Prosecutor requests reserve dollars to combat crime
February 3, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
NEW — 6 a.m. Feb. 3, 2011
Deep cuts to criminal justice services and a rise in aggravated assaults have left the King County Prosecutor’s Office unable to tackle the burgeoning caseload, Prosecutor Dan Satterberg told a County Council committee Wednesday.
The office has lost 51 employees, including 36 deputy prosecutors, since 2008. In the same period, aggravated assaults increased 42 percent and robberies climbed 31 percent. The office also has 48 homicide cases pending.
Satterberg testified before council Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee to request additional dollars for the Prosecutor’s Office.
“Public safety is my No. 1 concern,” Councilman Bob Ferguson, the committee chairman, said in a statement. “By making a number of targeted investments, we can continue to prosecute dangerous crimes and keep criminals out of our communities.”
The budget the council adopted for 2011 required cuts to the criminal justice system in order to patch a $60 million general fund budget hole.
The entire county budget amounts to about $5 billion. The general fund — the account used for criminal justice services — comprises $621 million.
In the budget, the council set aside a $1.5 million reserve for criminal justice services in order to respond to threats to public safety and to keep the system operating smoothly.
“I appreciate the council’s attention to the urgent needs of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, which will contribute to the overall efficiency of the criminal justice system and public safety,” Satterberg said.
In letters to the County Executive Dow Constantine and Councilwoman Julia Patterson — the council Budget and Fiscal Management Committee leader — Ferguson requested tapping into the reserve in order to tackle the backlog in criminal cases and the rise in violent crime.
“Without action, the criminal backlog will build in the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office,” the letter states. “Judges may be forced to release dangerous felons awaiting trial into the community because speedy trial requirements are not met. Victims will suffer as cases go unfiled. Defendants may lose access to certain treatment options designed to keep them from becoming repeat offenders. Criminals will be emboldened as the justice system slows and crimes go unpunished.”
Ferguson said reserve dollars should be used to reverse the trend.
“Consequently, I believe we should make several critical public safety investments in the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office,” he continued. “For example, we can fund deputy prosecutors to deal with the backlog and keep criminal prosecutions moving. We can provide bridge funding for programs that target gang violence and gun-related crime to keep violent crime in check.”