If Tacoma’s Interim City Manager Rey Arellano thinks his latest budget proposal is a joke, I have news for him. It ain’t funny.
With $23 million in expected cuts coming in 2012, potential job losses come as no surprise. The number of jobs–165 jobs according to the latest Trib report–does put a hefty human toll, especially given the nation’s unemployment woes.
But those figures blur when the two job classifications taking the majority of the cuts come into focus: Police officers and firefighters.
In all fairness I know people in both agencies, and will indirectly feel the sorrow and disappointment that these men and women (not to mention their families) will experience if the ax does indeed fall. These big numbers, 52 cops and 47 firefighters, will make a huge dent in both departments, and their absence will make the echo in the hallways quite melancholy.
But they are all adults capable of recognizing the simple math leading to their job loss. And no one guaranteed them a job for life.
I admit that my feelings on these proposed cuts are jaded, still I can’t help but believe Arrellano has made a huge mistake. By targeting public safety, and in such disproportionate numbers, the cascade of effects will be both significant and long term.
According to my information, the Tacoma Police Department employs approximately 383 commissioned officers. Arrellano’s plan would be to slice 52 cops and 4 commanders from this pie, a combined figure which represents a whopping 15% of the police department. Here’s how this event would ripple through the different divisions within the department.
Police agencies use a seniority system based on the date of hire. This would mean that 52 of the newest cops would be forced to cough up their badges and guns, as well as their paychecks, health benefits and retirement credit. Four commanders and four sergeants would be demoted a step, effectively pushing four more rookies out the door. Though these 56 officers would most likely be working in the patrol division, the staffing numbers in this division would probably not change.
The reason is that most agencies staff their patrol divisions with a mandated minimum number of officers. Any attrition in the patrol division would then be back-filled with the least senior officers assigned to specialty units, such as narcotics and gang investigations, collision and DUI cars, person and property crimes investigations, and smaller units such as training and recruiting (not that the recruiting officer will be very busy by then).
The detectives and specialists who rotate out of these units and back to patrol represent decades of experience and knowledge in a variety of exceptionally technical fields. Their loss will be felt almost immediately, as well. Proactive investigations into chop shops and street gangs will falter, DUI and speed related crashes will rise, and cases awaiting a detective’s follow-up will collect ever more dust.
The end result? Laying off such a huge percentage of police officers in one fell swoop will lead to an increase in crime, an increase in police response time and a general sense that the streets are less safe.
I have to believe that Rey Arrellano knows all this. He has probably been briefed on specifics by his subordinates in both the police and fire departments. With all the dire consequences of this plan, this shock to the public safety system, I can only hope it is in fact a high stakes poker game Arrellano is playing with the city council. Playing with citizen’s fears over the budget is a game played before, especially in the other Washington.
So if you’re gambling, Mr. Arrellano, I hope you don’t blink.