Business Leaders Put Seattle’s Criminal Justice System Under the Microscope

Prosecution declines, delays and case dismissals are at the root of the city’s unaddressed street-crime woes, report contends
Updated: Thu, 10/10/2019 - 08:22
 
 
  • Prosecution declines, delays and case dismissals are at the root of the city’s unaddressed street-crime woes, report contends
Visit Seattle’s Tom Norwalk said the city is “way past the tipping point” when it comes to downtown street crime, as reported by Seattle Business magazine in its June issue.

A coalition of half a dozen neighborhood alliances and business groups has released a report examining the issues contributing to what they describe in their assessment as “the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of Seattle’s misdemeanor criminal-justice system.”

The new report, an update to an earlier report released this past February, contends that the city ― and its central business district in particular ― are plagued by “repeat criminal activity.”

“Police investigate and refer thousands of cases every year that see no resolution,” the report states. “Repeat offenders appear emboldened to commit crimes in plain sight. Victims of chronic criminal activity see very few resolutions of their cases and report only a fraction of the crimes they experience every day.”

The major causes contributing to the city’s criminal justice failure with respect to non-traffic criminal misdemeanor cases, according to the report, are as follows:

  • * The Seattle city attorney’s office declines to file almost half (or some 5,000 a year) of cases referred by Seattle police for prosecution ― and 65% of cases referred by Seattle police involving a suspect not in custody, which represent about half of all cases referred for misdemeanor prosecution.
  • * It takes the city attorney’s office an average of six months to file cases involving a suspect not in custody ― including 217 days from incident to the filing of case for alleged assaults; 193 days for an alleged concealed weapon; 182 days for theft; and 326 days for sexual exploitation.
  • * Even after cases are filed, 42 percent result in no meaningful resolution after two years, with many still pending with outstanding bench warrants or dismissed because of lack of evidence issues.

The report concedes that the criminal justice system may not be the best solution for addressing issues that are often the root cause of criminal activity ― such as mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness. Seattle is recognized as a national leader in offering programs to assist individuals struggling with behavioral disorders that can lead to repeat criminal offenses, but such programs alone can’t address those issues adequately absent a criminal justice system that is working properly, according to the report.

“Currently, very few of the prolific offenders who are struggling with mental illness, substance use disorders or homelessness receive any alternative interventions that might address those issues,” the report stresses. “Instead, defendants are trapped in a cycle of arrest, incarceration (for failing to appear at hearings for criminal incidents that happened a year or more before), and release.”

The new “System Failure, Part 2” report was sponsored by the following groups: Alliance for Pioneer Square, Ballard Alliance, Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area, Downtown Seattle Association, Sodo Business Improvement Area and Visit Seattle. For more background on this issue, check out Seattle Business magazine’s past coverage.

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