The Spokane Police Department needs another 44 officers on the streets in order to split its time evenly between taking calls for help and patrolling beats, according to a report shared with City Hall on Monday.
The study’s findings will almost certainly fuel negotiations at City Hall setting next year’s budget and a contract with the union representing uniformed officers. Having 44 more police officers on the payroll would cost the city up to $5.5 million in salary and benefits.
“I need to have a conversation with the mayor, and (Police) Chief (Craig) Meidl, about what this report is telling us, and where do we go from here?” said City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, chair of the city’s public safety committee.
Brian Coddington, a spokesman for Mayor David Condon, said Monday the report was preliminary but provided “a deep dive” on how the agency spends its time responding to and fighting crime in Spokane.
“It really starts to take a good hard look at where in the city the calls occur most often, what time during the day those calls start to stack up, and how you then start to distribute your resources according to those needs,” Coddington said.
A final report from Tim Freesmeyer, a researcher and consultant who has performed similar studies of staffing needs at law enforcement agencies in Bellevue, Snohomish County and elsewhere throughout the country, is expected sometime within the next 30 days, Coddington said, and Condon would have further thoughts then.
Meidl, members of his administration and the president of the Spokane Police Guild looked on as Freesmeyer presented his findings to six members of the City Council on Monday morning. After analyzing the amount of time Spokane officers spent on responding to calls versus what he called “proactive” policing, including walking beats and patrolling high-crime areas in a three-year period from 2013 to 2015, Freesmeyer said the 44 additional personnel would allow officers on the street to evenly split their time responding to crime as well as suppressing it, a standard that’s been used in other cities.
“If possible, I try to strive for a 30/30,” Freesmeyer said, referring to minutes in an hour. “If not, we try to settle on a strategic plan to get something within reason.”
Some agencies have planned out for four years to address staffing issues, Freesmeyer said.
Spokane’s 165 patrol personnel spend an average of 37.5 minutes per hour responding to reports, based on Freesmeyer’s findings.
The city added four resource officers to the department in its 2017 budget, at a cost of $500,000, using revenue collected from speeders captured on cameras near area elementary schools. Coddington said that amount, setting aside $125,000 for each officer, was “a pretty good representation of what a new officer costs,” including wages, benefits and equipment.
According to city data from 2017, the department’s officers earned an average salary of about $66,000.
Both of those figures indicate the annual cost of 44 new officers could range from $3 million to $5.5 million, and would increase the size of the department’s patrol staff by about 25 percent.
The city has already added 35 new officers to the department over the past few years, Coddington said, though that figure includes hires outside of patrol.
Freesmeyer said the city would have to make the decision about whether they were willing to pay to increase the amount of time officers could spend on proactive policing. Meidl said hiring the patrol officers would likely address concerns expressed by residents.
“Inadequate response seems to be our No. 1 complaint,” Meidl said. “You’d see quicker response times, and you’d see lesser fatigue.”
More officers would also allow those on patrol to more frequently monitor hot spots where a lot of crime is reported, which has seen some success in certain parts of the city, Meidl said.
“It’s based on call load,” he said. “We’ve shown that putting those officers into those hot spots can absolutely suppress crime.”
The city could increase the efficiency of its existing officers by making changes to the way patrols are scheduled, Freesmeyer said, but those changes would be subject to bargaining with the Spokane Police Guild. The union has asked to open talks with the city on a new contract after their existing agreement expired last year, but so far those negotiations have been put on hold while the city ponders changes to its laws governing the office of civilian oversight of the department.
Spokane is also considering freeing up the city’s nine neighborhood resource officers to work on property crime cases by authorizing the city’s code enforcement department to handle impounding of abandoned vehicles.
“They’re spending an inordinate amount of time,” Meidl said in an interview earlier this month.
The City Council requested more time to review the proposal to ensure it doesn’t run afoul of state law mandating who can authorize tows.
A potential source of revenue that could pay for additional officers – a tax on sugary drinks, like the one approved by the Seattle City Council earlier this month – was shot down by the Spokane City Council earlier this month, and Condon opposes the idea.
Freesmeyer told council members no matter what choice they make about staffing, the underlying problem isn’t likely to go away quickly.
“Even if you authorize an additional 40 officers today, the police department couldn’t hire 40 officers and get them through the academy that quickly,” he said. “You didn’t get into this situation overnight, and you’re not going to get out of it overnight.”
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