Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

Interim City Manager playing poker with city budget

Post by Brian O'Neill on Nov. 19, 2011 at 5:04 pm with 15 Comments »
November 19, 2011 5:04 pm

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.

Leave a comment Comments → 15
  1. Its just the old threaten public safety. Forget cutting salaries 5%, re-opening negotiations with the unions. Just threaten public safety and the people will demand higher taxes. Time to eliminate collective bargaining in our state for public employees. The unions(Police and Fire as well) are guilty of demanding higher and higher salaries, resulting in necessary layoffs. Hopefully we can make the intelligent moves of Wisconsin and Illinois and severely limit collective bargaining privileges for public sector unions.

  2. Earth_watch says:

    To bring down costs, stop spending time and money on unnecessary surveillance of group assembling legally, and unnecessary overtime pay to monitor legal non-violent protests.

  3. The police and firefighters could take a temporary pay cut until the economy improves. Think about it.

  4. dinseattle says:

    The police have not taken a pay raise in two years. The rest of the City has. Maybe they should take back those increases that they have given to everyone else (with new pay raises coming in January again but not for police). So the one area in city government that has foregone pay raises will have layoffs, but the ones that continue to get yearly pay raises will be kept on. Hmmm, how does that work? Oh, wait, that is efficient government working for you.

  5. gogoDawgs says:

    I am ok with a smaller police force and smaller fire department.

  6. Brian O'Neill says:

    If the layoffs happen, hopefully you won’t be forced to eat your words.

  7. dinseattle says:

    I personally hope he/she does have to be force-fed those words. He/she will then be the first whiner about how their house burned down because the fire department didn’t get there in time, or how their spouse died from gunshot wounds because the paramedics couldn’t get there in time, or how their child is missing and the police cannot do anything about it because there is not enough manpower to care, or how they’ve been robbed, or their car stolen, etc., and they are told to just make a report because there is not enough police to help. Then there are the complaints about the drug dealers, the domestic violence, the drive-by shootings, etc., but the police won’t be able to help. Yep, when the police or fire don’t arrive, gogoDawgs will be the first to whine. When it happens, I’ll be the first to send you some cheese to go with that whine.

  8. Tacoma is the most dangerous city in Washington and one of the most dangerous on the West Coast.

    Here are some stats:
    Your chances of becoming a victim of a VIOLENT crime in Tacoma is 1 in 98 (Wash State is 1 in 293)… Your chances of becoming a victim of a PROPERTY crime in Tacoma is 1 in 13.

    Violent Crime Comparison per 1,000 residents: National average is 4.5… Tacoma is 10.17!!!

    Crime Index: 2 (safest is 100)- this means- Tacoma is safer than only 2% of the cities in the U.S.

    Crimes per square mile: Tacoma- 203, Washington- 39, National Median- 41.8

    With a crime rate of 87 per one thousand residents, Tacoma has one of the highest crime rates in America compared to all communities of ALL sizes – from the smallest towns to the very largest cities. One’s chance of becoming a victim of either violent or property crime here is one in 12. Few other communities of ITS size have a crime rate as high as Tacoma.

    Tacoma is already dangerous with 380 police on the streets (where we already have a lower police to citizen ratio than state/national average). Bad dudes are seeing in the news that police are getting laid off- you KNOW they’re going to take advantage of this

    (Stats obtained by neighborhoodscout.com and FBI index)

  9. dinseattle…you are incorrect. If you would like contract language for the “other” unions in Tacoma, they are public record. I believe the majority of bargaining units are not asking for increases. I know our group isn’t even asking increased money for the next several years. Some of us are thankful to have a job and can see the economy is in trouble.

