Police: Budget Cuts Would Endanger Community
Seattle Post Intelligencer via YellowBrix
April 15, 2010
SEATTLE – King County Sheriff Sue Rahr told the County Council Wednesday if her office is forced to cut costs by 12 percent as proposed the result would be an immediate impact on public safety.
“We would no longer investigate when one of the 10,000 people per year in unincorporated King County call to tell us their house has been broken into or their car’s been stolen or their identity’s been stolen, their credit cards have been taken,” she said, adding 82 positions would have to be cut. “We will not have any detectives to investigate those crimes.”
Drug crimes would not be investigated in those areas, school resource officers would be cut, neighborhood storefront deputies would be eliminated and regional Violent Crime and Drug Task Force participation would stop, Rahr told the Council.
Rahr spoke at a special meeting discussing the budget. The county’s two-year general fund, which provides funding for the Sheriff’s Office and courts, has $629 million dollars after losing $150 million during the last two budget periods, Council Budget and Fiscal Management Committee Chair Julia Patterson said the county is still facing a deficit, and an additional $60 million is expected to be cut next year.
Budget Director Dwight Dively told council members that the one-time fixes and other budget gimmicks used to mitigate the effects of the Great Recession are no longer available, and “there is no reason to suspect that on the revenue side of our general fund budget that we’re going to see any great relief.”
That means if cuts like the ones Rahr fears are to be avoided, county residents will have to approve more taxes.
The county’s budget woes have been caused, in part, because county revenue hasn’t been able to keep pace with expenses. The economic downturn has cut sales tax collections and other income sources. And officials say the county’s ability to collect property taxes and impose other levies has been restrained by voter initiatives and the Legislature.
County Executive Dow Constantine has said he wants to stabilize the county’s fiscal situation. In addition to a cap on revenues in good times, he wants to attempt to drive down the annual growth of costs to the level of " background inflation" before voters are possibly asked for more tax money.
“This equates to somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of the general fund budget … that will need to be cut.” Patterson said. "So as part of this planning process the executive has asked all the general fund county agencies to provide examples of the services that likely could no longer be supported if a cut of that size was allocated county wide.
Rahr said between 2008 and 2010, 75 commissioned personnel and 21 civilian personnel were eliminated – about a 20 percent cut of resources in unincorporated King County and regional services. Sheriff’s reductions have hit neighborhood patrols, school resource officers, SWAT response time, the K9 unit and marine patrol.
“Our greatest level of cuts has come out of investigations,” Rahr said, referencing a PowerPoint slide showing child abuse, homicide, domestic violence and terrorism cases are among investigations that have been cut. “I’ve tried very hard to keep patrol response, 911 response at the top of our priority list so we’ve cut back the number of people that are in detective positions and moved them to patrol.”
As a result, the vice unit has been eliminated and the drug investigation unit has been significantly reduced. The average number of officers per 1,000 people is lower in unincorporated King County than in the 12 contract cities and in other Washington cities facing the same economic problems, the Sheriff said. Nationally, the sheriff’s office has less sworn personnel than 84 percent of other police agencies in the country, she said.
The sheriff described her department as cheap and lean, saying she’s done all possible to prevent immediate safety threats. Cuts over the last two years would instead cause a deteriorating effect. “We currently have over 30,000 warrants backlogged that have not yet been served,” she told the Council. "Over half of those warrants are for felons. That backlog will … continue to grow.
“I can not further cut and continue to promise the 340,000 citizens in unincorporated King County that they will have a reasonable response when they dial 911.”
The sheriff’s office has received $30 million in federal funds over the last decade, and Councilman Larry Gossett wondered why the funds can’t be used to cover the areas being reduced. Generally those funds are used for very specialized areas, and positions funded by the grants must be kept for at least a year after the grant runs out, Rahr said.
About 370 deputies serve in unincorporated King County and roughly 300 serve in the 12 contracted cities, the areas where Rahr can’t make cuts. Contracts with the 12 cities roll over each year, and about half of the Sheriff’s budget comes from those areas.
In November the County Council had to address a $56 million shortfall and approved a 2010 operating budget that was $628 million. The spending plan the council OK’d eliminated 311 full-time positions to leave a county-wide workforce of 13,586 positions. That was a reduction of 2.2 percent of the county’s workforce.