Seattle police working to a new set of beats
Boundaries designed to reflect changing neighborhoods
Last updated January 13, 2008 9:27 p.m. PT
Pelich was one of many officers across the city last week readjusting after the first restructuring of patrol beats in more than 30 years. Precinct boundaries were redrawn and new sectors and beats were formed as part of the Neighborhood Policing Plan, a major initiative to improve 911 service and enable officers to do more “proactive” police work.
As part of the initiative, the city plans to hire 105 more police officers in the next four years. The plan aims to give officers more time to know their neighborhoods and better ability to back one another up.
|Grant M. Haller / P-I|
|Debra Pelich, a 13-year police veteran, is one of many officers adjusting to new precinct boundaries designed to give them more time to know their neighborhoods.|
The Seattle Police Department hadn’t changed its patrol districts since the 1970s. Boundaries weren’t geared to keep pace with the condominium boom downtown, the expanding South Lake Union neighborhood, or changes expected with light rail in Rainier Valley.
Pelich’s last assignment was in South Lake Union, where she watched condos and new buildings sprout seemingly on every other block, bringing more residents downtown to call 911 for domestic violence or auto break-ins.
Her new beat used to be covered by the East Precinct. As she hit the streets around noon, she had new patterns to familiarize with, but so far it was going smoothly, she said.
“It’s not that we’re doing anything drastically different. We’re just being more effective and more efficient,” she said. “No matter where you are, no matter what district you’re in, and no matter what time of day, police work is police work.”
But stagnant police beats in an ever-changing city created an imbalance in workload for officers in some districts and longer waits in some neighborhoods for police service, Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer said.
The average response time for high-priority calls was seven minutes, the accepted standard for larger cities, according to the Neighborhood Policing Plan report. But some responses took nine minutes or were as quick as five minutes, depending on what day and time and what neighborhood.
The goal now is to guarantee no one waits longer than seven minutes in a high-priority call.
“Geographically, the new map is constructed on the theory that no matter where you live, you’re entitled to the same level of police coverage as anybody else. We’ve attempted to be as fair as humanly possible to bring equity into our relationships between the Police Department and neighborhoods,” Kimerer said.
More substantial changes are ahead. The plan calls for officers’ shifts to be rearranged, which will require negotiating with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild.
The guild already has questioned the wisdom of implementing the ambitious policing plan without first having a sufficient number of new officers to meet its objectives. Recruiting has barely kept pace with officers retiring or transferring in the last year, and guild leaders say the city hasn’t offered a labor contract with favorable terms, which they say would help retain and recruit officers.
More proactive work won’t be possible without more officers on the streets, said Sgt. Rich O’Neill, guild president.
“Our biggest concern is the way it’s being hyped,” O’Neill said. “I don’t want to see citizens duped into believing that redrawing boundaries around neighborhoods is going to somehow make more officers show up on their doorstep for a 911 call.”
The changes were based on an analysis of four years’ worth of 911 and staffing data.
One beat in the South End handled four times as many calls as neighboring beats, Kimerer said.
Some beats, such as the University District, which has a high volume of drug and alcohol violations, were pared down so officers have less ground to cover and more time to respond to problems.
The department also plans to switch to a new records management system this year and a new computer-aided dispatch system after that, enabling the department to better monitor data.
As Pelich, the West Precinct officer, cruised down East Howell Street, she spotted a scofflaw from her former territory. She rolled down her window and greeted him.
“OK, there is somebody from my old district who is up here,” she said.
Officers were trained on the new boundaries and had reference maps on hand for the first week. Officers have a good general sense of their neighboring beats, but it takes time on a new assignment to learn side streets, back alleys and the quickest routes if they need to back each other up.
About 3:30 p.m., Pelich stopped a driver pulling away from a curb outside an apartment building on Capitol Hill. He’d been fiddling with the ignition, his head bowed down. The license plate wasn’t registered to him.
He explained he’d just purchased the beat-up Dodge Neon and his record turned up clear.
Just before Pelich set him free, her mobile dispatch terminal beeped with a message from an officer, also on a new beat, checking on her.
“Where the hell is E. Thomas/Belmont Ave?” the message asked, referring to her location.
“This is what’s probably going to happen for the next couple of days here,” she said.
NEIGHBORHOOD POLICING PLAN
The restructuring of police precincts and sectors is part of a major initiative to improve 911 service and enable officers to do more “proactive” problem solving on their beats. The department plans to hire 105 more officers in four years and will target high-priority crime areas.
1. Concentrated around University Way Northeast with a greater emphasis on foot, bicycle and police car patrols. More North Precinct officers will have an extended focus on Greek Row on weekend nights, the Aurora corridor and the business districts in Ballard, Fremont, Lake City and Northgate.
2. In the East Precinct, a new beat extends along the Broadway corridor where officers will patrol the nightclub area along Broadway, Pike and Pine. More patrols throughout the precinct will combat public drunkenness and drug activity in parks, while officers will work undercover to reduce drive-by shootings.
3. The new beats will focus on the central business district, Belltown and Pioneer Square, with officers proactively dealing with safety around the nightclubs.
4. This sector in the South Precinct consolidates beats once handled by officers who crossed bridges to and from West Seattle. Patrol officers in Georgetown will increase weekend patrols to address early morning property crimes. There will also be special patrols along Rainier Avenue to focus on gang and youth crimes.