System Failure: Seattle's Criminal Justice System Is Broken

System Failure: Seattle's Criminal Justice System Is Broken

According to the FBI, violent crime declined in the United States last year. There are some cities bucking the trend, unfortunately, and Seattle, Washington is one of them. In fact, in Seattle, crimes like rape, homicide, and aggravated assaults are the highest recorded in over a decade. This, despite the fact that gun control advocates have been able to put all kinds of “gun safety” laws on the books going back to 2014, when the state adopted “universal background check” laws. Even as the state has added more gun control laws via legislation and referendum, crime in Seattle’s getting worse. That’s because lawmakers are more interested in passing new laws aimed at legal gun owners than they are ensuring that existing laws are being enforced against violent criminals.

new report commissioned by business associations in Seattle reveals that the criminal justice system is suffering from a systemic failure that’s leading to tens of thousands of wasted hours by law enforcement and a city attorney’s office that is dismissing a staggering number of cases. The report is called “System Failure 2: Declines, Delays, and Dismissals”, and builds off of an earlier report issued in February of this year that documented the staggering number of criminal cases stemming from the actions of just a few prolific offenders. As the new report claims, one of the reasons why some of these offenders are so prolific is that they so infrequently face any real consequences.

In 2017 (the most recent year for which data is available), the City Attorney’s Office filed only 54 percent of all non-traffic criminal cases referred by police. According to data from the City Attorney’s Office, the rate at which misdemeanor prosecutors declined cases increased dramatically over the past decade from 17 percent in 2007 to 46 percent in 2017. Most of that change is driven by the City Attorney’s Office not filing 65 percent of out-of-custody cases (when the suspect is not in jail) that Seattle police refer for prosecution.

Almost half of all misdemeanor charges are dismissed outright by the City Attorney’s office? Why should the police bother to make an arrest if half the time the City Attorney’s office isn’t even going to bother to prosecute? As the report notes, this means that literally tens of thousands of hours of on-the-clock policing is taken up by engaging in an utterly futile exercise.

… data from Seattle’s misdemeanor criminal justice system shows that there is a significant disconnect between the City Attorney and other criminal justice system actors on how Seattle’s laws should be enforced. The result is that Seattle police churn thousands of misdemeanor case referrals every year, only to see them declined, delayed or dismissed. Prolific offenders know they are unlikely to be held accountable, even when arrested. Police know that most of their hard work is discarded. And repeat victims understand that there is little relief in sight for the daily grind of crime.

The report also notes something very important; as residents and business owners become aware that nothing of consequence will happen if they report a crime, they stop reporting crimes. That means that Seattle’s crime problem may be even worse than the official statistics suggest, as KOMO-TV recently reported.

The case of Seattle’s Uwajimaya on 5th Avenue South is a representative example of what is, and isn’t happening within a broken system.

In 2018 the supermarket stopped reporting any theft cases, that’s in spite of the fact that they continue to be decimated by theft.
“I would say thousands a week, tens of thousands every month, every few months,” said Uwajimaya CEO, Denise Moriguchi.

From January to September of 2018, before they stopped reporting, Uwajimaya reported 261 theft cases. These are cases in which they actually caught the shoplifter red-handed or had video of the theft.

Of those 261 cases, 166 of them, 63%, were held by the Seattle Police Department. In other words, nothing happened.

The reason the cases were held, the amount that was stolen didn’t reach the $25 threshold set by the city attorney’s office. They weren’t worth dealing with.

Of the remaining 95 cases referred to the city attorney’s office, 44 of them were declined. Or, simply never filed. So nothing happened.

Another 28 cases are pending with bench warrants outstanding. In other words, nothing happened.

It’s not just non-violent crimes like shoplifting. The report found that it’s taking the City Attorney’s office almost seven months, on average, to file charges in assault cases, and in the meantime many of these suspects will be arrested again on similar charges.

The entire report is worth a read, even if you don’t live in Seattle. Chances are, many of the same light-on-crime, tough-on-gun-owners approaches taken by the city are in place or coming to a city near you.