SPOKANE, Wash. – Mayor Condon's proposed no-growth 2013 budget is a mixed bag for the Spokane Police Department.
KHQ reported earlier this week the Spokane Police Department is short 70 officers, compared to recommended safe staffing levels for a city this size. It should have 340 commissioned officers. Right now, the department is budgeted at 295; however, there are only 270 officers actually on the streets. The gap is because of vacant positions that have not been filled in anticipation of a worsening budget picture.
And unfortunately, they were right.
While the Mayor is not laying off any officers, he is eliminating 21 vacant positions. Those include 18 patrol officers, 1 detective, and two civilian positions: a radio dispatcher and records statistician. That means SPD will have the fewest number of employees in at least 5 years.
"This is what we're dealing with so we will make the best of what we have," Interim Police Chief Scott Stephens told KHQ today.
Still, Chief Stephens said he supports the Mayor's budget, and the decision to not spend more than is coming in.
Mayor Condon said despite the eliminated vacant positions, the police department is still the top-funded department in the city, and that he's committed to maintaining the current service levels.
When asked if he thought the current staffing levels are enough to keep people in Spokane safe, he said:
"I think, I'm a data person, we have a couple of initiatives out there right now with hot-spot policing that are showing some promise. Some of the other numbers I still have some concern over, and I'm working with the current command staff to address those issues."
He says those issues include the number of property crimes committed in the Spokane area.
The reductions in positions, as well as a scaled-back budget for equipment, supplies and travel will potentially impact patrol services; the Mayor's own budget states "these staffing levels remain below the recommended level." It goes on to say "a department can only be so lean and remain effective."
So I asked Chief Stephens if his department remains effective, and if he has the staffing he needs to keep the people of Spokane safe.
"We do, we will keep people safe," Chief Stephens responded. "We'll have to make some real hard choices of how we're going to do that, and the manner in which we deliver public safety services, but we will keep people safe."
However, the police-staffing picture could get even worse. That's because negotiations are ongoing between the City of Spokane and the Police Guild. If an agreement isn't reached, Mayor Condon didn't know how many additional positions may be on the chopping block. There is no deadline for negotiations to be reached.
I also asked the Mayor if he would look at putting a public safety bond on the ballot to supplement the budget. He said it would be an option, and that he would have to pinpoint how much of an investment they would ask the public to make.
The budget will be proposed to the City Council for adoption later this fall.