With Recent Downtown Violence, Cops Were There. Sanity Wasn’t.

You could see it coming a mile away. In the midst of a perceived spike in downtown crime – punctuated by the fatal Sept. 13 stabbing of 46-year-old college English professor Troy Wolff in Pioneer Square - it was inevitable that calls would be made for more police on Seattle’s streets.

And, predictably, today mayoral hopeful Ed Murray did the calling. As Lynn Thompson of the Seattle Times has noted, during an annual breakfast in support of Real Change Tuesday morning Murray promised 100 new police officers on the street should he be elected.

“I can’t think of a police department in the world that would turn down additional officers,” says Seattle Police Department spokesperson Mark Jamieson when asked whether 100 new cops would help.

But the bigger issue is will more cops make us safer? That question isn’t as easily answered.

The thing about the downtown crime “spike” is it depends on whom you believe. McGinn has repeatedly touted data that shows crime is down. The Times, meanwhile, published an analysis in August of four downtown police beats that contradicted the mayor, showing violent crime holding steady and, in fact, a rise in violent crimes during the first seven months of this year. Meanwhile-meanwhile, Dominic Holden of The Stranger trashed the Times’ analysis, concluding in early September that “Crime Is Not Actually Spiking Downtown,” and arguing that the downtown crime “crisis” “is a divisive political ploy based on misrepresentation of the context and facts.”

Bickering aside, the fact remains that some people – and perhaps even many people - don’t feel safe downtown, and random stabbings certainly don’t help. It’s this feeling of unease that Murray plays directly off of when he stumps for 100 new officers in Seattle. Whether it’s a political ploy or not, it’s anything but shocking to see Murray tapping into this fear for votes. To the frightened Seattleite, 100 new cops probably sounds like a great start.

(For the record, according to McGinn spokesperson Aaron Pickus, by the end of 2014 there will be 42 more officers on the force than the end of 2012, thanks to the current mayor’s budgets and City Council support.)

But, again, will any number of new cops make us safer?

Let’s take the two most recent high-profile incidents of downtown’s crime “spike” as examples – which seems to be the norm these days.

There were at least two officers within blocks of the Metro bus shooting Aug. 12. Jamieson tells Seattle Weekly that the start to finish response time for SPD in that incident was under seven minutes, calling the feat “pretty remarkable.”

And while the exact location of the nearest officer at the time of the Sept. 13 Pioneer Square stabbing isn’t known, what is known, according to Jamieson, is patrol officers working the area responded to the call in “under two minutes” – information that suggests, once again, that cops were “very close” when the random act of violence took Wolff’s life - and shook a city in the process.

Would things have played out any differently with 100 more cops on the force? Unfortunately for Seattle and whoever wins this November’s mayoral election, the answer is probably not.

But that probably won’t stop people for calling for them either.

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