City Hall

McGinn Proposes Extra $15 Million in Public-Safety Spending Over Next Two Years

By Erica C. Barnett September 14, 2012

In a bit of  an afternoon fizzle, Mayor Mike McGinn announced today that his proposed budget, which he'll announce on Monday, September 24, will include funding for ten new police officers between 2013 and 2014.

Why a bit of a fizzle? Because there once was a time when the city planned to increase the number of police officers by 20 officers a year as part of its neighborhood policing plan---a hiring goal the city had to abandon during the recession. McGinn's spokesman Aaron Pickus says the city has been able to reach the goals of the neighborhood policing plan---7-minute average 911 response times and 30-percent proactive time (that is, time not spent responding to calls) while officers are on duty, without having to hire as many officers as the city initially anticipated it would need.

In the latest of a series of rolling announcements leading up to his September 24 budget announcement (earlier today, McGinn also announced he would ask for $5 million in transit planning funds), McGinn said today that his proposed budget will include about $15 million in new spending, over two years, for 10 new police officers, an additional victim advocate in the police department, a high-tech gunfire detection system like the ones that have been implemented in dozens of US cities, improvements to patrol cops' in-car video and computer systems, and new crime analysis staff to improve response times on requests for in-car videos. (Editor's note: And public records requests in general? Please?)

The proposed budget also includes $5 million a year to meet the terms of an agreement with the US Department of Justice, which includes a court-ordered monitor to oversee changes to the department's use-of-force policies and address concerns about biased policing.

McGinn said mobile gunshot locator systems, like the Shotspotter system in place in cities like Washington, D.C., Milwaukee, and Oakland, can pinpoint the location of a gunshot within 4/10 of a second and within a 50-foot radius; they can also, he said, determine the caliber of a gun "within 90 percent accuracy." The system would cost about $950,000 to install and operate for two years, McGinn said.

"One of the advantages to knowing where the gunshot is is that [officers] can really zero in on places that may have cameras that aren't our cameras," like gas stations and shops, McGinn said. "We can then use those cameras to check on the automobiles that were leaving a scene or people running from a scene and the like."
Gunshot location systems have been controversial, with critics saying they fail to detect some gunshots and raised false alarms about things like fireworks and backfiring engines. And civil liberties advocates in some cities have argued that the systems violate people's privacy and increase police surveillance of people's lives---particularly those mobile units that include video cameras. We have a call out to the ACLU of Washington to find out if they have any concerns about the gunfire monitoring systems.

Public safety committee chair Bruce Harrell said in a statement, "After an initial review of the Mayor’s 2013-2014 proposed budget, I am glad to see the Mayor has included funding for more police officers and a gunshot locator system. The Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology committee examined an automated gunfire locating system in specific neighborhoods earlier this year and data shows it is effective technology."
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