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Seattle City Attorney is delivering improvements

Voters elected Ann Davison as Seattle City Attorney last year because they wanted responsible, effective change in a seemingly disorganized and dispirited office.

Given Davison’s latest criminal division report, she is delivering important improvements.

The Aug. 17 statistics, which present data from the first six months of the year, show management changes and new hires made an immediate impact.

Reforms in the City Attorney’s Office are one piece of a complex criminal legal system that involves police, prosecutors, judges and jailers. But Davison’s improvements demonstrate that focused attention and clear organizational priorities have real-world results that impact victims, witnesses and residents.

Davison filled nine vacant prosecutor positions and hired five additional support staff. Management changes included combining staff resources to support the Review and Filing Unit.

As a result, the criminal division reduced the median time to make a filing decision in criminal cases submitted by Seattle police from four months to three days.

Speedy decisions on whether to move forward with criminal cases make a big difference to victims and witnesses. The longer a case drags out, it becomes increasingly difficult to take to court as people get harder to reach and more hesitant to cooperate.

In 2021, 27% of domestic violence referrals were declined due to a difficulty in contacting victims. By the second quarter of this year, that dropped to only 8%.

Over the last 8 months, the number of misdemeanor cases filed increased to pre-pandemic levels, a 124% increase from the same period last year.

Davison also tackled the backlog of nearly 5,000 cases leftover from previous City Attorney Pete Holmes.

Assistant city prosecutors made 900 case filing decisions on older cases in the last three months.

The City Attorney’s Office removed some cases from the backlog, including those involving property destruction, theft, criminal trespass, and non-DUI traffic infractions, as well as those that had passed the statute of limitations.

The criminal division report highlights other public safety challenges not under the purview of the City Attorney.

In the second quarter of 2022, the City Attorney’s Office received 2,786 referrals from the Seattle Police Department. By comparison, the office received 3,991 referrals in 2017. This drop is attributed to the steep reduction in Seattle police staffing that began in 2020 and continues.

The Seattle City Council recently passed a recruitment measure drafted by Mayor Bruce Harrell to help bring back Seattle police staffing to levels more in line with previous years. That was a positive step.

Much more needs to be done — including offering more behavioral health services and help with housing and employment to those leaving jail — but Seattle voters should feel gratified that they made the right choices in the last election. To turn the tide on crime and restore the community’s sense of well-being, commitment, follow-through and competence must be the order of the day at every level of city government.

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