2. More than 52,000 daily transit riders from across all seven City Council districts use Third Avenue daily to get to and from their jobs in downtown Seattle. While Third Avenue acts as a front door to our downtown, it’s also the epicenter of the Seattle’s largest outdoor drug market. A recent report commissioned by DSA and neighborhood district partners has outlined a large amount of criminal activity across the city, including property crime, assaults and robberies, is being perpetrated by a small number of prolific offenders who cycle through the criminal justice system. Have you read the report? If elected to the Seattle City Council, what policies might you pursue to curb property crime and address these issues in downtown in order to make our streets safer for all? How might you work with your elected colleagues to enact these policies?
» next / « previous / all
I have read the report numerous times, and sought counsel from public safety and other experts to better understand its arguments and conclusions, including the police chief, police officers, detectives, and prosecutors, as well as downtown residents, visitors and business owners. I have leveraged my strong relationships with human service advocates for their candid input. I have also reached out to the report’s critics and detractors.
While there are methodological and other research concerns which arise in a thoughtful reading of this study, it is important to note that it captures both a perception and reality that many feel is present in the City Center, and the neighborhoods of District 7. As a long term resident of Queen Anne, and in my previous life as a 32 year veteran of the Seattle Police Department, I witnessed similar degradation and dysfunction while serving as a police officer, the West Precinct (District 7) Commander, Assistant and Interim Chief of Police. Most recently, I have first-hand experience as the Chief Deputy and second-in-command of the King County Sheriff’s office, which oversees the operation of Metro Transit Police and Sound Transit police that serve the area but more importantly directly serve the 52,000 daily riders (and increasing) that patronize the transit systems.
I view our current situation with property crime to be a crisis. The economic drivers of this predatory criminality will not be solved overnight, and will require rigorous, long-term programs, inter-agency cooperation and initiatives. But the crime spree itself, to put it plainly, is a policing problem and challenge. Good old fashioned focused patrols, supported by crime pattern analysis and using the community’s eyes and ears – remember Block Watch – remain the most efficacious means to reduce and ultimately prevent property crimes. I was part of the comprehensive 911 patrol staffing and deployment analysis at SPD called Neighborhood Policing, and the key to having the capacity to undertake emphasis and proactive enforcement is adequacy of staffing according to a scientific model. It is clear we have neither staffing adequacy nor science behind our current police deployment system, a problem exacerbated by nearly a decade of Council inconsistency on budgeting to a baseline of 911 patrol resources.
If elected, I will come to my position with both experience and a track record of collaboration and inclusive leadership. I have been fortunate enough to work with myriad criminal justice agencies – both prosecution and defense – as well as businesses and business organizations – like the Seattle Chamber, DSA and BOMA – and, most important, all those who live, work and visit our city to enlist their ideas on how to address these complex challenges. My hands on experience shows me that meaningful progress is realized only through close and constant coordination between all involved and impacted public and private institutions, through cooperation and respecting all opinions. We must begin by passing unequivocal and enforceable laws, and ensuring clear pathways – including treatment and alternatives to incarceration – out of unlawful behavior. The absence of clear, enforceable laws and realistic policies – which include effective, humane alternatives balanced with responsibility and equitable consequences for criminal conduct – is the hallmark of our current Council, and therefore the focus of my reformist candidacy.
Nobody in Seattle should be expected to tolerate being a victim of crime, and yes, I have read the report. First of all, the broad narrative of the report is certainly born out by my experience as a prosecutor in the Seattle Municipal Court. I can attest that I have seen many frequent flyer offenders cycle through the court only to return a few weeks later with a new charge.
I will briefly quibble, for the record, that the report suffers from a couple of inaccuracies and shortcomings that could have been addressed by contacting the City Attorney’s Office for comment. For example, citing incorrectly that the City Attorney’s Office did not charge an assault where urine was thrown at a nurse (we did), and only one name overlaps between our internal familiar faces list and the list compiled in the report. It is also difficult to discuss a report without any substantive recommendations.
