“Public safety is our number one concern.”
I hear it at resident meetings and business meetings. Seattle Police Department (SPD) officials, the Mayor and City Council members all say that improving public safety is a top priority. However, decisions by them appear to be in conflict with improving public safety. Under the City’s current budget crisis they have chosen to freeze hiring of more police to work the problem streets of Seattle. The Mayor and the City Attorney have turned their backs on the business community by refusing to create a new ordinance to help battle the transient open air drug markets that plague different parts of downtown each day. But there is one proposed cut in the SPD budget that I believe will lead to higher crime rates and have negative impacts in every Seattle neighborhood. On the chopping block is the entire Crime Prevention Unit of SPD.
It is true that individuals can learn crime prevention techniques that can decrease your chance of crime happening to you. For decades SPD has relied on the Crime Prevention Unit to provide much of the education and resources to you to make you a less likely victim of crime.
For 20 years I have worked with Francisco Tello and Terrie Johnston from the Crime Prevention Unit to provide their services and expertise to the International District. They are civilians and not sworn police officers, working in the para-military culture of policing. In the International District they have provided personal safety trainings for elderly residents, robbery/burglary prevention to businesses, attended various community meetings and a resource to non-police to understand and interact with the police department.
I have learned improving public safety takes the diligence of citizens, police officers willing to do things differently, people and financial resources, and continuity. One of the most important roles the Crime Prevention Unit provides is continuity with SPD. The inherent problem with continuity with SPD is that police officers get reassigned on a regular basis. It is seldom that I get to work with a police officer for more than 2 years assigned to the ID. Hence, every new officer comes a period of developing and renewing a partnership with SPD. Maybe it’s been a luxury for Seattle to have Francisco and Terrie stay in their jobs for so long. But their presence and guidance has served the ID well and SPD’s relationships with neighborhoods.
What will happen if Crime Prevention is cut? I suspect that SPD will try to sell us that uniformed police officers will fill the void. I doubt it will be at the level of service that we now receive. Anything less will leave more individual and neighborhoods more vulnerable to crime. Our current Community Police Team Officer, Chad McLaughlin, will be asked to do more which will only spread him thinner. That fact is, the City is poised to take the risk.
I’ve heard that some Belltown community people have been in favor of keeping the Crime Prevention Unit even at the expense of patrol officers. I would agree with this. Many of you would say this is unspeakable and I’m putting people’s lives at stake. Most of us experience car prowls, burglaries, and other non-violent crimes. Most of us run into drug dealers, loiterers, and other intimidating types before we run into a murderer. Crime prevention helps with establishing safer environments and reducing crimes that affect most of us.
I have worked on public safety from the community side for over 20 years. I venture to guess that I have attended over 150 public safety meetings. Attended the national Community Oriented Policing Conferences and spoken to groups about effective engagement with police. I’m not an expert but I have found some elements that are needed to improve public safety in any neighborhood. Crime prevention is vital.
If the City cannot find the resources to keep the Crime Prevention Unit, we will all be taking a step backwards into a less safe Seattle.