King County mayors pen appeal for help with rise in crime, spar with prosecuting attorney

 Eight mayors in south King County signed an open letter Thursday asking for help in an effort to reduce crime and violence throughout the region.

The collective of mayors — from the cities of Auburn, Black Diamond, Enumclaw, Federal Way, Kent, Pacific, Renton, and Tukwila — want King County and the state to assist their cities, as they are facing a “disturbing” rise in crime.

“This isn’t the first time that the mayors of South King County have come together to share our frustration and ask for help. We just felt enough is enough,” Nancy Backus, the mayor of Auburn, said on the Gee and Ursula Show. “We wanted to come together to put out this public statement and ask for help and offer to be partners in this. We’re hearing from our community members that they don’t feel safe, and it’s time to take action.”

Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell is also a candidate for the King County Prosecutor position in this upcoming November election.

83% of voters undecided in King County Prosecuting Attorney race

According to the letter, the rise in crime is a consequence of several legislative decisions, including the passage of Senate Bill 5476, which prevents cities from charging someone with drug possession in some instances, and the passing of House Bill 1054, which prevents police officers from conducting vehicle pursuits in certain circumstances.

“We need to have responsible drug laws in the state. I don’t want to see anyone incarcerated. That’s not the way to go. I am a firm believer in restorative justice,” Backus said. “But there is no accountability at this point. We need our law enforcement to be able to go after individuals who are committing criminal acts.”

Casey McNerthney, the Director of Communications for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, stated they never received the letter and only heard about it through the media.

“We learned about it from reporters, which was surprising and made some people in our office wonder what the motivation of it was,” McNerthney said on the Gee and Ursula Show.

The letter specifically calls out the King County Jail system, alleging it does not allow for the booking of felony suspects on a routine basis, while also claiming the juvenile and felony criminal justice system takes too long for criminal charges to be filed, resolved, or tried.

“Ultimately, there’s this narrative that’s not true, that prosecutors are out to lunch. And that really is insulting to the hundreds of people in the Criminal Division who never stopped filing felony cases, 20 to 30 felony cases per day, risking their own health during the pandemic to go to court every day.”

Proposed solutions in the letter include increasing responses to calls, referring juvenile and felony cases to the King County Prosecutor for filing, lobbying state representatives to pass safety-centric laws, and continuing to fund mental health treatment and drug addiction services.

“We’re not going to surprise people with a letter or point fingers. We’re going to work collaboratively for long-term solutions, not only with police, but with community partners because that’s where you get actual change,” McNerthney said. “And when we do that, we’re going to continue to make it public so people can have transparency and check our work.”

Backus stated on the Gee and Ursula Show that they didn’t consider this notice as a letter for King County officials, but as a public statement for everyone.

“We’ve had numerous conversations, specifically about the restorative community pathways,” Backus said. “We’re putting it out publicly saying we stand ready to be part of the solution to help. But enough is enough. The cities, the mayors, the local elected officials need to be part of these conversations, and it can’t be done in a vacuum.”

Listen to Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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