That said, I have a long list of public safety reforms we can implement in the short and long term to make a substantive difference.
First, we need to commit to prioritizing police hiring and retention as a key budget priority. Public safety is a charter service of the City, and public safety starts with well-resourced community-based police officers. Most property crime is crime of opportunity, an opportunity presented by the lack of emphasis patrols from law enforcement. As we increase the number of police officers we should emphasize putting more officers onto the street conducted regular and routine patrols.
Second, we should prioritize proactive property crime enforcement. Undercover operations with decoy delivery packages or cars set-up by SPD with nearby surveillance officers can help build strong cases against professional property thieves, and deter future property crime.
Third, once prosecutors receive strong well-investigated cases, an emphasis on bolder and further reaching pre-file diversion programs needs to be our focus for resolving them. I am very proud of the work I have done in the Seattle City Attorney’s Office on the Choose 180 Program, an organization that provides mentorship, education opportunities, self-reflection, and community to young people (aged 18-24) as an alternative to the traditional accountability of jail and probation. Of the 245 we have referred to Choose 180 since September of 2017, only 8, or 3%, have reoffended. Most of the initial referrals are for some type of property crime, and are typically retail thefts. Early and meaningful engagement with young people just starting a career in property crime is critical to prevent recidivism and get them on the right track. The approach of Choose 180 is evidence based and works.
I would like to see a variety of additional pre-file diversion programs for different populations and peer-groups. For example, the carpenters and iron workers offer a program called Trade Related Apprenticeship Coaching (TRAC) which over the course of 16-weeks provides prison inmates with up to 460 hours of foundational training to pursue a career in the building trades after release. What if we offered a similar program on a pre-file basis, and declined a misdemeanor case in exchange for someone pursuing a career in the building trades?
Moreover, in the City Attorney’s Office, we are in the nascent stages of significantly increasing Legal Intervention Network of Care (LINC), which diverts people with significant behavioral health and substance abuse issues to in-patient emergency stabilizing care rather than the King County Jail. If people referred engage significantly with service providers our office will then decline to file charges. Pre-file diversions based on public health, employment, and mentorship reduce recidivism and get people the help they need. We need more of them.
Fourth, as Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes recently stated in a public statement, “I have envisioned for years an office where sworn, trained prosecutors have the capacity to review all police reports within 24 hours and make charging decisions within 48-72 hours–simply because justice delayed is justice denied.” I share Pete’s aspiration in this regard, and I would prioritize it as a Seattle City Councilmember. The Criminal Division of the Seattle City Attorney’s Office processes 14,000 criminal referrals a year with 32 prosecutors. We are constantly underwater and need more staff. In the meantime, I would support a dedicated retail theft prosecutor being funded to exclusively work with businesses, Retail Theft Program Officer Chris Shean, and loss prevention officers to make sure retail theft cases are being processed in a timely manner. Additionally, I would encourage employers to emphasize long term retention of loss-prevention officers, to retain contact information for loss prevention officers after they resign, to authorize overtime for loss prevention officers (And other witness employees) when testifying, and to contractually promise to pay loss prevention officers for their time testifying on cases after they have left the office. All of these have been issues from retail theft cases I personally have prosecuted.
Fifth, behavioral mental health is one of the biggest public health challenges we face as a State. Western State Hospital is no longer federally certified, and people referred for involuntary treatment to King County languish on Seattle streets instead. In some instances, and without the ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of their actions, our community members with behavioral mental health conditions violate the social contract and commit crimes. We need more capacity to address behavioral mental health.
I fully support efforts in the Legislature to pass HB 1593, which would create a 150 bed behavioral health teaching hospital at the University of Washington. This idea, based on my training and experience as a prosecutor, would do more than any other program to get people the treatment they need in a modern and therapeutic setting. As a City Councilmember, I will work with the Legislature to site this teaching hospital, either someone on the UW Montlake campus or Northwest Hospital. I will make it unequivocally clear that any environmental impact statement, permitting, design review, and other essential City requirements will be expedited. We need to do everything in our power to meet the public health crisis of untreated behavioral mental health.