King County council approves sheriff's regional gang unit; some training money in question

SEATTLE —We know we have big problems in our community with homelessness, crime and affordability.  In an $11.7 billion budget, the King County Council just unanimously approved funding to try to tackle those issues: $230 million to homeless services, $100 million for workforce house, and expanding bus services in the county to 200,000 hours.

Seventy-five percent of the general-fund dollars are going to criminal justice, including $900,000 to fund a new regional gang unit.  However, the sheriff’s office is concerned about money for training.

Democrats and Republicans on the King County Council managed to balance the budget on time, with everyone approving the $11.7 billion.

This year’s budget includes a measure to try to tackle the gang violence that's killing innocent people, like a 51-year-old grandmother in Burien killed by a stray bullet in a drive-by shooting.

“Making sure that we strengthened the police response was near and dear to my heart because that’s the hometown I grew up in,” said King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove.

So the council approved $900,000 for a regional gang unit.

“They would be strategically put in place to investigate that because they’ll have that knowledge that a lot of people don’t have. They’ll have the knowledge of the gangs and what type of gang. But also their job will be to go out and have public meetings and meet with people in the neighborhoods,” said King County Sheriff Sgt. Ryan Abbott.

King County Sheriff Sgt. Ryan Abbott calls the budget a Catch 22.  The county council just approved $1.3 million for training but they will only receive $200,000 until the sheriff’s office provides a report to the council on how it plans to spend the dollars.  Abbott says that will depend on what lawmakers decide to do with I-940.  You’ll remember voters approved initiative 940 that requires more training for de-escalation, mental health, and first aid amongst other things.  The $1.3 million dollars the council approved covers in service training-it’s the same training that voters mandated from i-940.  Abbott believes they will run out of in-service training dollars.

“The legislative session hasn’t gotten together yet to tell us which way we’re going to go with that.  So with $200,000, that’s going to last us maybe 3 months in training, and we have a large department so we’ll have three months of training and then we’ll have no more training,” said Abbott.

But Upthegrove says this is new money; new additional funding in light of I-940.

“It’s one of the reasons we put the new money in there was in anticipation of new training requirements from the state,” Upthegrove said.

Upthegrove says what they’re asking for is not out of the ordinary.

“All their existing training money remains with no strings attached. We’re providing $1.3 million in new additional training money, and to ensure accountable use of taxpayer dollars, we’re asking they have a plan in place before they start spending it,”  Upthegrove said.

Councilmember Upthegrove says the budget also includes just under a million dollars to keep low-level criminals from re-offending.  Community court and law enforcement officer assisted diversion programs are both expanding in 2019.