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Is SPD understaffed? A look at records from a deadly stabbing in Cal Anderson and the city’s hiring of a former consultant to revive its system to monitor staffing needs

Computer assisted dispatch logs from the night of the murder

Webber’s memorial grew in the days following the stabbing

With reporting by Margo Vansynghel

The murder of the 25-year old Rayshauna Webber, a young mother, was by all means a tragedy. She was stabbed in the early morning of July 14th in Cal Anderson Park. Shortly after the killing, a talk radio pundit tied the homicide to “staffing issues,” suggesting that SPD is “stretched so thin” that any time “competing” emergencies happen — such as that night, with another emergency involving an unruly crowd, a fight, and an active shooter around the same time — there are not enough officers in the city available to respond. It’s an argument made as part of the “Seattle is Dying” approach to pushing for more police and a crackdown on Seattle crime.

But, internal emails show SPD regarded the situation the night of the 14th of July as “extraordinary” rather than a staffing issue. In essence, the night brought a terrible tragedy. But it was not caused by the factors pundits and some politicians have focused on.

“That [Seattle Center] call depleted all of our resources – with good reason,” SPD’s Night Duty Commander, Captain Ron Rasmussen, wrote to Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best and Assistant Chief of the Patrol Operations Bureau Eric Greening just hours after the tragic night.

“This was an extremely large and unruly crowd that took a lot of time to get under control. Under the best of circumstances we would have used everyone in the city on this call…The stabbing call was the icing on the cake.”

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“In general, if we get two big events on any given night – especially near shift change – we will run out of resources…By any measure this was an extraordinary event,” he wrote.

“We are a big-city agency. We are staffed to address a lot of different things that are happening simultaneously,” SPD spokesperson Sgt. Sean Whitcomb told CHS. “That is fundamentally how patrol operations work.”

He added: “I’ve not once heard that this particular case [stabbing in Cal Anderson] suffered because of staffing.”

In fact, internal emails and roll call sheets show, there was a full complement of overtime officers for nightlife on duty that night. In total, 17 officers were working the East Precinct, one more than minimum staffing levels prescribe, according to the roll call sheet.

Many officers, East Precinct Captain Bryan Grenon wrote in an email, were sent to lower Queen Anne to assist with what initially came in as a “help the officer” call, leaving the East Precinct with “bare bone staffing for bar closing and presence in Cal Anderson Park.”

Other city precincts, including the West and North, roll call sheets suggest, did not meet SPD’s “minimum staffing” levels for Saturday night, though there were extra officers on staff that night as augmentation personnel.

But that, the email from Rasmussen suggests, is nothing new: “We have never been able to staff for the additional call volume that you see Thursday through Sunday. Even at our best staffing levels we did not meet the needs for those time blocks…With the challenges that we’ve seen lately that inability to meet the call levels has been more noticeable.”

So what happened on that “extraordinary” night?

Logs of the computer-aided dispatch — CAD — system from the night of July 13 to 14th show that after the first 911 call reporting the stabbing of Webber came in at 2:44 AM (roughly 50 minutes after the “help the officer” call from Queen Anne) it took about three minutes for SPD to be dispatched.

At 2:46, a dispatcher notes, there were “no units” who could respond, though an officer was en route shortly after and arrives at the scene at 2:51, where a civilian was already administering CPR.

The officer who performed CPR noted that the victim had no pulse when he took over doing CPR. In the background, people screamed “Breathe!” over and over.

Then, things get murkier. The CAD log notes that at 2:54:39 a dispatcher told the Fire Department the scene was cleared by SPD and safe for medics to come in. 44 seconds later, the same message. Meanwhile, the victim’s sister was on the phone with a dispatcher, panicking, pleading to get an ambulance.

It was not until another minute and 15 seconds passed that Seattle Fire Department said they received the message that they could enter the scene. They were with the victim 23 seconds later.

SFD says for incidents such as these they aim to have a medic unit on the scene within eight minutes of leaving the fire station. “For this incident, we were able to meet this standard of care,” SFD spokesperson Kristin Tinsley said in an email.

SPD’s response time clocked in at 5 minutes and 38 seconds. The median response time for a “priority 1” call, which this was, is 6 minutes, SPD data show.

“Usually the goal is an average of seven minutes,” for a call like this, says Peter Bellmio, an Annapolis-based police management consultant SPD has hired multiple times to look at staffing needs. As for the three minutes between when the call came in and the moment someone was dispatched, Bellmio said: “It’s usually a sign of them looking for a unit. You’d like to have that be about a minute.”

The police management consultant, speaking generally and not commenting on the two cases of that night, also noted that with a “help the officer” call, it’s common in policing that “everybody goes because that’s just part of the job. That’s part of the culture.”

Bellmio has helped the city analyze patrol staff time in 2012 and 2013 with the help of the Managing Patrol Performance, an MIT-developed computer model used by police forces in major cities such as LA and San Diego to determine staffing needs based on input data such as travel times, units, calls per hour, response times, percent of time units are busy and other parameters in use by SPD at least since the late mid 2000’s.

