South King County mayors met with other King County leaders this week as the next step in addressing the recent rise in violent gun and drug-related crimes — and they are asking for a pause in a juvenile restorative justice program.
Mayors Nancy Backus of Auburn, Jim Ferrell of Federal Way, Dana Ralph of Kent, and Armondo Pavone of Renton met on Dec. 15 with King County Executive Dow Constantine, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, and senior staff in hopes of cultivating a collaboratively approach toward crime reduction solutions.
“Our meeting was productive and will require much more effort to effectively reach a consensus on how we may reduce these troubling trends in our communities,” according to a joint statement from the mayors.
During the meeting, the mayors learned that the King County Prosecutor’s Office implemented a diversion program last month for juveniles who enter the criminal justice system. The program is called Restorative Community Pathways (RCP).
Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell said neither the fellow mayors nor police chiefs were informed of the program’s operations, the presentation to their law enforcement department members, or its start date.
“All of us were surprised to learn they’ve already started,” Ferrell said on Dec. 16.
The presentation was given on Dec. 14 at the request of law enforcement and school resource officers after the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office reached out, said Douglas Wagoner of the prosecutor’s office. The Restorative Community Pathways program started in November, he added.
According to the mayors’ statement, they are “alarmed to learn that felonies such as bringing a gun or other weapon to school or a physical assault will not result in an arrest, at a time when we are seeing rising violence and mental health crises in schools.”
Created by King County Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Ben Carr, the presentation outlines the eligible offenses so “youth who cause harm will be held appropriately accountable by the community and have their individual needs met, thereby reducing the likelihood of future harm,” according to the report.
The eligible offenses include third- and fourth-degree assault, felony harassment, organized retail theft, unlawful display or display of a weapon, possession of a stolen vehicle, robbery, residential burglary, and drug violations, among other offenses.
The mayors collectively agreed they support restorative justice for simple misdemeanor crimes for first-time juvenile offenders, but “failure to prosecute felony crimes is taking King County in the wrong direction and is making our communities less safe.”
The South King County mayors are asking for an immediate pause on the program so the cities and county leadership can work together to find a solution, according to the statement.
“Together, we can find a balance between restorative justice and the safety of our communities,” the statement reads. “We have offered to continue working toward better solutions that will reduce crime. It is our sincere belief that in working together we can address these serious crimes and keep our communities safe.”
King County’s response
King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg and Executive Dow Constantine in a joint statement said it was “disappointing” to see the mayors’ statement after the “productive discussion.”
Reducing violence in King County communities is a shared goal as elected officials, and is why King County leaders agreed to meet with the mayors, the statement said.
“Restorative Community Pathways (RCP) is an evidence-based strategy for holding young people who commit a first-time offense accountable, reducing youth incarceration, and racial disproportionality in the juvenile justice system,” the statement continued. “In doing so, this effort aims to help youth turn their lives around and stop them from becoming repeat offenders.”
RCP also “makes historic investments in supporting victims of crime through restitution and connection to services.”
The King County leaders said it is also disappointing to see the program “attacked when the program launched only one month ago.” The RCP program was unanimously approved by the King County Council, signed by Constantine and is supported by juvenile justice stakeholders, according to the statement.
“Importantly, RCP will be evaluated to determine effectiveness for both the youth who committed the crime and the harmed party.”
“If we want different outcomes in our communities, we can’t just keep doing the same, ineffective thing — we must invest in proven solutions that work and that address root causes,” the statement concludes.
On Dec. 17, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office released the presentation they shared at the Dec. 15 meeting with the mayors.
Auburn, Federal Way, Kent and Renton make up more than one-quarter (27%) of the felony filings charged by the prosecutor, according to Casey McNerthney, director of communications for the prosecuting attorney’s office. On average, he said, the office files more cases from the four South King County cities than any other agencies in King County. This results in about 10 filings per day from South King County, he said, meaning their filing decline rate is lower for these cities than other agencies.
Cases submitted by police for prosecution are down overall this year compared to last, McNerthney said, which could be related to staffing changes of detectives that agencies like Seattle are experiencing.
In Federal Way, there were 628 police department filings in 2020. This year shows 439 filings so far as of Dec. 1. Decreases are shown in second-degree assault and first-degree robbery filings.
Just because a case is filed by police doesn’t mean all of those cases can be filed, McNerthney said. Often filings are declined because the case is legally insufficient.
“That’s not blaming police,” he said. “Sometimes cases that are investigated as well as they can be cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and we are required to only file cases where we have a good faith belief that we can prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
While drug possession cases are not sent to the prosecutor’s office, drug dealing cases are “consistently” prosecuted by the office, he added. So far this year, there have been 157 drug dealing cases charged.
This year also shows the lowest number of misdemeanor and felonies referrals for juvenile offenders compared to both 2019 and 2020. Through Dec. 16, there have been 1,103 referrals, McNerthney said.