Democratic Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said he was disappointed in the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) staffing issues causing a backlog of almost 50 sexual assault cases.
Harrell said it was “unacceptable” that SPD’s sexual assault unit was understaffed Thursday after a Seattle Times report detailed how the unit’s low numbers caused a backlog and detectives to stop investigating most adult sexual assault cases, according to the Seattle Times.
Mayor Bruce Harrell called the critically low staffing in Seattle police’s sexual assault unit “unacceptable,” following an internal memo published by The Seattle Times and KUOW. https://t.co/EgrtZbfdod
— The Seattle Times (@seattletimes) June 3, 2022
“I’m not happy with where the city is, but we will indeed make sure that we are providing optimal service, both for investigation and victim-survivor support here this year,” said the Seattle mayor, according to the Times. (RELATED: Multiple Shootings Rock Seattle The Same Day Democratic Mayor Bruce Harrell Pledged To Address Soaring Crime)
Seattle Police Sgt. Pamela St. John wrote an internal memo to interim police Chief Adrian Diaz in April warning that the sexual assault unit had a staffing crisis that was forcing the department to ignore most adult sexual assault cases.
“Currently, I am not able to assign adult sexual assault cases that come into the unit because of our statutory requirements,” she said.
“The necessity for on-call detective’s response to Sexual Assault cases cannot be understated, but with current staffing levels, the burden that falls upon our detectives is too high,” St. John wrote. “The community expects our agency to respond to reports of sexual violence, and at current staffing levels, that objective is unattainable.”
St. John said the department has an immediate need for skilled detectives to work in the Special Assault and Child Abuse Unit. “At this time, the unit has seen an increase in cases involving children and teenagers,” she wrote.
Harrell’s administration came under criticism after the memo was released in the Times for ignoring the department’s concerns for months that their low number of detectives would be cases would go unsolved, the outlet reported.
Sexual Violence Law Center executive director Riddhi Mukhopadhyay said his group is being “gaslit” by the Seattle mayor and administration.
“Now we are being gaslit,” he told the Times. “[The SPD’s] response has always been kind of slow and not as timely compared to other jurisdictions. But it’s gotten worse.”
Seattle City Council public safety and human services committee chair Lisa Herbold, a “defund the police” politician, said the city will look “for ways to support the department in meeting its hiring goals” to address the growing backlog, according to the Times.
Herbold was a significant voice in Seattle’s “defund the police” movement, including signing a letter with other city leaders accusing the SPD of “escalating the conflict in the streets of Seattle, particularly in Capitol Hill and in communities of color, with their inappropriate use of force” during Seattle’s 2020 riots.
The letter requested, among other things, that Seattle’s former Mayor Jenny Durkan “redirect police department funding to community-based alternatives.”
Harrell was elected Seattle’s mayor in November 2021 after running a pro-police ticket that called for increasing the police department.