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Chief Diaz’s reflections on the proposed budget

Reflections from Chief John Diaz on the 2012 Budget and Seattle Police Department Priorities 

This afternoon, Mayor McGinn outlined his budget proposal to Seattle communities and the City Council.  Of interest to all SPD employees will be his proposal to hold 26 sworn officer positions vacant through 2012, which will result in over $2.4 million in salary savings.  We expect to realize these vacancies through retirements by the end of this year or very early 2012.  This budget decision to hold vacant positions will prompt some important questions:  Will the Department be able to resume hiring at some point, and, if so, when?  Were there alternatives to freezing vacancies to meet City budget reduction targets?  And, most important, will the Department see reversals in NPP and its successes?  This memo will attempt to answer these and other questions, with a focus on why we as a Department have reason to be confident that we will continue to meet our objectives in spite of the lingering effects of economic recession.

First, the decision to freeze 26 vacancies to meet the SPD budget reduction mandate was the least onerous of many scenarios.  Mayor McGinn substantially reduced our original budget reduction target, which would have required sworn layoffs.  The Mayor and City Budget Office have been steadfast in their efforts to maintain the highest level of police services in the face of yet another year of budget shortfalls.  The decision to hold vacancies as a means to address the SPD share of the City revenue shortfall was preferable to the other options, which included elimination of positions and potentially large numbers of police layoffs. 

Second, we plan to resume hiring next year to replace sworn separations beyond the 26 vacancies, to replace retirements and other separations that we expect to occur during 2012.  Many factors will determine the timing of replacement hiring, such as when retirements occur in the 2012 calendar year and whether the State Academy has openings for recruits.  And, most importantly, our plans for replacement hiring assume the economy will begin to stabilize as we move forward into next year.  The resumption of hiring to replace separations beyond the 26 vacancies will help us to sustain the good performance we have achieved during the past couple of years.

Expanding on these thoughts, it might be helpful to review where we are with our major Department initiatives, to give you some insight into why I am optimistic and confident in our ability to meet our strategic goals of fighting crime, reducing fear, and building community.

 Neighborhood Policing Plan (NPP).

I will begin with a brief review of our progress with the Neighborhood Policing Plan (NPP), an outcome-based initiative that is directly affecting all Seattle residents, businesses, and visitors who rely on police response services.   In 2007, the City adopted the NPP, providing the Seattle Police Department with a framework for deploying patrol staff to meet the City’s core public safety objectives.  The major priorities in this framework focus on:  (1) the time it takes for officers to respond to 911 priority calls; and (2) measuring how much proactive time officers have available to deal with neighborhood issues.   

The Seattle Police Department has moved quite far in trying to quantify our performance in meeting these objectives regarding the deployment of our police force.   At this point, as shown in the table, we are exceeding the standards set for Patrol performance by the NPP.

    NPP Goal Actual Results to July 2011
 Average Priority 1 Call Response Time   7 minutes or less 6.3 minutes
 Average Proactive Time Available   30% of On-Duty Time 34% of On-Duty Time

 The NPP also calls for sufficient backup vehicles available for emergencies. Although we lack a direct measure of this “units free” measure, indirect evidence on out-of sector dispatch of cars, which now occurs only about 8% of the time, suggests that we are meeting this standard most of the time as well. 

In sum, these NPP metrics allow us to measure how well we are performing with respect to the deployment of our Patrol officers, measurements which underpin our ability to meet our core missions of   fighting crime, reducing fear of crime and building communities.   In other words, these performance results are extremely important in making Seattle one of the most vibrant and livable cities in this country.  

Crime Trends in Seattle.  

We have experienced good success fighting crime in Seattle.  Major crime in the city was down by 6% last year, and was 15% lower than the ten-year average.  Major crime continues to decrease this year, posting a 7% decrease through August 2011, compared with the same time period in 2010.  Though there was a small increase in the less serious, Part II offenses in 2010, the total was still 22% below the ten-year average for such incidents.  

