Mayor Harrell, SPD create executive order to make sexual assault cases a top concern

Jul 29, 2022, 6:06 AM


Seattle Mayor Harrell spoke to Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien about strategies the city has to get people visiting downtown again. (Photo from City of Seattle)

(Photo from City of Seattle)

Mayor Bruce Harrell announced an executive order to prioritize criminal investigations, especially those regarding sexual assault.

One of the directives from the order is to have every reported felony crime of violence — with sufficient evidence — in the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) backlog assigned to a case detective by August 31.

Alongside interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz, the executive order is to help complete said investigations swiftly and thoroughly. The order also calls for expansion of support services for crime victims and survivors, including ensuring outstanding cases are assigned to a detective and expanding victim support services.

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“Sustainable progress on safety for Seattle residents requires timely and effective investigations to hold people who commit those crimes accountable – this must be a priority for our administration and police department,” said Mayor Harrell during a press conference. “Follow-up investigative work is vital to ensuring survivors and victims of crimes of violence, especially sexually motivated crimes, receive the justice they deserve.”

Harrell stated this executive order will require an “unprecedented evaluation” of issues created by SPD staffing shortage and decades-long systemic problems.

SPD will also evaluate how victims of crimes of violence remain informed about the status of their case to increase transparency and improve communication.

An advisory panel of six local sexual assault subject matter experts and survivors will assist SPD with the additional assessments this order requires.

“When sexual assault survivors report their attack, they put their trust in the criminal legal system. Yet, for years, even predating the pandemic and officer attrition, two-thirds of cases were not referred for investigation,” said Councilmember Lisa Herbold District 1.“With their cases not referred for investigation, these survivors have not, until now, been eligible for survivor advocacy services either. We must ensure that survivors, especially those who have been waiting so long, receive the support, advocacy, and investigative help they deserve.”

With current officer staffing levels at their lowest in more than 30 years, with more than 400 officer departures over the last 2.5 years, the staffing impact on SPD’s specialty and investigative units has been significant. Since 2020, SPD has found it necessary to transfer officers from specialized units, including follow-up investigation units, to patrol operations to respond to urgent 911 calls. The continued staffing crisis, and the need for specialized training to perform detective work and investigate complex crimes, have limited the department’s ability to conduct follow-up investigations.

Mayor Harrell’s comprehensive police recruitment and retention plan seeks to increase the number of fully trained and deployable officers to 1,450, a goal designed to address the current staffing crisis so patrol operations and detective units can be adequately staffed.

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Mayor Harrell, SPD create executive order to make sexual assault cases a top concern