In 2015, SPD shifted gears and hired consultants Berkshire Advisor to calculate staffing needs, though it is unclear whether they used the same computer model.

Now, records and internal emails suggest, the city has shifted back to the MPP system and Bellmio’s target numbers to determine the number of patrol positions needed, including for the night of the 13-14th of July. Earlier this year, Bellmio was hired to help SPD restart its use of the software to help with patrol staffing analysis.

“They were gonna use this to rethink their staffing,” Bellmio said.

“I think they were looking for numbers to figure out how can they use what they have as efficiently as possible. And that’s always been a theme in Seattle, about how to have a schedule system for patrol that the officers can live with, but puts more people on when you’re busy and less people when you’re not.”

Bellmio said he’s currently working with the city of Calgary on the same issue. “Seattle’s challenges are pretty common, frankly,” he said.

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s budget, which includes $1.6M to better recruit and retain police officers, is slated to be voted on and adopted by the City Council November 25th.

Meanwhile, Seattle has until the end of this month to complete its police accountability assessment and formulate a methodology for achieving compliance under the 2012 consent decree requiring the city to address allegations of excessive force and biased policing.

David Nichols, a 50-year-old truck driver who had recently moved to the state and was out for a night of partying on Capitol Hill when police say he stabbed Webber in a fight that started with an offer to light a cigarette, pleaded not guilty to murder and assault charges in August. No trial date has been set.

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20 thoughts on “Is SPD understaffed? A look at records from a deadly stabbing in Cal Anderson and the city’s hiring of a former consultant to revive its system to monitor staffing needs

  1. Of course they are understaffed look at the number of cops per person in Seattle relative to any other large city.

    Seattle has 20 officers roughly per 10K people. That’s the same as…Kenosha Wisconsin.

    NYC, the safest big city in the America? 42.3 Over double.

    When’s the last time you saw cops actually walking a beat in Cap Hill? The idea of “community policing” is gone. The Cops’ main function in Cap Hill is reactionary, not proactive.

    And don’t think every cop working the city doesn’t know it. Morale is at rock bottom for many reasons, some self inflicted, but inadequate numbers to properly police is one of them.

    • Amen. Anyone listening to the scanner nightly knows just how understaffed they are. God help you if you’re in an occupied burglary. Waiting 9 minutes for someone to come when there’s an intruder inside your house with you, well, hope you have a mean dog.

      • I agree with the idea that they are understaffed. We should have police officers with good racial training and backgrounds working our streets.

        The problem is that you don’t have to walk 3 blocks to find something that needs attention. From the kid in front of the pastry shop with a needle stuck out of his arm, to couple spats on the streets, to panhandlers accosting pedestrians, to people jay walking into oncoming traffic, to suspicious people huddled together in a circle (probably selling drugs), to …. It goes on and on.

        To address this they would need to redo our whole system. WE don’t have have the capacity to help our society that is so out of control and a mess. Yes we can blame every single individual for their contributions to this mess but to me the whole picture just speaks to a sick society that is barely respirating.

        Hiring more cops would be good. But we couldn’t expect them to solve all these problems. They might be aware of them. But don’t be shocked when a beat cop is walking by that kid with a needle in his arm or ignoring a pedestrian jay walking into oncoming traffic.

        This whole city is a complete mess!

        We need more services for the least amongst us and then strong policing to ensure people are being routed through services or are in jail (where they are held against their will and forced to participate in the services). That would be what we need.

      • @JerSeattle: I agree with you that some form of forced treatment, for the numerous addicts and mentally ill on our streets, is needed. This approach not only would make our city safer and more liveable, but it would be the humane thing to do.

        However, of course, this would bring up some serious civil liberties issues, and no doubt would be fought vigorously in the courts (by the ACLU and others)….so it is very unlikely to happen.

    • I’d much rather be under-policed than over policed. I’ve often said we need to do away with patrolling police forces. This is what gets people of color killed. Cops get bored, they start harassing people. Cops, like fire fighters, should be barracked and respond only when called. If you have armed people walking around looking for trouble, they will inevitably start to make trouble. Places like Chicago are practically police states. More police doesn’t translate into safer cities.

      Rather than more police I think the money would be better spent on a small army of social workers, who are paid what police are paid, to be the ones actually patrolling the city and provided low barrier services to those in need who want said services.

      • So, cops with nothng to do just resort to making trouble and, inevitably, killing people of color? That is one strange theory. And having more social workers on the street and available to assist people who could benefit from such services is something most police officers would support.
        Rather than looking at armed police officers as the source of trouble, why not consider armed criminals as the source of the problem? The harm inflicted by those people far exceeds any harm inflicted by police officers.

      • Bull. The cops are the problem. Period. When you live in a society where the cops kill more citizens than citizens kill cops that is a police state. There are many examples of police in Seattle using excessive force against unarmed people of color while white criminals who are armed are somehow detained without being killed. We have a racist police force and there is no way I would support expanding that force. We need less cops if anything. They are all jackbooted thugs.

      • Spoken like someone who has never waited 30 minutes for police response when a crazy meth head randomly breaks your face walking down the street.

