May 9, 2005
Well, we had an interesting meeting to say the least. The guest at the Council meeting for May was City Attorney Tom Carr. Mr. Carr is working on a plan that would take the crimes of auto theft and car prowls out of the County Courts and make them the business of the City (the prosecution, not the crime itself).
As things stand today, when a car thief goes before a Judge, they are in the County Court and charged with a felony. Felonies carry a sentence of one year or more, BUT few auto thieves ever get a day in jail! The problem stems from the fact that the crime of “Auto Theft” is competing with crimes like Murder, Arson, Rape, and all manor of other “high profile” crime. Auto Theft begins to look benign, ergo light sentences (if any). All too often, prior to a court date, they are turned out on the street to await trial. (And guess what they are doing on the street!)
The new approach to dealing with auto theft will mean charging the thieves in City Court as a misdemeanor (that can carry a sentence of up to one year), AND holding them in jail until their trial date. Even if the thieves are only in jail a week or ten days, that’s a week or ten days they can’t steal your car! (Better than turning them loose the day they’re caught, eh?) All this does not come without a price tag. It costs the City $135.00 to book a suspect and $92.00 per day to keep them in jail.
Is that money well spent? Let’s look at the cost to you and me as the result of placing these thieves back in our neighborhoods. In Seattle, we had over 9000 auto thefts in 2004. Every one of those crimes hit each of us in the pocketbook. We pay in higher insurance rates, loss of time and sense of security on the part of the victim, and the monetary loss of auto or its contents. (It was at this point that Captain Oliver pointed out that three of the known car thieves in the north end have admitted to doing 15/day, 10/day and 125 per week.) If this plan is put into action, it will target two-thirds of the car thieves on our streets. The other third are juveniles, and that’s a different ball game.)
Attorney Carr wants to use the North Precinct as a test bed for seeing just how effective the changes might be and what the cost is to the City. In order to get the green light on this change, of course, will require a push from the citizens (voters) of the North Precinct, and that can be in the form of letters to the Mayor as well as judges.
Another point made by Mr. Carr is the fact that when these thieves go before a judge for sentencing, they are there to speak in their own behalf and their (court appointed) attorney will argue for the lightest sentence possible. No one speaks for the VICTIM! If you or someone you know has been the victim of a car theft or break in, go to court when the bad guys have to stand before a judge and tell the judge just how you feel. I have included a draft letter from the North Precinct Advisory Council as well as a letter from the Aurora Merchants as examples of the type of “push” we might offer from the Licton Springs Community Council or as private citizens. Also included is a list of Judges and where they can be reached (37 cents might buy you a lot of relief).
Captain Oliver had some additional input on this and other subjects: the North Precinct is working with 119 officers, and that is down from about 157 (?). In addition to the car theft problem, the two major crime concerns are the dope dealers working the Avenue in the University District and the hookers turning tricks on Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue). The Captain also pointed out that about 97% of stolen cars are returned to their owners (more or less intact) and the other three percent are chopped up for parts.
He also had a comment or two about the guy that tried to jump off the First Avenue South Bridge (twice!). The guy was high on dope (Meth?) and was shot in a struggle with and officer when he (jumper) tried to grab the officer’s gun. The jumper was also a Class Three sex offender who had been living here on Aurora Avenue. The “news” probably won’t mention that part. I think next month we get to hear from one of the Municipal Court Judges.
I mentioned and a list of Municipal Court Judges with their mailing address. Also included is a list of Public Safety Numbers that might be helpful.
The following is a draft letter from the North Precinct Advisory Council to Mayor Nichols and the City Council:
NORTH PRECINCT ADVISORY COUNCIL
Pete Rogerson, President
May 4, 2005
Dear Mayor Nichols, City Council Members,
This letter is in regards to the current trial program where persons arrested for auto theft in Seattle are being tried in Municipal Court instead of Superior Court. We wish to express our support for this practice becoming permanent and the standard procedure for these types of cases. Also, we want to voice our support for each precinct’s full-time City Attorney Precinct Liaison. The liaison attorneys have proven to be a vital and effective part of the precinct staff.
Our wish is that auto theft be treated as the serious crime that it is. Auto theft is epidemic in the city. It is a problem that is out of control, and is adversely affecting the city's reputation, our quality of life, and the public's perception of safety. City government is seen by many citizens as being woefully inadequate on this issue. Auto theft was once “just” a ‘simple’ criminal issue but has expanded to become a corrosive public policy problem.
