KC prosecutor seeks to set record after South Sound mayors link office to rising crime

King County District Attorney Dan Satterberg is laying out the facts for South Sound mayors who publicly criticized the office earlier this month as one of many factors to blame for the rise in violence and other crimes.

“The mayors of the southern towns of King County, Auburn, Black Diamond, Enumclaw, Federal Way, Kent, Pacific, Renton and Tukwila are united in our continued appeal to our criminal justice partners in King County and the state of Washington to help us stem the rising tide. of crime and violence in our communities,” the open letter read. It was communicated to the media and signed by the mayors on August 4th.

“Towns in King County are experiencing a disturbing increase in violent crime, as well as drug and property crime, including auto theft, burglary and robbery. Our community of residents, businesses and visitors – the victims of these crimes – are fed up and action is needed,” the letter continued.

In addition to new laws limiting police pursuits and drug arrests alongside a county jail system they say does not consistently allow reservations, mayors have called out the district attorney’s office for its slowness in filing charges. felony cases — if they are filed at all — and to defer juvenile cases to expensive and hard-to-find reparations programs.

King County mayors appeal for help to tackle rising crime, clash with prosecutor

In a letter responding to mayors on Monday, Satterberg acknowledged concerns about increased crime and shootings in the area, but also noted that it was not specific to King County, with many cities and the country experiencing similar crime trends following the pandemic. .

“We also need to recognize that multiple factors contribute to crime rates: domestic violence, behavioral health issues, widespread availability of guns, population growth, drug and substance abuse, and declining police force, to name a few,” Satterberg said.

Not only do logistical challenges prevent cases from going to trial, but the blame must also be shared with the police departments themselves, who have their own struggles with staffing officers to prevent crimes and gather the necessary evidence in cases. criminal prosecution cases. He stressed that prosecutors can only respond to referrals from the police.

“Prosecutors cannot investigate crimes,” Satterberg said. “As a result, the King County District Attorney’s Office can only charge felony cases that are first referred to us by law enforcement investigators. In this context, it should be noted that felony referrals from your police departments have dropped by 28.5% between 2019 and 2021.”

Seattle continues to struggle with police staffing and rising crime

Satterberg explained that his office prioritizes violent crimes and repeat property offenders, but stressed that this does not mean the office ignores other types of crimes. He also provided a link to all charges brought by his office in July.

On average, Satterberg said his office logs 20 to 30 adult crime cases daily, with the majority involving violent offenses or repeat offenders (including property crimes).

“Our assistant prosecutors are at the courthouse every day, working closely with detectives, including nights and weekends, to write and approve search warrants, assist with case development, respond to homicide scenes and attending autopsies,” Satterberg said. “Our assistant prosecutors also try cases every day. On the day of your statement, there were 10 felony trials pending in adult Superior Court. These trials included three murders, one attempted murder, three cases of sexual assault, and one domestic violence arson.

Beyond that, Satterberg points to the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects it has had on the legal system. He pointed to problems with the transition to virtual courtrooms, issues of limited availability to try these cases and complications in communications between different parties, as well as the disease itself, as reasons why the number of business resolutions has decreased.

“The Washington State Supreme Court, in accordance with public health guidelines, has largely closed courts statewide during parts of the pandemic,” Satterberg said. “This included a lengthy suspension of jury trials and plea hearings…Before the pandemic, approximately 200 cases would be resolved annually by jury trials in King County Superior Court. This year, assuming there are no additional public health restrictions, we hope to reach 100 cases resolved by jury trial.

As Washington is still recovering from the pandemic, it will continue to cause problems in the criminal justice system and how these cases are handled by the KCPO.

Overall, Satterberg pointed out, the justice system is a collaborative process between lawmakers, law enforcement and prosecutors, and no one is responsible for the rising crime rate in the region. He wants to work together moving forward to make the whole community safer for everyone.

“We all share the goal of keeping our communities safe and will always work collaboratively with you to protect public safety,” Satterberg said. “We are working to deal with the impacts of the pandemic and rising violence and we want to continue to work collaboratively to deal with the most serious cases and prolific offenders.”

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