While interim Seattle police chief John Diaz publicly pushes the Seattle Police Department's commitment to community policing, SPD is quietly gearing up to cut its main community outreach personnel. All six of the crime prevention coordinators and at least a few of the department's six victim advocates will soon have to leave the department owing to a lack of funds, leaving those positions indefinitely vacant.
"We have more actual contact with citizens than anyone else in the police department," says Diane Horswill, the North Precinct crime prevention coordinator. Horswill's crew organizes block watches, attends community meetings, and acts as a liaison between neighborhoods and the police department. Most visibly, cutting the program will mean an end to Night Out, a set of block parties held citywide in early August. Roughly 1,200 blocks participated in the event in 2009.
"Diane is the person we call whenever we need answers about crime," says Pinehurst resident Renee Staton. "Without her, we'll just have rumors and a bunch of people feeding off each other's hysteria."
SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb says the positions were officially cut from the SPD budget last year but were extended through March 2011 via a federal grant. He couldn't comment on why another grant is not forthcoming. But the city budget, which is running a projected $56 million deficit next year, appears unlikely to make up the difference. Without money for the program, the positions will be gone by spring.
The loss comes as SPD faces increasing scrutiny for being out of touch with neighborhood needs under the watch of Diaz.
"Our community has not been served well in the last 20 years," says Reverend Harriett Walden, founder of Mothers for Police Accountability. Diaz, she says, "hasn't come to us at all."
Also affected by the cuts: SPD employs two victim advocates to work with the department's domestic violence, sexual assault, and robbery units to provide immediate services to trauma victims—providing everything from counseling and housing referrals to funeral arrangements.
"Victim advocates know the grieving process better than victims do," says a former victim, who asked not to be named. "They know what support you need better than you do. I fear for victims who have to cope without that support."
Victim advocates and crime prevention coordinators are civilian positions within SPD, which is why, Horswill says, she and her colleagues fill a roll that officers simply can't. For example, they accompany domestic violence victims to court hearings—court hearings the victims may otherwise skip. "Officers on patrol can't take two hours out of their schedules to provide the kind of services that we can," she says.
SPD has until March to find funding for these positions, but realistically they're already gone. SPD doesn't have money in its budget to extend the positions, and it's a long shot that federal stimulus money will save the day (again). So Seattle residents will have to swallow a bitter pill: an end to vital services that prevent crime and comfort victims. When they're not renewed, "the work won't be done," says Whitcomb. "It's as simple as that."