Belltown List of 'Frequent Fliers' Has Troubled SPD Embracing a Soft Touch

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When two bike cops created a list of Belltown's worst offenders last summer, it became an instant Rorschach test for the city. What shocked just about everyone, including officers who had been on the force for decades, was the exorbitant number of "contacts" these so-called "frequent fliers" had had with the police department.

Fifty, 100, even 200 a person. The vast majority of contacts represented arrests, although some also signified questioning by an officer.

What did it mean? To some, it indicated that these offenders were truly incorrigible and had, despite all their arrests, never been held accountable by the criminal justice system. But to others it meant that the criminal justice system was not, in fact, the best way to deal with whatever was making these people commit crimes.

Some top-level SPD officials fell into the latter camp. The department has hardly been known for its soft touch of late. A scathing Department of Justice report took SPD to task for widespread and inappropriate aggressiveness. Yet, at the same time, the force has quietly been debating new ideas, including what for cops is the the radical notion that arrests will not solve crime.

In our cover story this week, we take a look at how this is playing out within SPD, from an assistant chief who talks about offenders as "clients"to a new mandate in Belltown to try a different approach to the beat officers who deal with the on-the-ground reality of repeat offenders.

And, for the first time, we meet some of the faces behind the infamous Belltown list that is changing the way the city thinks about crime.

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