Seattle police want repeat offenders off streets, arrested, and prosecuted

Anyone who follows this blog knows I typically write about DUI or DUI related news in Seattle. But a recent news story caught my eye and I wanted to post my thoughts on it. A few days ago the City of Seattle Police Chief sent a binder to the City of Seattle Attorney’s office containing a list of 28 individuals they wanted arrested and prosecuted. The offenses these people committed were low level misdemeanor and or civil infractions like urinating in public, public intoxication, open container, etc.

Apparently the Seattle Police Department feel these individuals are dangerous enough to justify their arrest and incarceration. And from what the news story suggested the City of Attorney doesn’t agree. To be honest I kind of agree with Pete Holmes and I think he says it perfectly when he says :although these acts are disgusting they are not violent crimes.”

In case you don’t know when I first started as a lawyer I was a public defender. One of my first court room experiences was doing the jail calendar commonly referred to as “the tank.” For those that don’t know what this is. It’s the first court appearance a defendant has after they are arrested, usually the next day. The courtroom is in the jail and there is actually a little hallway where the attorney and defendants would meet.

I would say 90% of the defendants I came into contact with at the jail calender were those type of individuals identified by the Seattle Police Department. Most of them were homeless. Many had mental health issues. And they usually were in custody for some low level offense. Like a theft of a candy bar from the grocery store, or a criminal trespass for sleeping in an area they weren’t supposed to be in, or an assault with another homeless individual. When you combine addiction to alcohol, homelessness, and mental health issues you get these people and the offenses associated with them.

Often times at these hearings the Judge would just release them or they would just plead guilty to get out of jail. On the off chance a Judge would impose bail they would have to remain in jail until their court date, which was usually 2 weeks away. And this is the problem I see with what the Seattle Police Chief is proposing.

Back then it would cost $100 a day to house someone in the King County jail. So if you take someone and keep them in there for 2-3 weeks. That is $1400 to $2100 depending on how long they are they. Then you have to factor in the court costs to deal with their case including the salary of the Judge, Prosecutor, Public defender, jail guard, and court clerks. Any fines that usually don’t get paid. The result collection costs and default penalties. And subsequent warrant that would be issued for failing to appear. It’s an endless cycle.

Now don’t get my wrong I don’t like the problems these folks cause. But isn’t a better use of tax payer money to lock someone up who is actually a danger to society rather than a nuisance. Do I like walking in downtown Seattle and being hassled by pan handlers? No. Do I like walking down by pike place and smelling the urine and vomit on the streets? No. Do I like seeing all the open hand to hand drug exchanges on 3rd & Pike? Of course not

But I don’t think locking them up is the answer. Especially when you factor in the costs associated with it.