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GUEST COMMENTARY: No more community service officers?


The Mayor has taken an action that I believe is somewhat critical, especially given the lower income levels and diversity of many residents living around Northgate and Lake City.

Our Seattle Police Chief has suggested to Mayor Nickels that the following services all be completely eliminated in the budget he is proposing to City Council for adoption by Dec. 12. Mayor Nickels has accepted the suggestion and said it is a good recommendation!

The following work, normally handled by 40 staff members, will be cut if City Council adopts the Mayor's budget:

1. Crossing Guards - This program fills in the gaps around the City where volunteers cannot be found to assist Seattle's students in crossing major arterials to get to school. This office also coordinates the crossing guard volunteers.

2. Crime Prevention Program - This office responds to various crime related situations in community's and then works to find ways to resolve the situation. For example, when Lake City Mini-Park became overused by transients and unsafe for public use, this office stepped in to implement a range of strategies for dealing with the problem. This office also provides educational programs and materials to schools and community, coordinates the Block Watch Program, reviews matching grant projects for safety issues related to crime, conducts regular security surveys, and maintains crime statistics that it shares with the community and the City.

3. Community Service Officer - Keeps informed about the "hot spots" in a community and steps in where a Police Officer leaves to take other calls. That includes the following: finding housing for homeless or families in emergency situations; finding hotels and providing vouchers for the hotels when the shelters are full; following up with domestic violence incidents; finding care and transportation for children when parents are either arrested or taken to the hospital; finding meals and medical attention in a variety of situations; providing connections with social services; and handling many other miscellaneous related actions that need attention crime or emergency related incidents.

4. Victims Advocates - These staff assist and act as advocates for victims of domestic violence, elder abuse, child abuse, etc. They also help find shelter and arrange childcare for victims.

5. Business Watch - For our community, Rick Lindsay has already left. He followed up on robberies against our businesses, analyzed how businesses handle money to help them make improvements that will minimize robberies or other crimes, and provided personal safety education to business owners and their employees.

Our Mayor and our Police Chief think that our Police Officers and community volunteers should take on all these responsibilities. How many of you have waited hours for our Police because they already have so many calls to attend to and how many of you feel comfortable taking on these duties in Northgate and Lake City? Do you feel you have the training and background to handle everything from domestic violence to mental health affected people?

The Mayor has proposed one position for the entire city to coordinate all the volunteers to handle these duties and one assistant for this volunteer coordinator.

And one could question the savings. If Police Officers end up working extra time to handle extra duties previously handled by the Community Service Officers and the Crime Prevention Office, they will be getting paid time and a half at $45 per hour at three hours for each hour worked over their normal hours. That adds up quickly, whereas the staff handling these duties previously got paid about $20 per hour. And Police benefits are much higher than regular staff benefits.

A question also needs to be asked, if employees in these programs and offices went through rigorous background checks to get hired, why would we want volunteers to handle these duties with little or no background checks?

Asking social services programs and agencies to pick up the load is difficult because they too are experiencing loss of grants and other funding. They, too, are already stretched thin in their client loads.

Probably the funds come out of different budgets (capital versus operations) but something seems incredibly out of balance when we can afford a new North District Police Station in favor of losing vital assistance and education programs in our communities!

I really think we need to make a strong recommendation to City Council to restore these programs, at least the Crime Prevention and the Community Service Officer. I hope your organizations will send letters to our City officials and department heads and speak out at budget hearings City Council plans to schedule this fall.

Cheryl Klinker is a Lake City resident.