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.