    If they are so serious why haven’t they taken the postings for new and/or lateral police officers off the city’s website? It seems like posturing to be honest and you have played right in to their hands!

    http://agency.governmentjobs.com/tacoma/default.cfm

  10. Chippert says:

    Can you explain how, if the size of the patrol division remains constant, that “DUI and speed related crashes will rise”? Surely enforcement is the deterrent and enforcement comes from the patrol division for DUI and speed, correct? Also, if the patrol division replaces lost “rookies” with more experienced personnel, would not the effectiveness of that division logically increase?

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that laying off 15% of the police force is the best idea, or even a good idea. And, while I agree with TMell that this could simply be a ploy to frighten the general public, I would hope that you would not lend you column to support such a ploy.

  11. joyceloveland says:

    Citizen’s of Tacoma Please READ the comments of Staples, as this will become reality for us if these impending cuts take place. As far as Law Enforcement goes, Remember the 1980’s and 1990’s, remember what Wright Park used to be like, when you couldn’t walk through there in the day time. With these cuts there will be no supervison of those newly released inmates, or sex offenders.
    And speaking of the fire department cuts, those affected will have less individuals to respond if and when you have any type of emergency.
    Cuts may need to happen but not to already struggling agencies, and not to those that we need to help protect our streets, our communities, and us.

  12. Brian O'Neill says:

    Chippert- Thanks for your comments and questions. I’ll try to answer to the best of my knowledge:

    During layoff cycles the proactive units, which include traffic, gangs and narcotics investigations, are a usual target for down-sizing. As a result, the criminals who would otherwise have been arrested during undercover stings and aggressive enforcement operations will be responsible for an uptick in street crime. Investigating these new crimes will take more of a chunk out of the shift of patrol officers, leaving less time for proactive enforcement. DUI’s account for a sizeable portion of many patrol officers’ proactive enforcement, and with DUI crashes killing more people than just about any crime, it is a safe bet that more people will be injured and killed as a result.

    As for rookies, it is certainly true that they have a lot less experience and knowledge about the job. On the other hand, their relative youth and fresh motivation translate to an increase in citizen contacts, enforcement and arrests.

    And if I did not make it clear in my column, I do not support Arrellano’s budget cuts, whether they are real or an attempt to scare the council into coughing up more money. At best that would be fear-mongering, and at worst it would be irresponsible.

  13. I think that asking an interim city manager to propose who should be laid off is like asking the student whose grade is dependent on the professors to be in charge of cost reductions at a college.
    I mean does the Mayor and her council seriously believe that Arellano is going to say, we should lay off my boss (nevermind), my colleagues in planning, economic development, historic preservation, the repair of potholes division (nevermind) the L.I.D. division, and since construction and permitting is down, we should cut management in all related divisions, and while we’re at it eliminate half the City Attorney’s staff and consier outsourcing for any big law suits that come the City’s way -(oh wait, they do that anyway).
    No, predictably – who do they go after? Our men and women in uniform by a ratio of like 100 to 1. Seriously?

  14. CScrusador says:

    More than just services will be lost with these layoffs. In the case of the police department the 52 officers represent an investment in the future of the department. Over 40 percent of the department is now or will be eligible to retire in the next 5 years. It is necessary for the department to fill vacancies over time as you simply cannot hire someone off a list and put them on the street. To expect them all to be available for rehire is to say the least unrealistic. The likely scenario is that they will be hired by other agencies and that money and investment lost forever. It is important to realize as well that there were 22 vacancies when the budget crisis was announced making the impact of the layoffs much greater 74 than most people realize.

    Meanwhile, city management goes on funding rain filters and empty parking garages that are bleeding the budget dry.

  15. gogoDawgs says:

    Nope, I won’t whine. I have carried a defensive sidearm for 20 plus years, I do so both openly and concealed as to deter crime around me. I have insurance for my residence. The hysteria won’t work. I did NOT say to eliminate either, just smaller. I am ok with it, I can’t afford it and neither can my neighbors. I will take greater responsibility for myself. Will bad things happen, yes, that is part of the human condition. When my time comes or that of my loved one then it is God’s way. Cut the hysteria.

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