Major Crimes Reported Annually in Seattle 2001 – 2010

Major Crimes 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 10-yr avg
Murder 25 26 32 24 25 30 24 29 22 19 26
Rape 164 152 174 145 139 127 90 126 102 96 132
Robbery 1594 1576 1509 1588 1606 1667 1522 1612 1792 1429 1590
Ag Assault 2367 2338 2229 2041 2344 2322 2031 1680 1945 1973 2127
Total Violent Crimes 4150 4092 3944 3798 4114 4146 3667 3447 3861 3517 3874
Burglary 6684 7290 8536 7734 6756 7504 5986 6503 6709 6449 7015
Larceny 26502 26742 28718 25810 27174 23911 22192 22642 25095 23284 25207
Auto Theft 8755 8308 9052 9253 9558 8138 5782 3675 3286 3453 6926
Total Property Crimes 41941 42340 46306 42797 43488 39553 33960 32820 35090 33186 39148
Total Major Crimes 46091 46432 50250 46595 47602 43699 37627 36267 38951 36703 43022


These statistics confirm that the City is experiencing some of the lowest levels of crime in many years.   I would like to emphasize that without the energy, hard work and innovation of the men and women of this police department, working together with the community, this would not be the case.   Success in addressing major crime allows us more time to address the quality of life issues that continue to arouse concern.

Reducing Fear and Building Community. 

The Department’s success in meeting NPP performance outcomes has created an opportunity to increase staffing of foot beats, bicycle squads and –through the generosity of business and civic leaders through the Seattle Police Foundation – the preservation of Mounted Patrol officers, who currently are deployed in the West Precinct.  This increased staffing of foot beat, bike and mounted officers is consistent with the priority the NPP has placed on creating manageable proactive time within each Precinct.  When NPP was first implemented in 2007-8, the focus was (and in large measure remains) the integration of at least 30% proactive time within the Patrol force, a performance outcome we are currently exceeding.  In our 4th year of NPP, we are appropriately taking a broader view of Patrol proactive time, in particular the role of dedicated foot beat, bike and (in the case of the West Precinct) mounted officers to address quality of life and other crime problems in our neighborhoods.  While recognizing that any significant slippage in NPP performance metrics could require us to put proactive and even other bureau police resources into cars for 911 response work, the Department’s decision to make investments in proactive deployments now, given our good performance against NPP performance goals, is the best use of our Precinct resources.  Also, the strengthening of foot beats, bikes and the preservation of the Mounted Patrol downtown has been validated by the enthusiastic thanks of neighborhood residents and business leaders throughout the city. 

 The actual proactive staffing increases city-wide since the beginning of 2011are summarized in the following chart: 

Increased Staffing in2011
Foot Beats                                        6 officers Bike Squad                                           8 officers Mounted Patrol                                               3 officers  NCI Team                                         1 officerSeattle Center Patrol                        1 officer 


These changes have allowed us to place increased focus on the needs of individual neighborhoods.   This, too, is why we began the Neighborhood View Point (NVP) project, to get directly from each neighborhood what the quality of life issues are that cause them concern.   Through the NVP, officers are going door-to-door, business-to-business, listening to what community members say would make their areas safer and better places to live and to do business.   Precinct commanders are designing projects based on that valuable input. 

 Policing Challenges in the Neighborhoods.

In reviewing crime trends, it has been quite clear that there is a high degree of variability across the city and that the challenges from neighborhood to neighborhood are quite different.   This is a major reason why, when the Department undertook the major redeployment of our Patrol force, the goal was not only to equalize workloads, but more importantly, to bring back the concept of geographic integrity.   In other words, our priority has been to take a large city and break it down to the neighborhood level.   

In some areas, street disorder crimes are the main concern, and this is where the Mayor’s direction to all departments has been critical.   We are a City that is known for its compassion.  We recognize that there are people on our streets that need help.  They may be dealing with the consequences of drug or alcohol abuse, or mental health issues.  They may be homeless and vulnerable for other reasons.  Their behaviors may also result in street disorder.  

For our part, the Department can demonstrate that though we have made thousands of arrests and issued many citations for relatively petty crimes in efforts to quell street disorder, these actions have not improved the sense of order and safety in some neighborhoods.   The use of foot, bicycle and horse patrols, on the other hand, have been shown to be effective in reducing fears associated with street disorder in some neighborhoods.  

Also showing great promise is the approach spearheaded by the Mayor of taking a more holistic view of specific areas by using CPTED (Crime Prevention through Environmental Design) audits and forging collaborations between social service providers and other City assets.  While recognizing that both public and private service providers are facing serious financial challenges, I see as our best hope the collaborative efforts to review how we have been dealing with individuals and to design approaches that can be both more humane and more effective.  

