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City attorney rejects SPD bid to target repeat ‘street’ offenders

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SEATTLE — Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes says he won’t be filing criminal charges against 28 individuals who police say are “repeat offenders” in the downtown core who have ignored civil citations for urinating in alleys, drinking on public and other street disorder.

disorder“Not one of the 28 have the agreed-upon information that indicates this is a smart thing to do,” Holmes said, “that we wouldn’t be just wasting our money and see this individual back out on the street peeing in doorways in another seven days or so.”

The Seattle Police Department says the 28 individuals have ignored at least three citations for street disorder, which come with civil fines of around $25.  Police argue they’ll just continue to rack up more violations, and that it’s time to charge them with the misdemeanor crime of “Failure to Respond” to those citations.  Only then can they be arrested and put in jail.

“There’s no history of Human Services outreach for any of these requested warrants,” Holmes said.  Without that, Holmes argued, “you’re only going to perpetuate a cycle that’s very expensive and counterproductive.

The SPD’s request came last week from Chief Jim Pugel.  On Wednesday, the department responded to Holmes’ decision not to charge.

“We’re going to continue to work together to make sure that the expectations that the City Attorney’s Office has are met by our department,” said SPD spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb.

Pursuing criminal charges against those who rack up civil infractions, like public urination and lying on sidewalks, is a controversial step.  But some say the time has come to get serious about cleaning up Seattle’s downtown.

“If you are continuing to break the law, you’re ignoring tickets, you’re not paying them, there ought to be consequences,” said Jon Scholes of the Downtown Seattle Association.

DSA believes there should be outreach to those on the street, but the threat of jail time needs to be real.

“There’s opportunities out there for people to change their behavior,” said Scholes.  “If they’re gonna choose not to do that, then law enforcement and the City Attorney’s Office need to take the next step.”

At least one homeless advocate was similarly supportive of a tougher approach to at least some repeat offenders.

“These infraction tickets need to be meaningful,” said Tim Harris, founder of Real Change.  “Maybe having to go to court is going to have an impact and get them to change their behavior.”

As for Holmes, he says he’ll pursue criminal charges for repeat offenders, but only when it’s appropriate.

“I stand behind my prior commitment,” he said.  “We will issue [Failure to Respond warrants], but we’re going to do the job right the first time.”

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