Seattle failing to protect citizens from repeat criminals, report finds

SEATTLE – A recently released report from multiple Seattle business association leaders claim the city’s criminal justice system must do better.

The ‘System Failure Part 2’ is a follow up to another report that came out eight months ago. In February, the report detailed 100 repeat offenders repeatedly cycling through the criminal justice system.

The second report appears to focus on the Seattle City Attorney’s office, and it concludes many misdemeanor cases never see the inside of a courtroom.

“We need all of the portions of the criminal justice system to come together and that really has to center around the city attorney’s office,” said Don Blakeney, spokesperson for the Downtown Seattle Association which drafted both reports.

“Ultimately the criminal justice system may not be the place to deal with some of the underlying causes of the issues that we’re seeing, but we think without a functioning criminal justice system, we are not able to deal with all of the things we’re seeing on a day to day basis,” added Blakeney.

The first report detailed how repeat offenders racked up arrests, warrants and even jail time only to end up back on the street to re-offend.

The second report released Monday explores how some misdemeanor or other lower-level criminals never see the inside of a courtroom.

“We’re hoping this starts off a conversation about more of the of system issues that we’re seeing, and we’re seeing that circling around the City Attorney’s office and their unwillingness to take cases and find a meaningful resolution,” said Blakeney.

The report claims the Seattle City Attorney’s office only files charges in almost half of the non-traffic cases referred to prosecutors by Seattle Police.

It also says cases languish, taking on average six months for prosecutors to pursue charges.

And, the report claims, 40 percent don’t end in meaningful solutions for either the suspect or the victim.

It also blasts the city’s criminal justice system, claiming dysfunction leaves victims, police and defendants suffering.

“Meaningful change means we don’t have folks who are chronically committing the same crimes without a solution or plan to work with that person,” Blakeney said.

Earlier this month, city and county elected leaders revealed a series of pilot programs to find ways to offer help for repeat offenders suffering from homelessness, mental health problems and addiction.

“They’ve put forward some common sense first steps to address this,”, said Blakeney, “We’re pleased with that and we hope that council keeps those in their budget.”

But the pilot project’s impacts are yet to be known as budgets have yet to be approved by city or county councils.

Seattle’s City Attorney, Pete Holmes, received a copy of the report late Monday morning. Mr. Holmes shared the following statement with Q13 News in response:

"Nothing has changed since these issues were flagged in the business associations’ first report: it would take at least an additional $2 million per year for enough prosecutors and staff to consider all cases for filing within 48 hours of receipt, and seeing the cases through to disposition. I’d welcome the input of anyone wanting to develop a strategy for how to best increase funding for my office - hopefully this funding would be coupled with sufficient resources for Courts to fashion remedies that best minimize recidivism, substance abuse, and mental health issues."

But until then reforms are approved by city and county councils, the report’s authors say those impacted by repeat offenders, including the criminals themselves, will continue to suffer.

“Unfortunately, the people on the front lines of this crisis really are retail workers,” said Blakeney. “These folks are having to deal with this day in and day out in neighborhoods across the city.”

Mayor Jenny Durkan released this statement Monday evening responding to the newly released report:

"Seattle is a great city, and one of the top places to live, visit, and work. But as we grow, people must be able to thrive and feel safe. We know that too many people cycle through the criminal justice system and do not get the help they need - this hurts both those individuals and their communities. Our growing city must address the complex intersection of behavioral health, substance use disorders, homelessness and the criminal justice system in new ways.

"We know that different individuals may need different interventions, including diversion programs, treatment, and a criminal justice intervention. Many times the right intervention is not our criminal justice system – it’s a range of strategies and approaches to address the underlying needs of individuals.

"While no single jurisdiction oversees all the tools, programs, or resources needed to address these challenges, we have a responsibility to work together and make meaningful progress. Earlier this year, i convened a high barrier working group of jurisdictions to bring the responsible courts, prosecutors, and others across our region to develop pilot programs to address this complex challenge. After months of hard work, we agreed on four new pilot programs to be implemented in late 2019 and early 2020 upon council approval.

"My 2020 proposed budget would make significant investments in these new steps, continued investments in restorative justice and diversion, and add two additional assistant city attorney’s to the criminal division of the city attorney’s office. I hope that as city council considers my 2020 proposed budget they will support these new steps and new resources so we can put this more focused approach into action.'