      • @iluvcaphill: You paint with a very broad brush. Yes, some cops have racist tendencies, but the vast majority of them are not racist. Be fair.

    • Not entirely true. The Council confirms all department heads and can take action to remove them. The Council also codifies regulations and ratifies union contracts. They are also responsible for oversight of all city agencies and the Chief does have to answer to them as well as to the Mayor.

  2. Ask any Seattle cop and they will tell you that a decade ago, patrol shifts routinely had between twenty and thirty officers in the East Precinct. The average size of a squad was about 12 officers. Now, despite the city having more crime and more people, the average squad is 5-6 officers and the average shift 12-15.

    The city made a systematic decision to gut patrol. They can hire consultants to create computer models of what call volumes mandate what bare-bones minimum amount of officers, but the end result of that is community policing is dead and any unusual events totally deplete citywide staffing. Foot beats at SPD are staffed entirely on overtime, meaning cops from other areas who are already tired from a double shift.

    Also: The “goal” may be to have a cop respond in seven minutes to a priority one call… but seven minutes is downright lackadaisical when the East Precinct is literally two blocks away from where this stabbing happened. A cop could have walked out the door and to this call if SPD was staffed appropriately. Instead it went unanswered for three minutes because no units were available.

    Sorry Rayshauna. Your life mattered… but not enough to hire more cops.

  3. “But I’m understaffed!” – every underperforming ass-brained manager ever

    Here is a small portion of the thousands of cities and towns, local and distant, which have fewer police per capita than Seattle. The vast majority of these cities do not have significant crime problems. Many of them that are supposedly those oh-so-violent border cities, actually have less violent crime than Seattle.

    Sammamish 6.0

    Maple Valley 7.2

    Irvine CA 8.0

    Issaquah 8.8

    San Jose CA 9.0

    Santa Ana CA 9.2

    Shoreline WA 9.5

    Santa Rosa CA 9.8

    San Bernadino CA 9.9

    Pomona CA 10.0

    Bakersfield CA 10.3

    Huntington Beach CA 10.5

    San Mateo CA 10.6

    Kirkland 10.6

    Kent 10.8

    Oxnard CA 10.9

    Vancouver WA 11.0

    Ventura CA 11.3

    Renton 11.5

    Palo Alto CA 11.7

    Anchorage AL 11.9

    Henderson NV 12.0

    Hayward CA 12.0

    Plano TX 12.1

    Boise ID 12.3

    Bellevue 12.3

    Chandler AZ 12.4

    Fort Collins CO 12.5

    Port St Lucie FL 12.6

    San Diego CA 12.8

    Redmond 12.8

    Bellingham 13.1

    Olympia 13.1

    Sacramento CA 13.2

    Stockton CA 13.4

    Corpus Christi TX 13.5

    Colorado Springs CO 13.9

    Grand Rapids MI 14.0

    Portland OR 14.1

    Fresno CA 14.3

    San Antonio TX 14.4

    El Paso TX 14.7

    Witchita KS 15.6

    Raleigh NC 15.8

    Tacoma 16.0

    Des Moines IA 16.2

    Tucson AZ 16.3

    Pasadena CA 16.3

    Chesapeake VA 16.4

    Scottsdale AZ 16.6

    Mesa AZ 16.8

    Long Beach CA 16.9

    Amarillo TX 17.1

    Virginia Beach VA 17.2

    Glendale AZ 17.2

    Everett 17.2

    Oklahoma City OK 17.3

    Phoenix AZ 17.4

    Oakland CA 17.6

    Aurora CO 18.3

    Fort Worth TX 18.4

    Indianapolis IN 18.6

    Austin TX 18.9

    Charlotte NC 19.4

    Tallahassee FL 19.4

    Seattle WA 19.8

    Seattle PD isn’t understaffed. They just fucking suck at doing their jobs. Adding more police will not help, unless there is a drastic cultural change in Seattle’s police. Ever since the consent decree, the Seattle PD has solved their abuse of power problem by refusing to do their jobs. They have deliberately starved patrol duties of staffing, bumped officers into unneeded detective positions that sit around and half-heartedly work on prostitution busts that produce a dozen arrests after two years of investigation. SPOG has negotiated into their contracts the ability to provide private security (at 3x their normal wages) within their own fucking jurisdiction, something that might be called A Massive Conflict of Interest. Certainly they would have no incentive to let crime fester to drum up demand for their private security services, right?

    Stop entertaining these fuckwits’ talking points. Demand accountability.

    • Very colorful language. It seems you feel very passionate about these issues.

      Many of those cities are smaller than Seattle. Add to that complexity of the population. The stressors like affordable housing, crime climate and cost of living. That’s why NYC has a different approach then Bellingham WA would to their policing and how the do it.

      The easy answer is the police department sucks. The more complex and nuanced answer is that there are many issues compounding the police ability to do their jobs and staffing is one of them. I laid out in my post above how I see it. Might be worth a read.

  4. We could just go back to a system where those of us that pay for police, fire and EMT service actually get it. Let those that don’t want it not have it, then when they need help they won’t get it because they hate authority so much. I’m all for that. I’m tired of paying for handout entitled socialists.

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