For the first time in recent memory, a panel of business owners and leaders from across the city will speak to a Seattle City Council committee about their public safety concerns.
Wednesday’s noteworthy event, convened at the request of Councilmember Sara Nelson, comes just days after Mayor Bruce Harrell held a news conference to acknowledge the sharp increase in violent crime citywide.
As leaders discuss crime impacts and debate responses, one fact stands clear: Seattle needs more cops. Until the City Council understands and acts on this reality, progress will remain elusive.
Nelson, a small-business owner and council newcomer, is a conduit for voices not often heard in City Hall. “Businesses have been writing to me,” she said. “ ‘Please help, please help.’ They are worried about the safety of their employees. These people feel abandoned by leaders.”
Listening is a good start. Nelson said the panel will also discuss solutions, but tackling public safety without acknowledging the elephant in the room is difficult. In last fall’s city budget debate, council members continued to say the Seattle Police Department’s understaffing was no different than the hiring challenges and service delays faced by other departments. This attitude must change.
Harrell acknowledged the issue but offered no specifics.
“I inherited a depleted and demoralized police department. We have lost a staggering amount of officers over the last two years,” Harrell said Friday. “Chief Diaz has told me we cannot deploy enough officers to keep our city safe or meet the response time parameters he has set. We are going to rebuild our police department so we have the right kind of officers and right number of officers.”
Last October, then-Mayor Jenny Durkan issued a Civil Emergency Order that provided SPD hiring incentives, as well as $25,000 incentives for hiring already trained and commissioned officers from other cities. The council terminated the order on Dec. 31. Eight of those council members who made that shortsighted decision continue in office.
According to the Seattle Police Department’s 2021 Year End Crime Report, released last week, overall crime in Seattle rose 10% in 2021 over 2020. Total violent crime — categorized in the report as homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults — increased by 20%, reaching the highest level in 14 years.
It is a good sign that Harrell recognizes the need for action on public safety. Similarly refreshing is a council member responding to business owners whose concerns reflect those of many residents also worried about crime.
The best laid policing plans need officers to carry them out. Harrell could reissue the Civil Emergency Order, or add more police in a supplemental budget request later this year.
Until the rest of the City Council members finally commit to doing everything they can to get more well-trained, compassionate cops on the beat, there is little reason to hope 2022 crime stats will show marked improvement.