New series kicking off on how to fix King County’s criminal justice system
August 3, 2022
It should be self-evident to anyone who lives in King County that the criminal justice system is profoundly broken and needs to be fixed. In the coming weeks we’ll be highlighting the major reasons for why crime is out of control in King County, and what you can do to take action and help fix it.
That reality can be found in semi-daily news headlines highlighting gang violence, drive-by shootings, rampant catalytic converter thefts, and random attacks on innocent people.
Some of the latest incidents include:
- A shooting in Seattle’s University District
- Two dead from a shooting in north Seattle
- A homeless Bellevue man murdered allegedly by a serial rapist
- A Seattle bank robbery
- Starbucks closing several Seattle stores due to local crime
- Seattle business owners having to fight off drug activity right outside their front door
The media anecdotes correlate with actual data. Overall crime increased in Seattle by 10 percent between 2020-2021. Violent crime increased by 20 percent and represented a 14-year high, while auto parts theft increased by a whopping 80 percent. King County’s 2021 murder rate broke records, with 73 people lethally shot by September of that compared to 69 fatally shot in all of 2020.
The skyrocketing crime, both violent and petty, has taken a toll on local residents and businesses. While Starbucks recently announced the closure of several Seattle stores, Popular bakery Pirosky Pirosky closed its Seattle store earlier this year due to crime. Other chain stores have also closed in Seattle.
We’re not the only ones pointing this out. Recently Seattle Times columnist Jon Talton called out the City Council, writing that they “defunded the police even as crime rose and shoplifting staggered the remaining retailers. Third Avenue’s rich assortment of shops are now closed and boarded up.”
Seattle voters last year made it clear that enough was enough when they elected City Attorney Ann Davison, who has vowed to crack down on serial offenders after her predecessor refused to prosecute almost half of all misdemeanor cases referred to his office by police. Freshman Councilmember Sara Nelson has also warned of “a total breakdown of the social contract when it comes to public safety” and sought to get more officers hired onto what is now a skeleton-staffed police department.
However, the reality is that there is no quick-fix to this problem. It’s not going to get solved by the push of a button or electing merely one person into an office restricted to just petty crime, or getting more officers on payroll. A functional criminal justice system is composed of many sections, including:
- Fully-staffed, well-trained local and regional law enforcement agencies with high morale
- A competent city attorney’s office focused on reducing petty crime
- A competent county prosecutor’s office focused on reducing felony crime
- District and superior court judges that hand out harsh sentences against repeat offenders
- State laws that balance protecting civil rights with maintaining public safety
There is trouble in every section of this system in King County, which means its failures are multilayered and consequently will require a multilayered solution.
The good news is that it can be done. Correctly identifying the causes for the system’s dysfunction is crucial, but so is coming up with solid proposals on how to change it. It’s not going to get turned around tomorrow. It’s going to be a long-term project with potential short-term setbacks or struggles, but that is how meaningful reforms will be enacted.
A good motto for us to have is the Latin phrase concordia res parvae crescent – small things grow great by concord. Incremental efforts done in pursuit of an overall objective are the key to solving our public safety crisis.
The end result will be a reformed King County criminal justice system that has reduced crime, restored public safety, and moving forward maintains the quality of life people deserve.