OP-ED; Defunding SPD will compromise public safety
By Brendan Kolding
The City Council's decision to eliminate officers, specialty units, and resources from the Seattle Police Department is alarming, irresponsible, and reckless. The stated purpose for this action is that the reduction in SPD's budget will free-up funds for alternative means of responding to some of the circumstances that have long been handled by the police, and yet these imagined programs are not yet in place. The councilmembers who claimed to favor increased staffing for SPD have done an about-face and are forcing the Department to lay-off its newest and most culturally-diverse officers at a time when jobseekers are facing a challenging market.
Fewer officers will mean longer response times to calls, less proactive police work, and fewer follow-up investigations. All of the above will compromise public safety in Seattle. People in need of help will have to wait longer to receive it, less criminal activity will be preempted before innocent people can be victimized, and many complex cases that require focused investigation in order to be submitted for prosecution will not be worked. In any line of work, having fewer workers means less work gets done. In police work, where timeliness is so crucial, this is especially true.
No one will deny that Seattle needs more mental health professionals, addiction specialists, and other people who can provide expertise to the critical issues that plague our society. Even once the City Council develops a plan to increase staffing in these fields and address some of the other underlying causes of crime and victimization, it will still be inappropriate to reduce SPD's staffing. If the situation ends up being that new cadres of employees are able to safely respond to calls without police assistance and thereby reduce SPD's call volume, the police will be able to focus their already slim resources on their remaining body of work. Response times to calls will drop, there will be more proactive work done, and more cases will receive the appropriate degree of follow-up investigation. As a result, SPD will deliver greater service to the community and Seattle will be a safer place.
The question remains as to how the aforementioned new social service programs will be funded. If the goal of these new programs truly is public safety, then they ought to be understood as a complement to SPD, not a replacement. City Council needs to do a top-down analysis ("inquest" is the term that has been popular lately) of the entire City budget and identify which belts can be tightened to pay for the desired programs. Simply lopping money off SPD's budget is lazy and a disservice to the citizens of Seattle.