Consequences of defunding Seattle police: Cops forced to make rape and sexual assault cases a low priority

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SEATTLE, WA — Police insiders have given two reasons why sex crimes investigations in Seattle are not being handled expeditiously like in the past.

According to a report by KUOW, two anonymous Seattle Police employees said there are two reasons why far fewer sex assault cases have been forwarded to the King County Prosecutor’s Office.

Employee retention is one part of the problem, with 16 percent of Seattle officers currently on leave. Several others have already permanently left the department.

Greg Doss, fiscal and policy analyst with the City of Seattle, confirmed with KUOW that the number of Seattle police officers has gone down since 2019, but that it became a bigger problem sometime in 2020.

Doss said in an email to KUOW that a big part of the staffing problem is attributed to officers out on extended leave since 2020. Many of the officers on extended leave now are using their accrued time, likely before departing permanently.

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Doss also said that some employees refused to get vaccinated by Oct. 18 last year.

The second issue, according to the employees, is the new mayor’s policing strategy that reflects a preference for tackling visible crimes over those that are “invisible.”

KUOW reported:

“A new mayor means a new policing strategy, and Mayor Bruce Harrell made it clear during his campaign that he aims to address ‘visible crime.’

“Since Harrell assumed office, at least seven patrol officers have been moved over to help empty tent encampments. Seattle officers are targeting city crime ‘hot spots,’ people purchasing and selling drugs, and stolen goods from big-box stores.

“The staffing challenges within the specialty teams of the Seattle Police Department are driven by the lack of active police staffing, Jamie Housen, spokesperson for Mayor Harrell, said by email. He said Harrell has often called for Seattle Police staffing to be restored.

“The two Seattle Police employees who communicated with KUOW asked not to be named because it is a policy violation to discuss their work with journalists.”

KUOW reported that Seattle’s year-end crime report states violent and property crime is up:

Harrell promised to address crime hotspots and repeat offenders of low-level crimes. He’s been vocal about removing unhoused people from Seattle streets, and officers are being tapped for his cause.”

Both employees confirmed to KUOW that adult victims of sexual assault have been sidelined because the visible crimes are being prioritized now.

One of the sources said:

“The Seattle Police Department sexual assault unit is not at all investigating adult sexual assault reports or cases unless there was an arrest.”

Currently, four detectives handle sexual assault and child abuse cases in Seattle, according to KUOW.

Crimes against children are the highest priority, because Washington state law requires investigation into these crimes, whereas adult sex assault reports have a longer window in which officers may begin investigating them, according to the same report.

One of the sources told KUOW that there is a disturbing trend to their child abuse cases:

“Our child cases are increasing due to the fact that children are coming back to school from Covid. There’s more reporting, and we are seeing an aggressive level of child abuse than we have seen previously.”

Mayor spokesperson Housen pointed out that the sexual assault and child abuse unit decreased to four detectives before Harrell took office, KUOW reported.

The news outlet also noted that people who call the police department about sex crimes are rerouted to a voicemail intended for nonurgent crimes:

“Seattle detectives continue to investigate crimes reported in early 2020, the employee said. These cases require search warrants, witness interviews, and DNA evidence — which take time.

“Fewer officers means that in some cases, people calling to report a sexual assault are routed to the automated telephone reporting unit, designed to address non-urgent calls such as stolen checks.”

Mary Ellen Stone, chief executive officer of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, told KUOW that it has always been difficult for survivors to report their assault to police and pursue criminal charges.

Stone referred to a report that the Resource Center published last year. It found that among a backlog of cases in King County Superior Court, there were 408 sexual assault victims who had been waiting on average 563 days for disposition.

Stone noted the deterioration:

“We want to look at this not as ‘Oh, my goodness this all of a sudden happened,’ but this has been the state for some time, and now it’s worse.”

In addition, KUOW said that a 2020 report by the King County Auditor’s Office found the King County Sheriff’s Office and the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office sometimes didn’t interview sexual assault victims within the recommended time frame and that deputies failed to provide advocacy information, which is a legal requirement.

Jordan Walker, a legal advocate with the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, told KUOW that while he understands that law enforcement agencies are shorthanded, there are long-term consequences of police being understaffed.

Walker said that people who file reports and are then ignored would be justifiably frustrated and would probably share their negative experiences with others, causing a ripple effect of fewer people filing reports in the future:

“When the front door into a criminal case, into someone hearing your story, someone looking into your story, when that door is locked, and you can’t even get in, the whole system can feel disenfranchised.”

Walker also suggested that if reported sexual assaults are not being investigated, then the problem of sex crimes is being masked, but still exists.

KUOW reported:

“The Seattle Police Department declined to provide KUOW with details on caseloads and which units officers are assigned to, due to their ‘fluid nature,’ and as a ‘matter of policy,’ Seattle Police spokesperson Randall Huserik said by email.

“In his 2021 year-end crime report, Interim Chief Adrian Diaz said that there had been a reduction in rape cases. But documents obtained by KUOW show that the number of cases coming into the sexual assault and child abuse unit have increased since 2019. These numbers do not separate out rapes from other sexual assaults.

“Data from the King County Prosecutor’s Office shows that fewer Seattle Police cases, including those from the sexual assault and child abuse unit, are being sent to prosecutors to determine if charges should be filed.

“Chief Diaz has prioritized deploying officers to high-priority emergency calls, and deterring ‘crime through proactivity,’ his spokesperson Randy Huserik said.

“The Seattle Police blog is peppered with the details of recent shootings, robberies, and photos of guns and drugs police have seized.

“Thirty officers make up the Community Response Group, a project Chief Diaz launched in 2020 to lead protest response and work citywide to ‘enhance 911 and emergency response,’ the Seattle Police blotter says.”

KUOW also suggested that shoplifting and homelessness appear to be top-priority crimes that are being addressed:

“This roaming unit of cops on March 31 helped to make 49 shoplifting arrests. They detained a young woman with a baby, after a man who was accused of stealing throw pillows and a memory foam mattress, got in her car at a Lowe’s Home Improvement in Rainier Valley.

“The woman was driving and fled when police flashed their lights. Several police cars followed them to north Seattle. 

“Seattle Mayor Harrell continues to make good on his campaign promise to clear the homeless from Seattle’s public spaces, with officers present and available to intervene when activists and mutual aid workers are accused of interfering with the clearing of the homeless.

“Seven patrol officers recently moved into the team that assists in emptying out homeless encampments around Seattle — the Alternative Response Team — to aid with this effort and work hot-spot emphasis areas downtown and in the International District.”

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