Police union files grievance over low officer staffing levels

Concern is growing over what many city officials see as a dangerously low level of police staffing.

The current budget calls for 71 sworn officers. Right now there are just 64 officers (down from 80 prior to 2011), and department leaders say the shortage is putting officers and the public at risk.

In a report to the full  council, City Councilman Jim Smith gave an example of actual police staffing on one day in May.

“Dayshift was scheduled for a sergeant and four officers (previously staffed with 6-7 officers).  One officer called in sick and one was in superior court.  Actual staffing was a sergeant and two officers.  This is unacceptable,” the report said.

“We have a spiraling downward loss of personnel well below the staffing levels that is the policy of the city,” Smith said.

Making matters worse, Smith says the situation is hurting employee morale, leading more officers look to for work elsewhere.

“Other people are hiring and we’re losing good police officers. We’re losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in training every time we lose one these people. It is a business disaster for one; it is a safety disaster for two,” he added.

He said if something is not done immediately, Lynnwood could turn into Casino Road – a street in Everett known for high crime activity.

The police union claims the administration isn’t allowing the department hire new officers even though the positions are funded in the current budget. They have filed a grievance with the city, seeking authorization to get those positions filled.

Some council members accuse the mayor of hiding behind the hiring freeze.

“If someone has heard or the police chief was told that the reason why his hiring requests were being denied is because there’s a hiring freeze, that is absolute bunk. It just disgusts me that he would hide behind that,” Council Vice President Kerri-Lonergan Dreke said.

The administration did not return our email requesting comment. However, City Administrator Art Ceniza told the council that “the mayor is not hiding behind the freeze. Our dilemma is how are we going to pay for this. We just want to make sure whatever we do is sustainable. “

Last night the City Council passed a motion made by Councilman Jim Smith to authorize the chief to begin the hiring process. It passed five to two, with Council President Mark Smith and Councilman Ted Hikel voting no.

  1. You need to consider that you may well not be getting the whole truth
    here, or necessarily the truth at all. If I’ve learned anything about
    Lynnwood city councilmembers and their puppeteers in local government,
    it’s that their “outrage” is as selective and malleable as their
    definition of “truth.”

    Consider for a moment that this may simply be just the latest trashy
    installment of their neverending quest to smear the mayor however they
    can. This whole remarkable series of coincidences could very well have
    been engineered to manufacture outrage against the mayor, yet again.

    Notice the lack of details regarding budgeted current and projected
    future funds. Sure, these positions are budgeted now, but what if they
    mayor knows that there isn’t enough money to keep all the new hires they
    want. Then he’ll be faced with having to make cuts and the usual
    harpies will be all over him like a swarm of bees for THAT.

    They get this guy coming and going. If you don’t believe me, attend a
    council meeting and get out your stopwatch and count off the seconds it
    takes before one of the usual councilmembers makes a rude or nasty
    remark — and then they pirouette around without losing a beat and call
    HIM the bad guy. It’s too rich.

    I wish the press would look into that a little bit more instead of
    obediently publishing every little petulant tirade by the usual suspects
    on council.

  2. Jacques,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. You have a great point — one that may very well be accurate.

    However, I have to present the facts that are available to me. I pored through documents for several hours. Unfortunately, the administration did not return my request for comment. I had a little information from the city administrator that was presented to the council, but that’s the extent of it.

    I always do my due diligence to present all sides of a story. At the same time, I have to work with what I have.

    Thanks again.


    1. That wasn’t meant as a swipe against you, Mike; more as an expression of my general frustration with the media’s lack of investigation into the real dynamics in Lynnwood city government. What gets reported in the media and what actually goes down is like night and day.

      For example, every allegation against the mayor, no matter how baseless or asinine, is dutifully published because it’s dramatic and “bleedy-leady,” which the media generally loves since it sells copy.

      Where are they during city council meetings when less than five minutes elapse after the mayor’s opening remarks and he’s beset upon instantly with snotty, petulant comments by certain councilmembers who then turn around and call HIM difficult to get along with? It’s unreal.

      In the interest of *balanced* reporting, I would dearly love to see that happen at least once.

    2. Also Mike, for the record the mayor was on vacation when these latest smears against him were leveled.  Pretty convenient that he wasn’t even *around* to defend himself against them, wouldn’t you say?

  3. I have to comment on this.  There is soooo much that could be said regarding this article. 

    I have to call out Councilman Smith on his statement.  I do not believe that for one second during any day shift in the month of May there were only 3 sworn police officers officers in the employ of Lynnwood on duty at any one time.

    If Councilman Smith’s absurd statement is by some stretch of the imagination actually correct, then I would have to question his judgement regarding the release of sensitive information such as detailed police staffing levels.  Why isn’t the chief speaking out about this?  A sitting elected official is distributing information to the media which could adversely impact officer safety, I would be outraged. 

    In fact I am outraged.  This is the problem everyone.  Either Councilman Smith is lying to us, grossly misinformed as to what is going on in Lynnwood or we have 3 police officers who, between the 3 of them can’t figure out to walk over to the phone, pick it up and call one of the other 59 to come in and give them a hand for the day. 

    Frankly I’m not sure which is worse.

    1. Thanks for your comments.

      Chief Jensen did comment on this. I posted his comments in an earlier article: https://lynnwoodtoday.wpengine.com/2011/05/18/police-staffing/. He wasn’t present at the council meeting where I gathered this latest information.

      The report where I found this information is public record and available on the city’s website: https://councilagendas.ci.lynnwood.wa.us/Bluesheet.aspx?ItemID=2339&MeetingID=308/.

      I posted the information after much deliberation because I believe it accurately depicts the situation. Of course, reader feedback is always welcome.


  4. It wouldn’t be hard to keep or attract police officers if they got to do something other than hide behind buildings, around corners and between bushes to nail city residents and visiting mall shoppers for going 5 over down hill. Last time I got pulled over, the officer told me that he wished he could be doing real police work and keeping the city safe, but all he could do was write tickets. He called himself a “tax collector.” That’s probably why all four on duty officers show up at the QFC when there is a shoplifter–it is something “exciting” to do.  When the mayor and the city council decide that police should be keeping the city safe from real criminals, then maybe we’d get some real interest in being a Lynnwood police officer.

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