There's been a lot of talk in recent days about exactlyhow many police officers we need to maintain public safety in Seattle. Some argue we should hire more officers; the Mayor wants to slow hiring down. Facts and figures are thrown around to justify positions.
So, how many cops do we need? And how do we know what the right number is?
For starters, there is no national standard or benchmark for the number of police officers a city should have. As a result, you have some, like local business leaders, who compare Seattle's officer count with other select American cities, assert we our short, then demand more aggressive hiring. Others argue we should shift money to prevention or social service programs instead of hiring new officers. What's the right answer?
In the absence of a national standard, Seattle's policing environment and staffing levels can be measured against other, similar cities. Three different comparisons have been prepared by my Legislative Aide Nate Van Duzer and they provide helpful insights.
One comparison includes the so-called "West Coast Seven," a grouping of cities Seattle has traditionally used when negotiating working conditions and compensation packages for police officers. Another comparison is the "Comparable Eight," a select group of cities identified by our police department because they have similar policing environments due to size of population, regional position/significance, nightlife/entertainment scene, strength of tourism, presence of professional sports teams, and size of commuter population. Finally, there is the "Group of 21," a national roster of all American cities with a population between 500,000 and 1,000,000.
Here's a snapshot look at these comparison groups. (The following table uses 2008 data, the last full year available with both crime statistics and officer staffing levels.)
As you can see, Seattle has fewer officers per 1,000 population compared to the "Comparable Eight" or the "Group of 21," but more than the "West Coast Seven." Our Part 1 reported crime rate is higher than all of the comparable groups because we have a whole lot more property crime than the other cities. As a result,Seattle has significantly more major crime per police officer than the other cities.