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Seattle business owners address council on ‘prolific’ homeless criminals

King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle. (Dyer Oxley, KIRO Radio)

More than 3,500 criminal cases have resulted from just 100 people circulating in and out of Seattle jail in recent years. Business owners met with Seattle City Council members Wednesday to express their concerns about it.

Almost half of ‘prolific’ homeless criminals return to jail since February

This was the first time the business groups got to highlight and discuss with city officials a February report that labeled the 100 suspects as “prolific offenders.”

Since the study came out in February, 73 offenders have re-offended, with a total of 117 crimes, 40 of those were assaults. In February, 20 of them were in jail. Now, just four of those 20 are still behind bars.

Mike Stewart with the Ballard Alliance told city officials that reality is chipping away at the ability of business owners to effectively run their businesses.

“It’s more difficult to run a business this year or last year than it was four or five years ago,” Stewart said. “Business owners now have real and genuine concerns for the safety for themselves, for their employees, and also for their customers.”

Erin Goodman with the SoDo Business Improvement Area offered examples from the 100 offenders in their report.

“One individual in our sample is quite simply terrorizing the Ballard business district,” Goodman described. “Most of his cases include daytime thefts, followed by threats, harassment, or assaults on employees that intervene. In a single day in September 2018, he shoplifted from five stores in a two-hour period.”

Stewart came with examples of his own to stress that this is an ongoing issue in desperate need of a solution.

“There was an assault near the Ballard Public Library on April 21 — they were released the next day, and at least as of last week, charging documents had not been filed. On May 8, that same individual was on Market Street, [and] was exposing himself in front of a business on the street.”

According to Stewart, the man was then arrested again, released on his own recognizance three days later, and is now back out on the streets.

Business owners also pointed out everyone in the prolific offender study was dealing with drug issues, and were arrested for crimes like theft to pay for that drug habit. All of them showed signs of chronic homelessness.

Seattle failing at stopping ‘prolific’ homeless criminal offenders

Goodman used another individual from the report to emphasize the revolving door these offenders are moving through.

“In a little over three years, he has accumulated over 50 cases, almost all on the UW campus or the U-District,” she said. “In the past year, he has been booked into King County Jail 16 times for trespass, assault, harassment, malicious mischief, disturbance, property destruction, illegal use of weapon, and theft. He has been booked on nine occasions since October 2018, and has never been held longer than 10 days.”

Around 40 percent of offenders cited in the study had mental health issues, something that business owners claim the justice system is failing to address.

“We also found that in cases where an individual with mental issues was deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial, they were simply released back on the streets to fend for themselves,” Goodman said.

District 1’s Lisa Herbold asked whether cases involving those with mental health issues were happening more in Seattle municipal courts, or in King County courts.

“Those questions are extremely valid, and we brought this to city leaders to start asking those questions,” Goodman said. “We didn’t anticipate answering them ourselves — I think the questions are valid, but I think that’s the next step that we’re looking for our council, our city, and our county leaders to take.”

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