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Dan Satterberg: ‘It’s not true’ that we don’t prosecute property crimes

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. (KIRO Radio)

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg has heard the criticism that his office does not prosecute property crimes or drug offenses. He tells KTTH Radio’s Jason Rantz, that’s simply not true.

But also, it’s not that simple.

“So when somebody gets arrested for possessing .1 grams of heroin, which is the typical dose, they might do a couple days in jail and then they are going to come right back out,” Satterberg said. “Some people, I think, have this notion that after we’ve arrested somebody – problem solved. Well, that’s not it at all. In fact, using the criminal justice system as our default system for drug addiction makes it the most expensive and least effective approach.”

“Using the criminal justice system to solve homelessness, you’ve already lost if that’s your option,” he said. “And for drug addiction, we have very limited capacity. But the community can support this harm-reduction approach.”

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Over the past eight years, the prosecutor’s office has been using a harm reduction approach, referred to as LEAD — Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program. There are about 350 people in the county’s drug court and another 525 people in the LEAD program. At that capacity, there is no way for his office to come anywhere near solving addiction-related crimes and other issues, he argues.

But what they are doing with that capacity is working, he said, noting that there have been studies out of the University of Washington that show 60 percent of people in these programs do not re-offend.

“So when a police officer arrests somebody for a small amount of drugs, they can call a case manager from the LEAD program who will come out and start working with that person, take them off the hands of the officer, and start dealing with their medical issues and mental health issues,” he said. “Or maybe their emergent needs like a shower, a meal, or they have been off their meds.”

But as for charging people and prosecuting crimes outside of these programs, Satterberg insists that his office is doing exactly that.

“(People) don’t have to tolerate the property crime that goes with this kind of disorder,” he said. “We prosecute people for burglaries and car thefts and things that are often associated with the need for a person who is using drugs to get more drugs.”

“A car prowl is a misdemeanor which would go to the city attorney’s office, but stealing a car is a felony which would go to our office,” Satterberg said. “I know that everybody’s frustrated, but it’s not true that we don’t do these cases. In fact, we do about 7,000 felony cases a year. We are very busy prosecuting these cases and nobody should have to tolerate their home or their car being broken into or being stolen. So we do take those cases seriously.”

Satterberg: Getting creative

Satterberg says that his office can “look at it a little more creatively” when it comes to addicts who are committing crimes in pursuit of their next fix. He tells Rantz that the county should not look at the criminal justice system as the means of dealing with the addiction and homelessness crises.

“Because we are not,” he said. “Most of the cases that come to the criminal justice system that involve addicted people, come through at a very low level, they don’t go to our drug court. We’ve had a drug court for 25 years, almost. We have a capacity for 350 people in that and we keep it full and it’s full of serious cases.”

“So this population we are dealing with, we have three options, and every other community in the world has these three options: you can ignore the problem; you can try to punish your way out of it; or you can try to help people,” he said. “And believe me, we’ve tried all three. But the thing I think has the most promise in our community is the LEAD program – Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program. We have had it now for almost eight years. We have more than 525 people in it right now who otherwise might be in prison or cycling though jail over and over again.”

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday mornings from 6-9 a.m. on KTTH 770 AM or 94.5 FM on the greater Eastside. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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