SEATTLE POLICE CHIEF Gil Kerlikowske, who prides himself on his community policing philosophy, is thinking about dismantling his department's Community Policing Teams (CPT).

Kerlikowske was hailed as Mr. Community Policing when he was hired. Interestingly, The Stranger learned in an interview with the chief that he may be taking special aim at the CPT units, which consist of several officers in each precinct and have been around since the late 1980s. It's all part of a six-month review he'll be making of the effectiveness of all the department's specialty units, including the gang unit and the homicide unit.

A lack of manpower is part of the problem, Kerlikowske says. "We have finite resources, and we have a lot of people assigned to different units, including community policing units in each precinct," he asserts. "What's the best way to infuse community policing throughout the department, and how will these resources be used? That's a real challenge for us, getting away from the 'specialized community policing.'"

By abandoning CPT units, Kerlikowske would be gutting a program that ex-chief Norm Stamper held up as proof of his community policing credibility. These were the officers who, under Stamper, spoke at community meetings, were pictured in department P.R. brochures playing street basketball with inner-city kids, and tried to give the department a warm and fuzzy image.

But dropping the warm-and-fuzzy act may actually be a step in the right direction on civil liberties. CPT's detractors, like Ed Reed, were ecstatic to hear about Kerlikowske's proposed change. Having authored a book about the SPD's community policing efforts, Reed has become highly critical of the CPT units. He says the CPT--and therefore the SPD--are out of touch with the communities they're serving. "Those teams aren't community policing," Reed says. "The department needs more partnerships with strength--not just partnerships with people who have jobs, but partnerships with people who run into the police every day."

To better strengthen ties with the community, Reed recommends that Kerlikowske establish some mini-precincts in the most economically distressed neighborhoods. It's an idea that Kerlikowske doesn't appear to be entertaining. Instead, the chief wants the duties of community policing to be spread out among all the members of the police force--not just something a few patrol officers are responsible for carrying out. To do that, the chief wants to stress better police training.

Meanwhile, by rethinking the CPT units, Kerlikowske is tinkering with the department's relationship to City Attorney Mark Sidran, who uses the units to enforce some of his controversial civility-misdemeanor laws. CPT officers often respond to complaints about homeless people and homeless encampments, abandoned vehicles on the side of the road, and loiterers whom the cops suspect of being drug dealers. Assistant city attorneys work directly with CPT officers.

For his part, Sidran believes the CPT units have been successful, but he wouldn't criticize Kerlikowske if he chose to eliminate them. "Whether the CPT is the best structure or should be integrated into the precincts in a general way, I don't have an opinion," he says. Folding CPT units wouldn't change the overall work of the assistant city attorneys, Kerlikowske says.

phil@thestranger.com