Seattle mayoral candidate Sen. Ed Murray said today he would hire 100 new police officers to help address crime in the city and rebuild the ranks of the force, after numbers have fallen over the past four years with retirements and a police hiring freeze because of city budget cuts. The remarks represented a contrast with Mayor Mike McGinn, who has proposed funding 15 new officers in 2014.
Murray’s plan calls for 25 new officers each year for the next four years, above attrition. He said the staffing levels are below similarly sized cities at the same time Seattle continues to grow.
Murray’s call for more police came at the annual breakfast in support of Real Change, the advocacy newspaper for homeless and low-income people. McGinn and Murray were featured speakers and addressed half-a-dozen questions about poverty, social services and homelessness posed by moderator C.R. Douglas of Q13 FOX news.
McGinn said police are not the solution and again questioned whether there was a downtown crime problem. He accused The Seattle Times of manufacturing a summer crime spike to undermine his candidacy. He said the enforcement-only model failed in the national War on Drugs and that he has brought people together around his Center City Initiative to tackle the root causes of crime, disorder and untreated mental illness.
Murray said he would not hire new officers until they have the training and skills to avoid problems including bias and excessive use of force, two issues identified by the Department of Justice in its settlement agreement with the city and the SPD.
“I hear it constantly from people who go downtown. They’re hassled or intimidated or mugged. These are not law-and-order, lock em up folks. These are liberal Democrats.”
A Seattle Times analysis in August of four downtown police beats around Westlake Park showed the level of violent crime in the retail center has held steady over the past five years, with noticeable spikes in the summer months. The 119 violent incidents in July in those beats hit the highest one-month total in the past five years. When comparing the first seven months of 2012 and 2013, violent crime in the area was up about 7 percent.
The number of Seattle police officers in service has fallen from 1,300 in the first quarter of 2011 to 1,233 in the second quarter of 2013, according to a staff analysis prepared by the City Council. Hiring was frozen in 2010 and 2011 because of city budget cuts. At the same time dozens of officers have retired or left the force.
At the Real Change breakfast, McGinn also accused The Seattle Times of “taking a page from the Republican playbook” by criticizing his goal to expand the circle of prosperity in the city. “If I bring up income inequality, they attack me for class warfare. I’m going to keep bringing it up.”
McGinn again demonstrated a more detailed and passionate knowledge of city issues than Murray. He pointed to his attempts to legalize a permanent tent encampment and to turn a former Lake City fire station into a homeless shelter as examples of trying to find more housing options in the city. “We’ll keep looking for alternatives,” McGinn said.
Murray focused on homeless youth, which according to advocates make up only about 8 percent of the city’s homeless population. Murray said getting them treatment and job skills will prevent them from becoming homeless in the future.
Both candidates suggested they would increase the city housing levy, which is up for renewal in 2016 . Both said they’d bring together stakeholders to determine the need and the size voters would likely support. Both showed a willingness to spend taxpayer money on housing. McGinn noted that he presided over a doubling of the Families and Education Levy. Murray said that in the state Legislature, he doubled the size of the Housing Trust Fund, money awarded to local jurisdications to build affordable housing.