Some examples of this approach are listed below: 

* In collaboration with many, including the Defenders Association the Department is participating in the LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) project in the Belltown neighborhood.  This is an attempt to try new and more effective ways to deal with drug users by placing them in social services at the point of arrest, instead of in jail

* The Neighborhood Corrections Initiative (NCI) partners Seattle Police officers directly with Department of Corrections (DOC) officers.  NCI teams work with chronic offenders who are on active DOC supervision. By pairing both agencies together on a daily basis, they can share information and have a greater variety of options when contacting offenders.  The NCI approach combines an offender-focused approach with a zero tolerance policy for offenders found involved in violence, drug exchanges, open drug/alcohol consumption, gang activity, truancy and loitering.  NCI teams respond in some way to all of these offenses, ranging from transporting offenders to their probation officers, work crew, or detox.  Because of the close interaction between SPD and DOC, the offenders can be monitored closely, holding offenders accountable for criminal behavior.  NCI also functions as a safety net for the offenders themselves. NCI teams regularly check in with offenders, encouraging them to make constructive choices, urging them into drug and psychiatric treatment if necessary, and handing out hygiene kits to homeless offenders.

* Human Services Director Dannette Smith is working closely with the Department on an idea for how we can add more structure to some of our social service contracts in order to assist with the homeless street population.  We will be experimenting with having one or two social outreach workers teamed up with Patrol officers to work directly with some of those most in need.  

*Our Crisis Intervention Response Team (CIRT) program, teaming CIRT police officers and Mental Health Professionals (MHPs), is working to provide effective intervention with the mentally ill in common sense ways that reduce unnecessary jail bookings and trips to the emergency room.  

While the challenge of street disorder in this city is one of the most difficult in policing, it is also, I believe, an area that, with a more coordinated approach by all, we have a good chance of success.  

 “Working Smart” and Police Innovation. 

It is imperative that government use its funds in the most efficient and cost effective manner possible.   All City departments have labored in good faith to streamline, cut and reorganize their functions to “work smart” and be as efficient as possible.   As an example, the Department has scrutinized every special event that occurs to try and ensure not only that the event is as safe as possible, but also that this mission is accomplished in the most efficient manner possible.   By doing exactly this type of detailed analysis, we have been able to reduce special event deployment expenses by 11% in 2011.  

The Seattle Police Department also has had a proud history of innovation.   We have embraced the idea of dealing with places of habitual crime (“hot spots”) as well as serial offenders.   Both of these approaches have paid dividends in various parts of the city.  As an example, we have seen significant declines in car thefts based on an approach of focusing on the serial offender.  Also, we have met recently with Professor David Weisburd to discuss a long- term research relationship with us.  Dr. Weisburd, who is a leading national authority on hot spot policing, conducted much of his original research through a collaborative agreement with SPD.  Through this new relationship, we plan to explore a variety of approaches for dealing both with juvenile crime as well as street disorder issues.  This falls in line with our consistent efforts to utilize evidence-based models and outcome-based metrics to guide change.  

It also is worth noting that SPD was selected along with the King County Sheriff’s Office, the Washington State Patrol, and the San Francisco Police Department to work with DARPA, a Pentagon research and development ‘think-tank’, as it develops a training module designed to improve the communications skills of members of our Armed Forces.  The project is titled Strategic Social Interaction Modules (SSIM) – “Good Stranger”.  Says DARPA of the Seattle Police Department, “SPD and its training academy are recognized throughout the national law enforcement community as “gold standards.” 

A Concluding Thought.

As a Department we continue to focus on three areas: fighting crime, reducing fear of crime and building community.  In doing so, we seek the best ideas from across the nation and world and adapt them for our needs.  We also work hard to be a listening organization, using old tools such as going door-to-door as well as new social media tools, to ensure that we are in touch with what is most important to our communities.  And we do not just stop in asking for input; rather, we mine the information we receive for actionable items.  

In the current economic reality of this country, and given reductions to the myriad safety nets for the most vulnerable, it would be a disservice to believe that the challenges we face can all be fixed by “arresting our way”  out of them.  Solutions will come from a combination of community, social and government services and police; as well as from a willingness to work hard to achieve them.   I cannot emphasize enough that none of this would be possible without the energy, hard work and innovation of the men and women of this police department, working together with our community, public agency, and business partners.