King County Executive Dow Constantine shared new public safety investments this week focused on four key themes that will support a robust public safety network.
Joined by the King County Sheriff and directors from Public Health, Metro, and the departments of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) and Community and Human Services (DCHS), Constantine laid out a plan for how King County can provide genuine and just safety for people in all its communities.
The investments, which are part of the Executive’s biennium budget proposal set to be announced next week, will fund programming across the five departments and focus on reducing crime, gun violence, and behavioral health crises.
“The health of our communities depends on the ability of every person to live a safe and productive life, and starts with knowing that when you call for help, it will be there. To deliver genuine community safety and uphold our highest values, we must invest in the programming and workforce that will both stop immediate harm and get to root causes to prevent future offenses,” said Executive Constantine. “By breaking down silos, working with community-based organizations, and broadening our options beyond just the traditional responses, we can help end harmful cycles and implement new partnerships that bring about systemic change.”
The plan’s four themes include:
- Deploying a highly trained and coordinated safety network by filling 200 key county vacancies and providing the latest training, supporting community safety programming, and reimagining the Sheriff’s Office.
- Ensuring safe and appropriate places for people in crisis by expanding behavioral health, restoring jail services, identifying youth detention replacements, and seeking alternative options for the Seattle jail.
- Being data-informed and responsive to community needs by prioritizing diversion and intervention programs in hotspots and preventing repeat offenses; and
- Providing accountability and victim support by reducing the pandemic-created criminal legal backlog, supporting victim restitution, and partnering with other governments in safety planning and implementation.
The investments will support partnerships with King County communities and community-based partners to ensure a collective approach to delivering safety across the county. Key programs and services include:
- $2.4 million to fund the Vital program’s support of 80 individuals who are frequent utilizers of the jail by addressing their underlying housing, health, and other basic needs, disrupting their cycle of crime.
- $7.3 million to provide community-based accountability and services to 850 youth who committed non-violent crimes via Restorative Community Pathways, an evidence-based program that reduces recidivism.
- $2.0 million to fund record expungement and legal financial obligation relief related to now-vacated marijuana convictions.
- $5 million to provide all Sheriff patrol deputies with body-worn cameras. Deployment of cameras and associated training will be phased in over the next three years.
- $9 million to support 52 Regional Peacekeepers Collective, trusted messengers delivering a community-led approach to gun violence prevention including critical incident response, hospital-based referrals, and hot spot remediation activities.
- $2 million to create a new unit in the Sheriff’s Office focused on reducing gun violence and to add additional detectives in the major crimes unit.
- $2.1 million to launch 4 new co-responder units so behavioral health professionals can address crises together with law enforcement.
- $21 million to support 140 Metro transit security officers providing support and visibility on Metro buses, transit centers, and stops.
- $5.1 million to support Metro SaFE Reform Initiatives, including a new partnership with Community & Human Services Department and community-based organizations to connect people in crisis on and near Metro transit with resources and services.
More than $22 million is also proposed to continue working through the pandemic-created legal system’s backlog. The backlog is the total number of pending cases in excess of pre-pandemic levels affecting the operations of Superior Court, District Court, Department of Judicial Administration, Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, and the Department of Public Defense. With funding approved by the County Council last year, agencies have cut the felony backlog in half, from 2975 cases to 1418 cases. The Executive proposes to continue this funding to further reduce the felony backlog over the next biennium. Funding is also proposed that would enable District Court to largely address its backlog by the summer of 2023.
“This public safety approach is a reflection of our commitment to community safety and recognition of its complex and multifaceted components,” said Allen Nance, Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention Director. “The efforts today signal the county’s priority to keep communities safe and align programs, services, and strategies to address the needs of all who enter the criminal legal system.”
“Public health and public safety are closely linked. A public health approach has a strong focus on prevention, and we are bringing that mindset to community safety,” said Dr. Faisal Khan, Director for Public Health – Seattle & King County. “With these investments in community-based interventions, we can achieve better outcomes for people and make our community safer.”
“Through King County Metro’s engagement with roughly 8,000 community members, we heard loud and clear both a strong desire for visible customer support and safety presence on our system and how important it is that Metro and our partners show up in the right way,” said Michelle Allison, Metro Deputy General Manager. “As shared in the Executive’s safety plan, Metro will have 140 transit security officers providing support and visibility on buses. We are also proposing funding community-based organizations to do critical and proactive work to help people in crisis on our buses and along our transit corridors not just in Seattle, but across King County. These investments reflect our commitment not only to safety but also to equity and to treating everyone with dignity and respect.”
“Public safety must be the top priority for any local government. During times of crisis like the ones we’re experiencing now, we achieve that safety through collaboration, creativity, and root cause analysis,” said King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay. “The investments announced today will help us solve the tough problems our region is facing, respond to community needs, and help keep our neighborhoods safe.”
More details about the funding proposals will be released in the Executive’s 2023-2024 budget next week. Following the transmittal of the budget, the King County Council will hold several budget briefings and public hearings throughout October, including one for public safety and the investments for this plan.