Submitted by Jason Whalen, Candidate for Pierce County Council.
During this campaign, I have consistently advocated for more resources, not less, for our Pierce County Sheriff’s Department (PCSD). In some of the campaign mailers you likely have received, our campaign has contrasted my position on community policing vis a vis that of my opponent, Jani Hitchen. While none of us likes inflammatory imagery or language, I believe the voters in the 6th District deserve to know that there is a real difference of policy positions.
In a recent City Club of Tacoma public forum, we were asked about our positions on “defunding the police.” Here is Jani’s statement:
“Um, so, I believe that we need to look at how the money is allocated and where are we finding places where if we were to spend a little bit of that money in another area or another way, would we actually reduce whatever the public safety issue was. So, if we actually had um access to housing we wouldn’t have people being harassed or um arrested for being homeless um if we had access to mental health services or more access to um opioid addiction services we wouldn’t have people being put in jail who are mental ill or going through withdrawal or committing crimes because they’re addicted, and so if we can allocate funds to do that work, would we then save money and be able to kind of just basically shift it, which is when I talk about defunding the police, when I’ve ever addressed it, that’s what I’m saying. We need to look at where we’re spending our money, can we get the same result but spend the money in a different way.” Source: City Club of Tacoma Candidate Forum (starting at 1:52:00)
Shift resources away from law enforcement is “defunding”
Shifting resources away from actual law enforcement and reallocating those funds to other community services is, by general definition, a “defunding.” I do not believe this is the right public policy approach for Pierce County or the 6th District. Shifting resources away from already stretched staffing will result in less, not more, public safety for residents.
My position on public safety was informed not only by my eleven years as a member of Lakewood’s City Council, but also by my review of the data, including the Law Enforcement Staffing Study and Strategic Planning Overview (“Staffing Study”), prepared for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department in February 2018, the Pierce County Sheriff’s 2018 Community Report, as well as recent articles noting the challenges created by staffing shortages (TNT Article, August 11, 2020, by Stacia Glenn).
It is undisputed that calls for service have increased throughout the County (Pierce County Sheriff’s 2018 Community Report). It is also undisputed that the size of the detachments and the distance between calls lead to longer response times—which present an issue related to both officer and community safety. As the Staffing Study noted, “It is reasonable to expect that with increased population density and congestion, drive times could be affected. Further, there are times when only one officer is available for a call, which, depending on the type of call, can be unsafe.”
Combine this with the historic data that reflect that the PCSD “is a very lean organization in terms of both supervisory structure and the number of deputies available to answers calls and conduct proactive community engagement strategies.” (Staffing Study, p. 15). In summary, the Staffing Study, which utilized data obtained from over 70 interviews with members of the PCSD, as well as interviews with County and Contract City government officials, members of the Sheriff’s Advisory Committee, and various listening sessions held with community members and business owners, concluded that more patrol deputies, not less, will enhance public safety.
While the County Council and Executive recently authorized and budgeted funding to fill 28 needed positions within PCSD, new growth projections for Pierce County will only serve to increase the workload, diminishing the impact of increases in staffing.
Reforms can and must happen without defunding
Importantly, the Staffing Study also noted the need for a co-responder program, as it was estimated that 7-10% of all interactions involve those with mental illnesses. The Staffing Study further noted that calls related to or involving those with mental illness and substance abuse issues and the demand for support services have risen. (Staffing Study, pp. 20-21). It is because of these well documented facts, coupled with my positive experience with Lakewood’s own behavioral health contact team (which we have funded since 2015 and will increase funding for over the next biennium), that I have advocated for Pierce County’s enactment of the one-tenth of 1% tax to fund behavioral health services. The needs are imminent and additional, dedicated funding to address the mental health and substance abuse challenges facing our community is needed. We cannot expect our law enforcement personnel to respond effectively to those in crisis without having the proper training, tools, and support. On this point, Jani Hitchen and I agree.
I also agree that our communities of color rightly expect law enforcement to treat all members of our community with respect and that we have work to do to eliminate systemic racism within our institutions, including our police departments and criminal justice systems. These are reforms that can and must happen without shifting critical resources away from needed staffing.
I also acknowledge the importance of addressing the homelessness crisis – without damaging public safety by diminishing our police force. That’s why I have long supported 1% of the Lakewood’s General Fund to be spent on human services. More funding must be provided for our homeless residents to offer them housing and wrap-around services – I’ll fight for that as a member of the Pierce County Council.
Consequences of defunding
But – when it comes to issues of funding police presence to address response times, less is not more. Given concerns for public safety, Minneapolis residents are now suing the city council over the lack of police presence in their neighborhoods endangering their lives.
Seattle is also facing the consequences of defunding the Seattle Police Department (SPD). The demoralization among Seattle police officers is clear. During September alone, nearly 40 police officers left the SPD – the average is usually 5 to 7 departures. More officers are expected to quit before the end of the year. With the number of homicides setting a new record, the SPD is stretched too thin. Seattle residents and businesses have been left to beg the city council to help deal with increasing crime in their neighborhoods.
As Pierce County’s population and congestion increase, drive times are expected to increase further – significantly impacting our deputies’ ability to respond to emergencies promptly. More patrol deputies – not less – will enhance public safety, provided they have the tools, training, and staffing to do their jobs well, including behavioral contact team help for those in crisis.
At election time, contrasts made between candidates can appear “negative” or “unfair.” I believe, however, that it is fair for the public to view the candidates’ stated position on critical issues—do the necessary research, and then make their own informed decision. It is also fair to acknowledge endorsements by those directly involved with public safety. In this race, I am proud to be endorsed by the Pierce County Deputy Sheriff’s Independent Guild, the Pierce County Corrections Guild, retired Sheriff Paul Pastor, and the West Pierce Fire Fighters Local 1488.
Reprinted from WhalenforCouncil.com with permission.