By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
For the first time in six years, City Attorney Pete Holmes visited the West Seattle Crime Prevention Council for Q&A, one week after he announced he’s running for re-election.
Much has changed in the six years since that previous visit, though the City Attorney’s responsibilities have not: The office is responsible for prosecuting low-level crimes – misdemeanors – while felonies are handled by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. It’s also the official legal representative for the city in a wide variety of matters, whether it’s defending the city in court or taking action against, say, a nuisance property owner.
That last type of work is most often handled by the City Attorney’s Precinct Liaisons, a position that Joe Everett currently holds for the Southwest and South Precincts, and that was explained as Holmes began speaking. (It was also reiterated in response to an attendee questions; if the City Attorney’s Office can help with “chronic neighborhood problems,” for example, Holmes said, then that lightens the load on police and can lead to a “better resolution.”)
He moved on to the status of the consent decree – the settlement with the federal government which outlines requirements for the Seattle Police Department to follow. Holmes said last year’s racial-justice protests led to five lawsuits, which he described as a mix of claims that Seattle Police were too heavy-handed and that SPD “didn’t do enough.”
Some of the latter related to what Holmes called “unacceptable violence downtown,” but for those wondering why more jail time hadn’t ensued for some of the people who were arrested, he noted that the jail is “operating under COVID circumstances,” only holding defendants in certain types of cases such as violence and DUI. (Here’s more on the jail-policy changes ordered by King County Executive Dow Constantine early in the pandemic.) Many of the misdemeanor criminal cases his office handles have been on hold because Seattle Municipal Court isn’t hearing cases with “out of custody” defendants; that’s finally going to change in March, Holmes said.
In Q&A, Holmes was asked about the misdemeanor-defense expansion concept that West Seattle/South Park City Councilnember Lisa Herbold had floated (previous WSB coverage here). He said he’s fairly sure that there’s no intent to actually bring forth legislation to make any such changes, but he also urged anyone with an opinion about the idea to contact her. He said what’s needed rather than a change in the law is a way to “stabilize” people with the problems that are often at the heart of chronic misdemeanors.
He was also asked about the prosecution of people who vandalized businesses in other neighborhoods such as Capitol Hill during protests. He said a dozen cases had been referred to his office, only one involving private property, noting again that it’s important to understand the differences between what the City Attorney handles and what the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office handles – any damage or theft over $750 would go to the latter, as a felony case.
Also on the subject of protests, he was asked whether his office monitors social media. That’s an investigative function, not in the purview of his office (or county prosecutors), so it’s a police responsibility. Southwest Precinct Lt. Dorothy Kim spoke up at that point to say yes, the Criminal Intelligence Unit monitors “websites.” They’re keeping an eye on what might be planned for May Day, for example.
One attendee went back to the subject of repeat offenders, saying the city feels “less safe,” and wondering why they aren’t kept in jail. While reiterating that his office only handles misdemeanors – which cannot carry sentences longer than 364 days – Holmes said jail isn’t the answer anyway, as it does not offer treatment for drugs or behavioral-health problems: “(The repeat offenders) emerge from jail just as broken as when they went in. … What we really need to be doing is addressing the underlying causes.” He noted that 92 percent of people referred to a program called Choose 180 “do not commit another crime.” Couldn’t therapy be offered in jail, and sentences extended? asked the attendee. Holmes said that while some think a long rap sheet means “we need to get tough,” he contends that doesn’t work, and more money needs to be spent on diversion programs. Besides Choose 180, he also mentioned LEAD and Co-LEAD.
Another attendee asked Holmes about the justice-system infighting that emerged almost two years ago in a letter sent to former Municipal Court Presiding Judge Ed McKenna, who has since retired. Holmes insisted his letter to McKenna was a “last resort” that followed “many discussions” between the two. He also said he had been a McKenna supporter – “he ran with my endorsement.” But the judge’s own actions were responsible for his early retirement, Holmes insisted.
ALSO AT THE MEETING: Lt. Kim gave a short crime-trend report, saying property crimes were down compared to last year, while aggravated assaults were up, primarily domestic-violence cases. Later in the meeting, an attendee expressed concern that she hadn’t mentioned the recent wave of armed business robberies, mostly pharmacies. She said the robbers are believed to be part of a “group” responsible for a regional series of holdups, as far south as Pierce County. She also acknowledged that the precinct still has staffing issues, but urged people to continue reporting crimes both large and small.
The West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meets online, third Tuesdays, most recently at 6 pm. We publish meeting announcements when we get them; if you want to be on the list, contact Crime Prevention Coordinator Jennifer Danner, who’s been hosting the meetings – firstname.lastname@example.org