Mar. 21, 2008 at 12:34pm
As I sat and listened to the panel at last night's jail forum, I could not help but be reminded that we are short staffed throughout the entire criminal justice system. Below, I'd like to discuss my reasons for a public safety initiative, which in my mind, is way overdue.
I kept hearing last night about how we need to prevent crime by knowing our neighbors, working with outside agencies and other groups to assist the police in lowering the crime rate. I agree 100% and my neighborhood (the Whitman Area Neighbors) has done that with several groups such as the Dome Top Alliance, Lincoln Lawgs and LiSN (Lincoln South Neighbors). We have pursued the Alcolhol Impact Area, written grants, patrolled our neighborhood and I know just about all my neighbors within a five block area. We under stand that we are a part of the solution.
But, I have an overworked Community Liaison Officer and not enough patrol officers to cover a sector with the highest call rate in the city. We do not have any street level crime teams or bike patrols in business districts. Chief Ramsdell told us last night that his detectives are operating at a 1975 level with triple the caseload now..So, even if we put more cops in the streets we don't have enough detectives to investigate crimes or court staff to prosecute.
I believe that the system is trying to become more efficient - they have to due to the lack of staff, but that doen't mean they will become effective when the sheer numbers overwhelm the system.
Look, I know people do not want to pay higher taxes. I work as a school teacher and make roughly $35,000 a year before taxes. My son's daycare is 500.00 a month, I pay 300.00 a month in car payments and my mortgage around $1,000.00 - just an avergae salary paying the bills. I would be more than willing to pay for some sort of sales tax/levy to pay for what we need. We heard last night that there is a tight budget - how can we expect our city or county council to properly fund those departments when there are so many other priorities they have to fund? I do not believe that we can get the numbers we need out of a general fund budget. This is not an issue of recruiment - that gap is closing - we donlt have enough money for what we really need to be effective and we are paying for that in the form of a higher crime rate than many cities our size.
We figured out along time ago that fire departments and schools cannot be fully funded with busdget dollars. So, a system was put in place to raise additional money. We never hear about the fire department being understaffed and very rarely does an EMS levy go down in defeat.
Past efforts were disscussed last night to raise the sales tax and how they failed. But what would it take to make them pass - what do people want in the criminal justice system? How many cops, detectievs, judges and correction officers would we be willing to pay for? Perhaps the last effort simply wasn't what people were looking for, not an anti-tax sentiment.
Efficiencies only go so far - with Tacoma expecting another 100,000 or so people in the next 15 years, we need to be prepared. I hope the disucssion starts soon and seriously about a public safety intiative that looks at the whole system and how we can best fund it - Our county and city councils are doing their best in my opinion - let's step up as a community and properly fund a systen that is underfunded.