Report behind ‘Seattle is Dying’ effort gets City Council airing

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 InsightHere 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.

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8 thoughts on “Report behind ‘Seattle is Dying’ effort gets City Council airing

  1. Sounds like we all agree on the problem.

    So, I’m curious, what’s Pete Holmes’s plan? Sounds like it’s ignoring repeat offenders and hoping some other system deals with it, and if they wreak havoc on the larger community in the meantime, oh well.

    That is 100 percent unacceptable. If people repeatedly commit crimes, they need to be separated from society for the safety of the rest of us. Whether that’s in a mental institution receiving treatment, or in jail, should be worked out between the two systems.

    Dumping people back on the street without a plan, knowing they are very likely to reoffend is an unconscionable dereliction of duty as a public servant. This makes me livid.

    Pete Holmes needs to go.

    • Pete Holmes is the City Attorney. It’s not the job of the City Attorney to legislate. That’s the Council’s job. If the City Council doesn’t propose and provision a treatment program for dealing with the root causes of repeat offenders, it’s not his job to “have a plan”. His plan can’t indefinitely involve just locking up more people, if there’s nowhere to lock them up, and no way to pay for the increased capacity. [see also: Republican politicians]

      • I hear your point, but Pete’s chief raison d’etre is to uphold the rule of law. If people are breaking the law, he needs to enforce the response to that. It’s absolutely deplorable that we do not have a proper mental health care system but that’s not an excuse for catch and release. Sadly, the choice is stark: jail the mentally ill criminals or let them go do their thing on the rest of us. For the greater good of society, we must jail them. For the GREATEST good, we should build an effective mental health care system. There are no pretty answers here…but there needs to be an answer.

      • Really disagree. There is no legislation needed to enforce laws that are already on the books. He is making a discretionary decision not to prosecute entire classes of crimes, because he personally believes that other systems should address the criminally mentally ill and substance users who commit crimes. That is wholly within his authority, and he is exercising that authority to the max.

        Deciding he doesn’t want to prosecute certain crimes because he doesn’t like the larger system context is unethical (without another plan) because it has negative repercussions for the rest of us. He’s throwing up his hands and saying ‘not my problem.’

        So, when he decided not to play his position, having a plan became his problem.

      • The jail isn’t full, nor is RJC, not by a long shot. So it’s not a capacity problem. The city attorney has chosen to decline to prosecute half the cases sent to him by police. He is just deciding not to enforce the law. He needs to go.

      • Reasonable people can debate whether or not mandatory treatment of the homeless, for those with mental health disorders and addiction, is necessary. But there should be no debate that repeat criminals should be locked up until there is inpatient treatment available for them. Even then, the recidivism rate would be significant, but less so than the current Holmes policy, which is just to let them go back to the streets without charges, only to continue to wreck havoc.

  2. Durkin is a moron to leave the CD and Capitol Hill off the list. Is she unaware of the rash of shootings these neighborhoods get every summer? Obviously she does not care that people are dying on the street, people are scared to go to QFC, there are blood stains on the concrete!

    • “he personally believes that other systems should address the criminally mentally ill and substance users who commit crimes. ”

      But they aren’t so you have a criminal justice system allowing perennial criminals to repeatedly victimize innocent people because of virtue signaling political grandstanding.

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