IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Seattle Mayor Proposes Additional Police Officers, Body Cameras, Gunshot-Tracker Tech in New Budget

Outfitting the department with body cameras has taken longer than officials had hoped, due to privacy concerns and challenges related to public-disclosure requests.

(TNS) -- Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s new budget includes money to grow the Police Department by 72 officers over two years, put body cameras on cops and help test an acoustic gunshot-locator system, officials told the City Council on Monday.

Under his proposed budget, the city would allocate $13 million to add 35 officers in 2017 and 37 officers in 2018. That hiring would bring the mayor closer to achieving his long-term goal of boosting Seattle’s police force by 200 officers between 2014 and 2020.

Murray defended the plan in his budget speech last month, responding to calls by some citizens for the city to spend money on social programs rather than on a police department still undergoing court-ordered reforms related to bias and excessive force.

“Block the Bunker” activists who recently helped persuade the mayor and council to press pause on a $149 million police-station project are opposing the hiring plan.

“We must of course address the issue of race and policing. But we must also have a police department prepared to respond to and thoroughly investigate domestic violence and rape,” and crimes involving gun violence, Murray said in the speech.

Councilmember Debora Juarez urged the department Monday to recruit new officers with skills and experience helping people with mental illnesses and drug addictions.

Seattle’s Community Police Commission has recommended the department award preference points to recruits with diverse backgrounds — not only to military veterans.

The department’s annual operating budget would increase from nearly $300 million this year to $329 million in 2018 under Murray’s proposal, with the city spending $4.6 million over two years to equip hundreds of patrol officers with body cameras. The council may also release $1.8 million from this year’s budget to help with the launch.

Outfitting the department with body cameras has taken longer than officials had hoped, due to privacy concerns and challenges related to public-disclosure requests.

Officers have been testing devices since 2014, and Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said Monday the department is continuing to work with representatives from organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union on how the cameras will be used.

Murray’s proposed budget also includes $50,000 for a gunshot-locator system to help the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives test the technology in Seattle, starting soon.

The bureau intends to spend up to $500,000 and the city money would augment that, said Brian Maxey, the police department’s chief operating officer.

For years, department officials and council members have discussed the possibility of investing in a gunshot-locator system. Council President Bruce Harrell has been a proponent, while Councilmember Tim Burgess has sometimes expressed skepticism.

The systems use microphones and sensors installed across a geographic area to identify gunshots and automatically triangulate their location. They’re sometimes paired with surveillance cameras that start recording when shots ring out.

Proponents say the technology can help police get to shooting scenes faster and raise awareness about shots that would otherwise go unreported.

Critics question whether the system is worth the money if they aren’t proved to reduce gun violence and worry about people in low-income neighborhoods — where gunshots are most common — being subjected to too much surveillance.

The controversial North Precinct police-station project was not supposed to be part of the council’s Monday briefing, which dealt with operational rather than capital costs.

But Councilmember Kshama Sawant brought it up anyway, asking why the department has yet to provide her with an adequate explanation of why a new building is needed to house police north of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. O’Toole said she isn’t disappointed about the project being put on hold after several years of planning.

“I work for the mayor and the council and the people of this city. If people have changed their minds, so be it,” she said.

The chief did note that about 40 percent of Seattle residents live in the North Precinct and that about one-third of the city’s police activity occurs there. She said the department is moving ahead with a plan to split the area between two captains.

And O’Toole said the department needs a new training facility, whether in a new North Precinct station or elsewhere. Officers now undergo five times more training than they did before the reform process began 2012, she said.

A public hearing on Murray’s proposed budget is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 25 at City Hall. The council will vote on changes to the budget in November.

©2016 The Seattle Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.