County Superior Court is not providing a sufficient deterrent. Too often, auto thieves are arrested numerous times with very little punishment as a result, until they are convicted many times. The Superior Court system is currently ineffective and is practically an incentive to repeat offenders. When we continually release repeat offenders with litt1e or no real punishment, we send them the message that auto theft is not a serious crime and they are welcome to repeat it. The ultra-light punishment handed out by Superior Court is well-known in the criminal community. We believe that Municipal Court can and will do a much better job of providing convicted auto thieves with a more effective deterrent and the justice they deserve - a stiffer punishment much earlier in their criminal career to he1p them change the coarse of their 1ives for the better. The citizens of Seattle deserve nothing less than an effective criminal justice system. We fully understand that there may be some budgetary ramifications in regard's to this policy, and we urge you to do everything possible to support this program as the success that we believe it will be proved to be.
The following is a draft letter from the Aurora Merchants to the City Council:
AURORA AVENUE MERCHANTS ASSOCIATION INC.
April 29, 2005
On April 26 th you held a public hearing on Public Safety. It was interesting to hear that the problems that concern North End Residents were the same in all districts of the City. All five precinct representatives stated their concerns were the same as ours. Where are the police? Claims that crime is down is misleading. In 2005 the North Precinct alone, which covers some 32 square miles and has over one-half of the population of the city, had 46 rapes, 367 robberies, 2,026 assaults, 2,829 burglaries, 8,360 thefts, 3,538 auto thefts only, and 91 arsons. The highest figures in the City.
Despite our Association efforts of the last 19 years, maintaining a 24 hour hot line, recording license numbers of “johns” and drug dealers, patrolling the street ourselves, video taping criminal activities and even sending a letter to anyone whose license number we record more than three times for picking up a prostitute, we have become increasingly concerned about the lack of police officers “on the street.”
The Average American city this size has 350 more street officers than we do. At times in the North End we have one or two cars per sector. A precinct is divided into three shifts and in the North End those shifts are divided into “sectors”. If one “sector” which is approximately eight square miles only has two patrol cars and one car makes an arrest, that leaves one patrol car to cover eight square miles until the other patrol car can get back “on line.” There is no such thing as a “victimless crime.” Money used to purchase prostitutes or drugs is derived from those thefts, burglaries, assaults and car prowls. If you have been a victim of one of those crimes, it was certainly not to you nor is it to those of us who try to operate a business with criminal activity occurring outside our door. Assaults, robberies, thefts, car prowls and car theft are NOT VICTIMLESS CRIMES. We all pay for them one way or another. Ask any victim!
Many of you drive Aurora every day and will agree that the area between 85th and 90th is a haven for criminals. This is not because we “don't care” nor is it because the police officers are “not doing their job.” It is quite simply that there are not enough patrol officers to curtail the criminals in our city. In the last ten years we have had only one new building along that section of the street. No one can justify redeveloping their property when the criminal elements “own the street.” Funds to re-develop have to be paid back and how can you make payments on that bank loan if you can’t rent the space because no one wants to begin a business or live with criminals hanging around outside on the street and blocking the front door. We business owners along Aurora are doing all we can because we too are sick and tired of the drug users and prostitutes on our street. The motels do all they can but criminals do not all wear black hats. It is not always easy to tell the difference between a legitimate customer and one who has been “paid” to rent a room which later turns out to be a “storefront” for prostitution and drug dealing. Currently there are three death threats against police officers and their families in the North Precinct and those against motel owners or managers and business people are common. It is an accepted fact throughout Law enforcement communities in the Nation that “a visible police presence is a deterrent to crime.” Where is our “visible police presence”? The Mayor recently announced that he would like to see the City Council authorize another 25 more police officers. While helpful, in actuality with the 25 currently attending the Police Academy and those 25 new hires we have 45 police officers eligible to retire at year end. Those 25 “new hires” will actually only increase our police force by five. One more officer per precinct. We need a minimum of 100 officers this year and 150 more officers next year. The way we see it is that the first priority of any city is the safety of its citizens. The recent public hearing showed that citizens all over the city do not feel “safe” nor are they. Stories about shootings in parks, on the streets and in backyards were abundant at the hearing. Neighborhood complaints about drug dealing are prevalent, however drug sales and prostitution are down the list of important calls. It is fine to talk about helping communities and businesses, but we need our government to walk the talk. The first priority of any city should and must be the safety of its citizens.
Faye M. Garneau, Executive Director
Seattle Municipal Court Judges:
Hon. Fred Bonner (Presiding judge)
Hon. Judith Hightower
Hon. Michael Hurtado
Hon. George Holifield
Hon. C. Kimi Kondo
Hon. Ron Mamiya<
Hon: Jean Rietschel
Hon. Edsonya Charles
Seattle Municipal Court Magistrates:
Hon Charles Duffey
Hon Debra Hankins
Hon. Francis de Villa
Hon. Shirley Wilson
Seattle Municipal Court Commissioner:
Hon. Adam Eisenberg
Municipal Court of Seattle