Seattle City Attorney has a new plan to arrest, intervene with 118 repeat offenders

A man accused of shoplifting multiples times a day from stores in North Seattle, who prosecutors say was shown stealing from Lowe’s in a video on TikTok, has been arrested. The case is part of what the Seattle City Attorney calls a “reset” in the city’s approach to repeat offenders.

Dylan Jackman faces three felony counts of burglary in the second degree. He’s also accused of brandishing knives and threatening store employees.

Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison said police have referred 18 cases against Jackman to her office since he arrived in Seattle 15 months ago. A press release from her office said none of Jackman’s individual charges would be grounds for placing him in custody. Instead, police and prosecutors had to “coordinate and detain Dylan on outstanding warrants, expedite case filings against him and aggregate multiple cases as felonies.” It adds, “This kind of cross-departmental approach will help take more prolific offenders like Dylan off the streets.”

Davison said her office has compiled a list of 118 people who together have generated more than 2,400 police referrals for misdemeanor charges in the past five years, all related to theft, trespassing, assault and weapons violations. While King County Jail generally declined to book people for non-violent offenses during the pandemic, Davison said jail officials have agreed to book up to 20 of the people targeted by this enforcement. Jackman is currently in custody.

High Utilizer Initiative

This week Davison unveiled what she called the “High Utilizer Initiative.”

“In this initiative we will positively impact public safety, because we will be looking at individuals that are engaged in a repeated criminal activity resulting in a disproportionate amount of crime in the city of Seattle,” she said.

Partners in the initiative include the Seattle Police Department, the King County Prosecutor’s Office and the King County Jail.

“We need to disrupt the cycle of crime and meaningfully intervene with individuals,” she said. Davison said that means knowing the individuals and their histories, and communicating with the other agencies involved.

“I will make sure we are coordinating and communicating with those public safety partners, which wasn’t done in the past,” she said, adding that she will advocate for accountability as well as behavioral health and substance use interventions.

King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg said without that communication, it’s possible for cases to fall through the gaps as prosecutors determine whether to file a felony in King County Superior Court or a misdemeanor in Seattle Municipal Court.

“I do appreciate the approach and the enthusiasm that the new administration and the mayor, frankly, have on these cases,” Satterberg said.

But Satterberg said the courts may not have the resources to truly help these defendants change their behaviors.

“I think it’s important to have realistic expectations about what a prosecution in either a municipal court or superior court … is going to do for the individual who’s involved,” he said.

“I think it can give the neighborhood a break, I think it can give the store a break if the person is a frequent shoplifter. But in terms of long-term outcomes for people with serious behavioral health issues, the court doesn’t have any magic in its toolbox.”

Still, the prosecutor’s office is working with the city attorney’s office to aggregate the dollar amounts of multiple misdemeanor offenses into felony charges in some cases. Satterberg said some defendants may benefit from the drug court that is only offered in felony cases, while other defendants may benefit from probation services in municipal court.

List of high-frequency offenders

Patrick Hinds chairs the economic crimes unit at the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. It handles most car theft and burglary prosecutions. He said for prosecutors to focus on these high-frequency offenders makes the most sense.

“Just like those offenders are having a disproportionate impact on the crime level as a whole, focusing on them can have an outsize impact on the crime level as a whole,” he said.

Davison said very few of the 118 defendants are in custody at this point. But the list has been given to SPD and those names will be flagged if they are arrested in the future.

“Each precinct will maintain a copy of the high utilizer list,” said Sgt. Randy Huserik, a spokesperson for the Seattle Police Department. “If the subject is on that list, that will be noted on the booking sheet, which will allow us to book them instead of release them from the scene if they are arrested. We will continue to work with the City Attorney’s Office and the King County Jail as this process moves along.”

In a press release, Davison said, “This initiative excludes people with a high number of domestic violence or DUI cases, as those are already the subject of additional attention. The majority of charges in cases referred to the City Attorney’s Office involving High Utilizers were theft (1,019 charges), trespassing (589 charges), assault (409 charges), or weapons violations (101 charges).”

According to Noah Haglund, spokesperson for King County Jails, the jail has agreed to book up to 20 people from the high utilizer list.

“Throughout the pandemic, King County has accepted misdemeanor bookings for offenses such as assaults, violations of no contact or protection orders, DUIs, sex crimes, firearms violations and other charges which present a serious public safety concern,” Haglund said.

Haglund said jail officials will be reviewing the existing booking restrictions over the next few weeks to determine whether changes are warranted as the pandemic evolves.

Davison said public defenders will be expected to advocate for their clients, but were not consulted about the new initiative.

“They have their role, and they should stay in their role and we should stay in ours,” she said. “There’s absolute dialogue, but we don’t blend them together. I think that’s where we’ve gotten into problems in the past and we need to stay focused on our areas.”

Nothing new or “reasonable framework?”

Anita Khandelwal, the director of the King County Department of Public Defense, issued a statement blasting the initiative as nothing new.

“Over the last decade, the City has repeatedly announced similarly named initiatives that would focus more law enforcement resources on those already most policed as a strategy for addressing public safety,” she said.

“In 2012, it re-introduced the ‘High Impact Offender Program.’ In 2019, it created the ‘High-Barrier Individuals Work Group.’ Now, it has launched the ‘High Utilizer Initiative.’ This tired strategy of arresting, prosecuting, and jailing is expensive and clearly ineffective.”

Lisa Daugaard, the executive director at the Public Defender Association, helped found the county’s LEAD program, which offers case management and other services to a similar pool of offenders. She sounded more optimistic about Davison’s emphasis on providing interventions and services.

“I read this as a commitment to action regarding individuals who have been particularly impactful and whose challenges are serious — not a predetermined approach to any of those individuals,” Daugaard said. “That’s a very reasonable framework, if — as I believe — they will support effective strategies that don’t involve unnecessary incarceration and prosecution. The cardinal rule of LEAD collaboration is ‘do what is most likely to actually make the situation better,’ and if I’m understanding correctly, this City Attorney initiative is consistent with that approach.”

Article Source: KUOW