Rantz: King County refuses to jail dangerous suspects, still blames COVID

Sep 6, 2022, 5:45 PM

The King County jail is still turning down almost all misdemeanor bookings, citing King County Executive Dow Constantine’s COVID-19 restrictions. Every non-violent misdemeanor suspect — the type of quality of life crimes plaguing Seattle — gets a pass from jail time.

Suspects arrested for car theft or burglary are let go. If a prolific offender keeps stealing alcohol from the same store, he will not face a booking. Smoking fentanyl on a bus? The suspect may be temporarily removed from the metro, but can continue to consume elsewhere.

What’s worse, many suspects know an easy way out of jail even if they committed a bookable felony. They just say they swallowed drugs or are injured.

The booking policy is not based on science. It’s due to Constantine’s abolitionist ideology purposefully keeping criminals out of jail, and his office doesn’t plan on changing it any time soon.

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Get out of Seattle jail free card

Several frustrated law enforcement officers contacted the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH to sound the alarms. They are not allowed to book suspects, including prolific offenders, who they know are taking over the county.

“Any misdemeanor theft will not be booked at King County Jail,” one King County Sheriff’s deputy tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “They won’t accept it unless it’s felony level (more than $750). So we can’t book any shoplifters when we catch them and we have to just them go.”

Of course, that means the shoplifter, who is almost always homeless, will continue to victimize businesses downtown.

Thanks to the omnipresent shoplifting threat, businesses have struggled to recuperate after the COVID economic shutdown. Some businesses closed up for good, citing the rise in crime. The businesses that stay open are forced to hire security to keep shoplifters at bay. But when you know you won’t get booked, security makes little difference.

Criminals are adapting

When King County stopped prosecuting for personal possession in 2018, drug dealers adapted by carrying fewer products and replenishing their supply more often. Similarly, criminals know how much to steal without the threat of jail.

“Not being able to book misdemeanors is probably one of the biggest things impacting crime right now,” one Seattle police officer tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “Criminals know we can’t book them for thefts as long as they don’t take a felony amount of product. A few years ago, people were afraid of going to jail (even if just for the day), and they were much less likely to do it. Now they know there is no threat of having to go to jail, so why not do it?”

The officer notes that many of the shoplifting cases are part of organized crime. But it’s also a crime that fuels addiction. It’s wrong to assume suspects will stick with misdemeanor crimes after release. Indeed, Seattle is plagued by prolific offenders with crimes that escalate.

“People tend to think low-level crime has no real impact on violent crime, but when most of the burglaries and thefts occur to fund drug addiction, that leads to more and more narcotic sales, which eventually leads to gang violence over contested territory,” the officer notes, citing the notoriously deadly 3rd & Pine in downtown Seattle.

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Even felonies can get a pass

A spokesperson for the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD), which operates the jail, is sure to note that felonies and violent misdemeanors are still bookable, but that’s not the whole story.

When a suspect is arrested, all they have to do is cite a reason to go to the hospital, like an admission that they swallowed drugs or that they can’t breathe. King County jail will not accept them. Officers must then take them to Harborview where they are almost certain to be released.

“If you say you swallowed drugs, it’s a mandatory medical decline, and we have to take them to the hospital,” the deputy explains. “So that’s a mandatory six-hour stay at the hospital for observation, which takes the officer off the road for that amount of time. Many times it’s not worth the time due to staffing, so they just get let go.”

The Seattle officer concurs, saying this is a real problem because it means some felony suspects will be let go. He says the suspect is “told to turn themselves into the jail when released, but they never do.”

The problem is made worse by the low staffing for the SPD. Even if an officer wanted to stay with the suspects, thinking the community is best served by jailing them, they might have no choice but to leave after being authorized by a supervisor.

“Felonies will depend on [the] severity of the crime in most circumstances, but it’s not uncommon to leave felony property crime suspects at Harborview Medical Center if they are declined at jail.”

Blaming COVID

Under Constantine’s leadership, the county’s jail system pretends nothing has changed since the start of the pandemic.

“The Executive Order regarding jail bookings during the COVID-19 pandemic has remained in effect since March of 2020 and continues at present,” DAJD spokesperson Noah Haglund tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.

At the end of August, Haglund said 21 criminal suspects were COVID-positive.

“COVID-19 continues to pose a risk for staff and people in custody at King County jails,” Haglund claimed.

“Congregate settings like jails remain at higher risk as they are confined spaces with lots of people and limited air circulation, and those who are there do not have an option to reduce their exposure risk by going somewhere else. Additionally, we still have significant levels of infection in the community,” he added.

But COVID doesn’t pose any more risk than the flu or a stomach virus for most people. It’s why there are no county restrictions on congregate settings outside of jail. It’s certainly true that inmates have no option to reduce their exposure by going somewhere else, once they’re booked. They did, of course, have an option to choose not to break the law, knowing it could land them in jail.

This is all by design

Democrats adopted an abolitionist attitude toward jails after the death of George Floyd. They’re using COVID to keep people out of jails, which they view as “systems of oppression” to dismantle.

Constantine was eager to placate the Black Lives Matter crowd, hoping to establish his progressive bona fides to help his future run for Governor. He previously supported jailing dangerous criminals, including youth, but has since had a political change of heart.

Now he’s purposefully going easy on criminals and local media, most unapologetically left-wing, give him a pass.

But the left-wing philosophy on criminals is leading to a surge of crime — including violent crime. Seattle experienced the highest single-month homicides it’s seen since 2008. The city is on track to surpass a 25-year-high. King County is doing just as bad. Unfortunately, there’s no end in sight and the criminals know it.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show on weekday afternoons from 3–6 pm on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast. Follow @JasonRantz on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Check back frequently for more news and analysis.

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Rantz: King County refuses to jail dangerous suspects, still blames COVID