The report at the core of a storm of controversy and the sensational “Seattle is Dying” Sinclair Broadcasting television news reporting efforts got an airing in front of the City Council but, by now, concern over the positions has mostly given way to debate over how to improve and better fund needed services in the city.
Lisa Herbold’s civil rights committee Wednesday heard a presentation on the so-called “System Failure Report,” a study commissioned by Seattle business organizations to bring attention to what they say is a city legal system so dysfunctional that a relatively small core of prolific offenders is allowed to run roughshod and bring misery to the city of 725,000.
“A substantial portion of the criminal activity that has the greatest impact on Seattle’s busiest neighborhoods is committed by prolific offenders who are well known to Seattle police officers and have a large number of criminal cases in Seattle and King County courts,” goes the central premise of the report (PDF).
But the effort has mostly been dismissed. Seattle City Attorney Peter Holmes says the report raised “legitimate concerns.” “To have a person harm their business or employees, serve their sentence, then return to commit that same crime again is as dispiriting as it is alarming,” Holmes writes. But it adds little, he says, beyond what is already known — “nearly all prolific offenders commit crimes rooted from mental health and/or chemical dependency issues.”
“As evidenced by the cyclical nature of the offenders’ behavior, there’s little question that without direct intervention and enhanced investment in mental health, chemical dependency treatment, and housing options, this population is extremely likely to reoffend upon completion of their sentences,” Holmes writes.
The report’s author Scott Lindsay’s methods have also been questioned. Lindsay provided a full explanation for how he selected the prolific offenders used in the report to Seattle City Council Insight. Here is what SCCI found:
The list of 100 individuals is not a random sample. We have no idea how representative it is of a larger population. It’s best thought of as a set of 100 stories, from which we can learn about those individuals and about things that aren’t working well in the system. But since the sample was heavily curated, it’s beyond the reach of the study to draw larger inferences about Seattle’s offender population, the homeless population, the population with mental health issues, or the population with substance abuse issues. We also don’t know if the same findings hold true in Bellevue, in Issaquah, in Tukwila, in Portland, or in any other city, and it would be nearly impossible to draw a direct comparison. This is very much a one-off study.
“The demographics of this sample population roughly match the demographics of the larger population of those incarcerated at King County Jail,” Lindsay wrote about the group he selected.
Herbold’s airing of the reporting effort from former Ed Murray insider and one-time candidate for City Attorney Lindsay was an informational session and not related directly to legislation.
In the wake of the report and KOMO TV coverage, Mayor Jenny Durkan has rolled out a “Pre-Summer Emphasis Program” in seven neighborhoods to try to get ahead of summer street crime and violence. Capitol Hill and the Central District did not make the cut.