Mayor Harrell issues executive order to tackle backlog of violent crime investigations

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell issued an executive order to resolve outstanding sexual assault cases and better support their survivors.

Harrell issued the executive order Thursday with interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz, directing a "systemic assessment" of Seattle Police's investigations of criminal offenses, particularly sexual assaults. Outstanding cases will be assigned a detective if they have not already, and more support services will be made available for victims.

"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 need for systemic assessment is attributed to SPD's ongoing staff shortage, which has forced the agency to transfer officers to 911 response. This has hampered their ability to conduct followup investigations of serious criminal offenses.

In all, the executive order mandates:

  • Reduce existing backlog of sexual assault cases and assign detectives to any outstanding cases by Aug. 31
  • Offer victim support services through the Human Services Department in sexual assault and domestic violence cases
  • SPD and the city will provide funding to connect survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence to support services
  • SPD will evaluate how victims remain informed about the status of their case
  • SPD will partner with outside experts and organizations to implement a series of case reviews
  • SPD will engage national policing and criminal legal system experts to conduct systemic review across all police investigations
  • Creating an advisory panel to assist SPD with evaluations

"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 city council member 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."

Harrell intends to bump up the number of trained police officers to 1,450, maintaining a ratio of 1.9 officer per 1,000 Seattleites.

"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 Mayor 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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You can read the full text of the executive order here.