On his first day as the city’s top cop, interim Seattle police Chief Adrian Diaz announced Wednesday he is moving more than 100 officers and supervisors out of specialty units and into patrol, with the goals of improving response times to 911 calls, reducing the department’s reliance on overtime pay and providing some stress relief to harried patrol officers who often spend their shifts racing from call to call.
The move is meant to ensure individual officers don’t have to pinball around on their beats and have more time to get to know the people who live and work in the neighborhoods where they patrol, and can address emerging or underlying problems, said Diaz, 45.
The personnel shift won’t affect detectives and sergeants currently assigned to violent crime units, such as the homicide and gang units, Diaz said in the news conference with Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. About 40% of the 100 officers who will be moved to patrol already are providing similar functions, such as those assigned to the precincts’ anti-crime, community policing and traffic-enforcement teams, he said.
“There’s more to this than having more cars on the street. We’re getting to calls faster,” he said. Diaz later added, “As chief, it is my commitment to put our resources where they are most needed, and right now, that is patrol.”
The Seattle Police Department has a force of around 1,300 sworn officers of all ranks, plus another 600 civilian employees.
Diaz was named interim chief at an Aug. 11 news conference, when former police Chief Carmen Best abruptly announced she was retiring after 28 years on the force in the wake of criticism over the Police Department’s response to protests over police brutality and votes by the City Council to cut 100 officers from the department and slash Best’s pay and that of her command staff.
Best, whose last day was Tuesday, said at the time she decided to step down mostly because she didn’t agree with the council’s approach to defunding the police department, and because her relationship with the council had soured, suggesting Diaz might have more luck.
On Aug. 21, Durkan vetoed the City Council’s revised 2020 budget that would have cut up to 100 police officers; slashed the salaries of police command staff; scrapped the city’s Navigation Team, which performs outreach to homeless people and clears encampments; and appropriated millions of dollars to community organizations for public safety initiatives.
The City Council, which has been on summer recess for almost two weeks, will return to work Sept. 8 and could vote to override the mayor’s veto. But before the annual break, council President M. Lorena González told The Seattle Times she and her colleagues would use the time to think again about the budget bills they passed early last month and to reset their recently acrimonious relationship with the mayor.
On Wednesday, Diaz said he is working with command staff and union representatives to notify affected officers and provide them the opportunity to choose their preferred assignments, with the goal of redeploying officers starting the week of Sept. 16.
He also announced he is adding a fourth patrol shift, from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m., which will mean more officers will be available during the time of day when 911 call volumes are the highest, with officers typically working four days on and three days off.
Currently, patrol’s first watch generally runs from 3 a.m. to noon, with second watch from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and third watch from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m.
Durkan began Wednesday’s news conference by saying she’s heard from communities of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) who have demanded changes in the way policing is done and the need to invest in underfunded neighborhoods in order “to undo centuries of systemic racism.”
The mayor, who is to unveil her proposed 2021 budget on Sept. 28, said she’ll be sharing more later this month about the $100 million she wants to invest in BIPOC communities and the process, to be community-led, for investing that money to address affordable housing, education equity, access to health care and other “upstream” solutions to combating gun violence that disproportionately affect young men of color.
Other priorities include “promoting accountability and reform, including state-wide reforms of police unions” and “rethinking and reimagining policing,” including a top-to-bottom review of SPD’s budget and culture, Durkan said.
Of Diaz’s announcement to move 100 officers to augment SPD’s Patrol Bureau, she said: “While allowing us to meet the public safety challenges that we face in 2020, these changes also lay the groundwork for the future.”
Pending the outcome of what she promised would be a “robust community engagement” on reforming the police department, Durkan said with this summer’s spike in gun violence, “we also need to act now.”
This is also an effort to manage overtime, Durkan said.
“If you can put more officers [on the streets] at the key times, you’ll need less overtime,” the mayor said. “And by adding shorter shifts, the department is also giving the necessary support and relief that those officers need. Some of them are working very long shifts under a very heavy duty.”
Durkan’s comments followed a story this week in The Seattle Times that noted how a 58-year-old patrol officer made more than $414,000 last year, more than the mayor, police chief, or any other city employee. The story showed that SPD has struggled for years to monitor its overtime costs.
Diaz said SPD currently has the fewest number of officers assigned to patrol “in recent memory” and his goal is to have at least half of the department’s officers and their supervisors in patrol.
“With appropriate staffing in patrol, we won’t have to rely on overtime-funded emphasis patrols to address emerging crime issues,” he said. “This was a move to address an immediate and ongoing staffing need in patrol.”
With the personnel shift, the chief said the department will also be monitoring detectives’ case loads and the time it takes for them to refer criminal cases to city attorneys and county prosecutors to ensure investigation units aren’t negatively affected.