March 7, 1998 in City

Seattle Short Of Cops On Street Retirements Affect Efficiency Of Area’s Law Enforcement

Associated Press

Thirty years after a surge in law-enforcement hiring, retirements by police and sheriff’s officers are creating a shortage of cops on the street.

That means longer response times, bigger overtime bills and sometimes a reluctance to stop suspicious people due to concerns about backup.

“It’s almost a scandal that there are so few officers to answer dispatch calls,” said Mike Patrick, executive director of the State Council of Police Officers. “There’s been a lack of money and foresight and unwillingness to hire new bodies.”

In Seattle, the police force was increased by 300 officers in the 1960s. Thirty officers retired in December. Seattle police overtime last year was $2 million over budget, partly because of severe winter storms.

“I think it’s a very significant problem,” said Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper. “It affects overall efficiency and effectiveness, service to the community, and something that’s near and dear to my heart, officer safety.”

Callers to the King County Sheriff’s Department say they wait as long as one to four hours for help, Patrick said.

In Tacoma, the number of officers assigned to traffic units is down from 33 to 13, and those units have been consolidated into a day shift except for a two-member nighttime drunken-driving squad, Police Guild president Robert Blystone said.

“After 5 p.m., the people of Tacoma can speed through the night,” Blystone said.

Filling vacancies can be cumbersome.

In Seattle, no one can be hired until a position is open, and a newly hired recruit can’t hit the street without going through the police academy and training process, which can take 10 months.

Frustrated by a long waiting list at the state academy, the city recently formed its own police academy to speed up the training process.

Mike Edwards, president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, said there are 160 vacancies out of an allocated patrol staff of about 695.

In Seattle’s North Precinct, a 32-square-mile area with 230,078 residents north of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, some overnight shifts have been reduced to seven officers, compared with an ideal minimum of 13.

“I’ve got to tell you, I have never seen it as bad as it is now,” Lt. Roy Wedlund said.

Some officers told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that when they are alone, they are less likely to stop a suspicious car or person due to concerns about how long it may take for another officer to arrive.

xxxx APPLICANTS DOWN Nationally, police jobs are drawing fewer young applicants, chiefly because of unfavorable publicity about law enforcement work, according to the International Union of Police Associations.

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