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Saturday, August 13, 2022

Harrell Issues Executive Order To Support Sexual Assault Survivors

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell

        Last week, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, in collaboration with Interim Chief of Police Adrian Diaz, announced an Executive Order directing a systemic assessment of the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) Investigations Bureau and implementing immediate solutions so that investigations of criminal offenses, especially those regarding sexual assault, can be completed swiftly and thoroughly. The order 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.

        “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 Harrell. “Follow-up investigative work is vital to ensuring survivors and victims of crimes of violence, especially sexually motivated crimes, receive the justice they deserve. This order requires an unprecedented evaluation of issues created by SPD’s staffing shortage and systemic problems created over decades, to understand and alleviate the impact on SPD investigations. We are acting to learn from and rectify those challenges to create change, now and long-term.”

        The mayor’s Executive Order instructs SPD and other City departments to deliver the following actions:

• Reduction of any existing backlog of sexual assault causes by ensuring that every reported felony crime of violence with sufficient evidence allowing for a follow-up investigation is assigned to a case detective by August 31, 2022.

• Offering victim support services through the Human Services Department in sexual assault and domestic violence cases not assigned for further investigation.

• SPD and City departments will seek and provide additional funding to connect survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence to support services.

• SPD will evaluate how victims of crimes of violence remain informed about the status of their case to increase transparency, improve communications, and demonstrate respect for victims.

• SPD will partner with outside experts and organizations, including the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, to implement a series of case reviews of sexual assault investigations to help detectives improve processes and assist survivors.

• SPD will engage national policing and criminal legal system experts to conduct systemic review across all police investigations, looking at an array of practices and procedures, including case assignment and follow-up decisions, case file preparation, prosecutor interactions, victim care services, staffing management, case clearance rates, and more.

• Creating an advisory panel of six local sexual assault subject matter experts and survivors to assist SPD with the 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. “With their cases not referred for investigation, these survivors have not, until now, been eligible for survivor advocacy services either. I appreciate SPD’s engagement in a systematic review of sexual assault investigations to inform best practices in the spirit of embracing continuous improvement. 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 and more than 400 officer departures over the last two-and-a-half 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. 

        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. 

        “I thank all the survivors and advocates who have loudly and continuously stood up for justice, for a more effective system, and for necessary action to ensure rigorous and timely investigations,” said Harrell. “While we face serious and urgent challenges today, I believe that as a new administration, we have a significant opportunity to work together to identify and reverse longstanding issues and deliver safety, justice, and progress for all Seattle survivors, victims, and residents.”

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