SPD 911 wait times a matter of perennial short staffing
Linda Byron reporting for KING 5 News last week, covered a story about a DUI, non-injury collision in the Lake City neighborhood left holding for several hours with no police response. In fact, this blog is based on an email I sent to Ms. Byron regarding the incident. The report was fair based on the information available. However, some broader backstory should be kept in mind when assessing the incident, as I’m sure this type of situation—and worse—will arise again. In fact, I have to admit I’m almost surprised this is news. The Seattle Police Department (SPD) has been so short-staffed for so long I’m amazed more citizens don’t bring these wait times to public attention. I remember many calls just like it over the course of my career.
Staffing shortage for decades
Late in 2012, before my retirement, I recorded some call waiting times during one shift because it had gotten so ridiculous. We were so short staffed that when I logged off for the night, as 3rd Watch took over (around 7:30 – 8:00 pm), there were several calls that had been holding for many hours. In fact, one call had been holding since almost two hours before my 9-hour shift began (Type: number of hours: minutes waiting). Auto theft: 10:58, Suspicious Circumstances: 8:32, Fraud: 8:29, and another stolen car: 7:40, with many more in the queue. There simply weren’t enough officers to dispatch. I even experienced shifts where I was the sole officer assigned to my sector for my shift. Seven to eight officers normally patrol a sector. When I first became a cop, sectors had more than double that number of officers.
Same number of officers as in 1977
In 1992 when SPD hired me veterans lamented the short staffing and told me that Seattle had roughly the same number of officers as it did in 1977, despite the population had grown significantly. Today, four decades later, for SPD rookies in 2016, veterans lament the exact same statistics: Seattle still has roughly the same number of officers as it had in 1977 though the population has has increased by more than 100,000 people.
Inexcusable, yes, but who’s fault is it really?
Capt. Sean O’Donnell was right when he told KING 5 News that the “lack of response is inexcusable.” However, the fault does not lie with the dispatchers, officers, or their immediate supervisors and commanders. It lies with Seattle’s politicians (past and present) including the mayor, who seem all too willing to toss the cops into the media meat grinder to avoid their primary responsibility to provide proper public safety. I’d also blame the police chief, but the position has been reduced to a political appendage of the mayor.
Half of officers in patrol—if lucky.
With the fraudulent DOJ interference of the past several years, even more patrol officers are taken off the streets for yet another innocuous (or worse, social justice), “training” indoctrination or transferred to some “oversight” unit created due to the DOJ’s onslaught against one of America’s formerly great police departments. Believe me, there are nowhere near 1280 officers assigned to answer 911 calls—half that if you are lucky—very lucky.
DOJ not reforming police, they’re transforming police
The emphasis against law enforcement is purely political and is geared toward transforming American policing not reforming it. SPD was one of the most respected and emulated police departments in the nation before politics, local and then national, devastated it. Just because someone or some group doesn’t like the way law enforcement is being done, does not mean it is being done improperly and is in need of reform. I’ve yet to see a violent arrest that looks “good.”
Cops: Damned if they do…
Put yourself in a Seattle police officer’s position. They join the department wanting to help people, to help make communities safer. What do they get as thanks these days? A career of balancing damned if they do and damned if they don’t. They can’t win. It seems today cops are getting as many or more complaints from their own department as they are from citizens.
DOJ refused to release methodology of report that condemned SPD
Remember, a few years back, the DOJ came to town, came up with a ridiculous number of instances of officers violating a suspect’s Constitutional rights when using force to make arrests. The DOJ then issued a report for which they refused to release their methodology (People need to remember that this current and unnecessary “transformation” of the SPD was based on this erroneous and biased report that precipitated the city entering into a federal consent decree).
City ignored a gift
Then a Seattle University criminal justice professor, Matthew J. Hickman (also a former DOJ statistician), wrote a Special to the [Seattle] Times regarding a much more thorough study he’d conducted in which he impeached the DOJ’s findings (he found the SPD to be well within an appropriate statistical number when using force to make an arrest—to the contrary, it showed SPD officers are exceptionally well disciplined). Just because a law enforcement department can be improved it is not evidence that it is corrupt and in need of reform. Every institution can improve—and should. Hickman concluded his article with, “The city of Seattle should call DOJ’s bluff, and settle for nothing less than a formal apology.” This article and relevant study were gifts to Seattle’s leaders, which they chose to ignore despite the risk to Seattleites’ fiscal well-being and public safety.
Officers told to “cooperate” and “prove” the DOJ was wrong about them
Even our own SPD leaders privately and tacitly agreed with Hickman’s report. They and their representatives were attending roll calls and telling officers that they knew SPD did not deserve this federal scrutiny and consent decree but that we should “cooperate” so we could “prove” to the feds that they were wrong about us.
Serving time for a crime Seattle’s cops did not commit
For SPD’s cops it was like being told we were exonerated of a crime but then told we still had to serve the sentence. Ever since, Seattle’s cops have been serving time for a crime they didn’t commit.
The real story by the numbers
To give a clearer view of the staffing issues by comparison, let’s compare Seattle P.D. with Boston P.D.: [Estimates based on recent statistics].
Population: 617, 500 662,000
Area: 89.6 Sq Miles 143 Sq. Miles
Sworn Officers: 2,100 1,300