From last night’s West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network meeting at the precinct:
PRECINCT LIAISON EXPLAINS THE JUSTICE SYSTEM: Joe Everett, the Southwest Precinct‘s liaison from the City Attorney’s Office, gave an overview, starting with an explanation of his role – the face of a “long-term, proactive partnership.” The program started in 1995 “as a thing that happened downtown,” then over time “moved out to the precincts.” Until late last year, South and Southwest Precincts were handled by one liaison lawyer; now, each precinct has its own. Reducing crime, developing a more efficient/effective response to public-safety problems, improving communications are all part of what he’s supposed to help with. Also: “Providing real-time, proactive legal advice for officers … protecting SPD resources by working closely with other City agencies to address neighborhood problems before they become criminal problems.” Overall, “I like to think of myself as a problem solver,” he summarized.
Explaining the court system:
He has the most experience with the Seattle Municipal Court; he was a prosecutor specializing in domestic violence. SMC is a “limited jurisdiction” court – handling violations of city ordinances, within the city; maximum penalty 1 year and $5,000 fine, misdemeanors/gross misdemeanors – examples of the latter include DUI, car prowling, theft, “simple assault.” Felonies are handled by King County Superior Court; misdemeanors outside the city are handled in King County District Court. That’s also where preliminary hearings – which must happen within 72 hours of arrest – are handled, regardless of where the eventual prosecution will be.
He explained which property crimes are non-felony and which are felonies. In some cases it depends on the value of what’s been stolen or damaged. Another difference is for example a defendant’s history – car prowling can be a felony if you have more than two previous convictions.
One of his slides presented the “anatomy of a criminal case” to help people understand who makes what decision – police investigate the crime, and forward the case to prosecutors. That’s who makes a charging decision, handling arraignment, pre-trial proceedings, and trial. Then a judge handles sentencing, prison/jail and/or probation and/or fines.
One attendee wanted to know how to look up information about suspects/defendants once they are making their way through the the system. Everett said he would be happy to help, provided there’s some information about the name, maybe a police incident #. (We noted that we do a lot of research, following up on suspects; you can get case numbers by looking up names in Washington Court Search – then Seattle Municipal Court makes documents available online for free, while King County Superior Court’s ECR Online system makes them available if you set up an account and prepurchase “pages.”)
So what about what some call the “revolving-door” justice system? Everett explained that the system is currently geared toward pre-trial release for suspects – either:
*On “personal recognizance”
*On bail or bond
*Conditions of release
That’s even if a judge finds there is “probable cause” to hold the person. “They can only hold someone if it’s been demonstrated that the person won’t appear for future hearings voluntarily, might commit a violent crime, or a few other factors. Even if someone “has 18 thefts on their record, if there’s no history of violence,” then they likely won’t be kept behind bars.
At least one person in attendance was incredulous at hearing that, citing at least one case on which we’ve reported in which a person was caught pretty much red-handed, and was a repeat offender, and yet was out of jail shortly thereafter. Yes, that’s how it often happens, Everett acknowledged. He later said there are usually “conditions” for release. The attendee scoffed at the concept of the accused person following rules.
Another attendee wondered about looking up judges’ records to review before elections. It’s all a matter of public record, Everett said.
He also explained stages along the way – decision points such as the investigation stage, the charging decision, trial decisions such as pretrial negotiations, defense investigations, discovery issues, and filing policies. “Certain prosecutors’ offices have their own guidelines about when they’ll file a case and when they won’t,” which can be frustrating for police and citizens, to say the least, Everett acknowledged.
He also talked about victims’ rights – which are listed under Revised Codes of Washington 7.69.030. So how do you know when there are hearings in the case? asked one attendee. You have to really stay on the prosecutor, Everett said.
Even once someone is out of jail, Everett added, that’s not necessarily the end of the case if there is probation (community custody) and, say, they violate its conditions.
Another question had to do with making decisions about prosecuting. The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and City Attorney’s Office have voluminous filing policies, Everett replied. And he mentioned “there’s a lot of tough decisions” such as the one widely reported recently regarding the county deciding not to file lower-priority misdemeanors (from outside the city) so it could focus on higher-priority cases.
A discussion of filing standards followed, with a bit of police perspective as well as prosecutorial perspective. Sometimes it has to do with what kind of evidence they have – Everett gave a hypothetical example of someone being arrested for assault, it’s obvious they did it, but they have no cooperative witnesses nor anyone else who would provide evidence toward a conviction, so they might just “cut it loose” rather than take it through the system knowing there won’t be a conviction.
So what can we do to assist, to stop criminals from wreaking havoc in neighborhoods? asked an attendee. Everett: “Put the word out to your neighbors, to be calling 911, to report stuff -” some crimes go unreported and that doesn’t help matters. Everett said what you’ve heard before and we’ve said before – SPD for example is very data-driven so at least reporting a crime “goes on the ledger as a car prowl, and if enough people do that, Capt. Davis knows he has to send (resources) to (a certain area) to deal with it. … Make sure you have information, so that if you talk with a police officer, you have” a case number that you might have been given on a card by an officer. And Everett reiterated that the “liaison” part of his job is to help people figure out who to call and when. (His contact info is on the right sidebar here.)
POLICE UPDATE: From Southwest Precinct commander Capt. Pierre Davis, Highland Park is a nexus of property crime right now. Getting information to police as fast as possible is important. “The more bad guys we put in jail right now, the quieter our summer seems to be.” Lt. Ron Smith affirmed that they’re working on repeat offenders, depending on warrants or probable cause. No other info on trends/stats.
Capt. Davis was asked about the state of the Community Police Team. Kevin McDaniel, who used to work in High Point, is now a detective. Officer Todd Wiebke is working with High Point as well as his other accountabilities as point person on homelessness-related issues. John O’Neil continues as western West Seattle CPT officer; vacant houses are one of his areas of specialization. Officer Manning is a new member of the team, mostly for eastern West Seattle.
EMERGENCY EXERCISE: WSBWCN co-leaders Deb Greer and Karen Berge are also leaders in the local preparedness community and so wanted to be sure everyone knows that April 28th, volunteers are welcome to join the West Seattle Emergency Communication Hubs‘ drill. Watch for more info soon!
The West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network meets fourth Tuesdays most months, 6:30 pm at the Southwest Precinct. Watch the WSBWCN website for updates between meetings.