Seattle’s new mayor was elected on a pledge to reject calls to defund police, but the city’s sexual assault and child abuse unit staff has been so depleted that it has stopped assigning new cases with adult victims.
The unit’s sergeant, Pamela St. John, said in an internal memo in April to interim police Chief Adrian Diaz that the community “expects our agency to respond to reports of sexual violence, and at current staffing levels that objective is unattainable,” the Seattle Times reported.
The Seattle paper noted that enforcement agencies nationwide have suffered labor shortages since the 2020 protests of the death of George Floyd in police custody.
“But Seattle’s failure to staff its sexual assault unit stands out from other local police departments and raises questions about the Seattle Police Department’s priorities, advocates say,” the Times reported.
Ben Santos, chairman of the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Special Assault Unit, said Seattle police leaders “are having to make really difficult choices right now, given that homicide and violent crime rates are up.”
“We have done our best to try and let people know what that means on the sexual assault side – it means that these cases are not being investigated the way they should be,” he told the Times.
Mary Ellen Stone, CEO of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, told the Times that Seattle’s slowdown is particularly acute.
“We work with 38 jurisdictions, and while everybody’s dealing with backlogs and everybody’s dealing with staffing shortages, we’re not seeing something similar from other jurisdictions,” Stone said.
The Seattle Police Department has been losing officers since the beginning of 2020, when it had 1,290 officers in service. By March 2022, the force dropped to 968.
The city’s first black police chief, Carmen Best, resigned after the City Council cut department funds.
The impact of the staffing shortage was felt across units, and the sexual assault unit wasn’t even the most affected, said Assistant Chief Deanna Nollette.
“I could bring anybody in here from anywhere in the department and they would tell you the same story,” Nollette said.
Property crimes, which are simpler to investigate, are given priority because so many Seattle businesses are threatening to leave.
“When you have businesses that are the single biggest loss leaders in the country telling you, ‘We are going to close our businesses and leave the city of Seattle’ if we don’t do something about the crime, we have a responsibility as a department to try to do what we can do to support them with policing,” said the assistant chief.
In March, the immigrant owner of a Seattle bakery who closed a downtown shop amid record-breaking crime as well as drug users blocking the entrance while police stand by idly explained why she finally gave up.
After a man was shot dead around the corner of Piroshky Piroshky bakery, Olga Sagan said it finally was time to stop pushing for change.
“No one is listening. This is not new. Look at how many small businesses we have left here. We have only big businesses here,” said Sagan in an interview with independent journalist Brandi Kruse.
“I’m a smart business owner. I have given up my business during pandemic. I can read signs. I can read patterns. And this is a pattern that I can’t deal with anymore,” she said.
Sagan, 38, noted “it’s the definition of being crazy, doing the same thing over and over and over and over, and expecting different results.”
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