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Tacoma: UW-T position paper warns city council to “think twice” about public safety layoffs

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Jan. 24, 2012 at 9:17 pm with No Comments »
January 24, 2012 9:17 pm

Hours before the Tacoma City Council was set to vote Tuesday on proposed concessions from the city’s police union aimed to spare jobs,  two University of Washington-Tacoma criminal justice faculty members and their students warned the council to “think twice” before making public safety layoffs.

Here’s their press release:

Jan. 24, 2011

Cuts to police could compromise future safety, budgets

Students and teachers find issues with proposed cuts

TACOMA, WASH. — Two criminal justice faculty members and their students in the Social Work program at the University of Washington Tacoma have written a position paper regarding proposed cuts to the Tacoma Police Department.

Their advice: think twice.

Today, Jan. 24, the Tacoma City Council will address whether to lay off 56 police officers, and possibly another 44 next month, in order to close a $31 million gap in the city’s budget.

But the long-term effects and costs could far outweigh the short-term advantages, according to “Community Policing Strategies and Effectiveness in Reducing Crime: A Position Paper to the Tacoma City Council.”

The position paper was written by faculty members Tarna Derby-McCurtain, lecturer; and Alissa Ackerman, assistant professor; with research assistance from criminal justice students Lauren Vetsch, senior; Rebecca Knecht, junior; and Stacy Kahler, senior.

Vetsch said the students pitched in over their winter break because “these cuts went against everything we had been taught in our classes. Our professors tell us how good pro-active policing is and how well it works, and it makes no sense to cut it.”

“As members of the community, we wanted to look analytically at what these cuts might mean to Tacoma,” said McCurtain.

According to Ackerman, cutting officers to save budget dollars has been proven ineffective in other U.S. cities.

The 21-page position paper points out that cutting the police force will have long-term, unintended consequences. “We caution that policy/community relations will be effectively eradicated by making these cuts. This will decrease confidence in TPD and will thwart any ability to partner with community members,” the authors write. They go on to predict that violent and property crime, as well as “fear of crime,” will increase over time.

The paper also argues that “the long-term fiscal impacts of these impending cuts should not be understated.” The authors’ research shows that the cost of basic law enforcement training is about $3,500 per trainee currently, but it may soon increase to as much as $15,000. Add to that the cost of recruitment, background checks and time spent with a field training officer.

Although the authors acknowledge that the city government is in a precarious position, “such large cuts to public safety will harm the city and its residents far worse than the short-term budget crisis,” they argue.

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