that] as our metric...we're lurching toward the wrong finish line."—Mayor Mike McGinn[/pullquote]

While police hiring has been on hold months, McGinn says the department has still met or exceeded the goals of the Neighborhood Policing Plan, with officers responding to emergency 911 calls in less than seven minutes, and spending increased time on proactive work.

Repeatedly stressing a mantra of outcomes over how much money the city spends, McGinn said the police are delivering.

Under McGinn's police department plan—which also preserves the Victim Advocates and Crime Prevention Coordinators at the department's precincts—a minimum of 545 of the department's approximately 1300 officers would be assigned to patrol duties, and additional officers would be deployed to foot and bike patrols.

The department could also redeploy desk officers, and detectives assigned to federal task forces and investigative units to increase the size of the patrol pool in the future.

One specialty unit of officers which apparently would not be absorbed back into patrol under McGinn's plan is the SPD's mounted unit.

Earlier this year, when it appeared the police department could no longer afford the upkeep on the hooved members of the department's mounted unit, a group of downtown businesses stepped in and offered to pay to keep them in service.

SPD Chief John Diaz has endorsed the privately funded preservation of the horses—the officers in the unit would still be publicly funded—and so has McGinn, but the mayor's chief rival on the city council has pushed back against the plan.

Councilmember Tim Burgess—chair of the council's public safety committee, a former Seattle cop, and a possible contender during the next mayoral election—has called for a focus on quality of life crimes and focusing cops in areas where crime is worst, and pushed back against preserving the mounted patrol units, questioning whether the SPD steeds are a "good investment."

Mcginn seems to think so. "The police chief says it's a valuable function," McGinn told PubliCola following the briefing, saying a business-funded mounted unit is, in fact, "a good deal for us."

McGinn also addressed Burgess's concerns about prioritizing hiring additional officers during Friday's briefing. "Public safety's a lot more than the number of positions," he said. "If we're going to use [that] as our metric...we're lurching toward the wrong finish line."

McGinn will unveil the rest of his plan to close Seattle's $27 million revenue shortfall Monday.
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