Moving criminal justice forward

I discussed my proposed supplemental budget with the Council yesterday and will formally submit it to them next week.

Simply put, I think with it we are breaking new ground.  Not only is it the first mid-biennial budget ever in the County, but, more importantly, we are proposing significant changes to how we deliver a fair and equitable criminal justice system.

First, the good news.  The impact of the pandemic has had less of a financial impact this year than we had feared.  However, that relief is tempered by the realization that what awaits us in 2021 is a great deal of uncertainty.  So, in light of this we have kept adjustments to a minimum.  With one important exception – some significant changes that helps ensure fair and equitable treatment for everyone involved with our criminal justice system.

The vast majority of the supplemental budget – nearly $5.3 million – is devoted to criminal justice reforms and changes. The primary investment is for body-worn and dash cameras for our Sheriff’s deputies. Our residents must see and know what happens when law enforcement engages with people. And, our law enforcement officers must have the evidence that could demonstrate they have taken appropriate and necessary actions.

Fully funding body and dash cams serves everyone in Pierce County, and it is past time we make the investment necessary to do so. This includes not only the purchase of the equipment but also several staff positions to collect, manage and analyze the data the cameras will deliver to us. This will be a huge amount of data to manage and we need to do this accurately and thoroughly.

Getting this right is of paramount importance. It is important to every person whose lives have been touched by the loss of a loved one while interacting with law enforcement officers. And it is fair that we support every law enforcement officer who risks their safety and their life every day on our behalf.

It is my hope that Pierce County can lead in this important initiative and demonstrate for surrounding cities the importance of this investment and I encourage elected officials and bodies throughout the City and across the state of Washington to advocate for this.

We need action by the Legislature to make this happen throughout the state. Reforming our criminal justice system in Pierce County has been a priority for us – even in the midst of the pandemic.

I’m grateful for the staff from many departments who recently completed a deep dive into our current criminal justice practices and provided you with a series of recommendations for policy changes. And, I look forward to hearing later this month from the citizens review group led by Judge Frank Cuthbertson. Their work will be critical in making lasting, meaningful change.

We know from our initial work that Black and African American residents are arrested on a disproportionate basis. But we need better and more specific data to confront this truth and make necessary changes. To do this we need professional data analysts to make smart policy recommendations.

We hope to engage in these conversations with every law enforcement organization and use the data we collect to guide us. We will share our data with others in full transparency and will ask they share theirs with us.

Together, or on our own, I am committed to staring truth in the face and addressing the results.

Everyone deserves fair and equitable treatment and these initial steps will move us forward toward that goal.

It is also critical that we provide more stable funding to behavioral health initiatives. So, this budget also includes additional investments in the co-responders that accompany deputies when people in behavioral health crisis need to be cared for.

In addition, several departments need financial support to address the implications of the Involuntary Treatment Act. The Department of Assigned Counsel, Clerk’s Office, the Prosecutor and Superior Court face nearly $1 million in an increased workload to address this.

It is of critical – and moral – importance to get more of the people facing behavioral health challenges into a safe place to receive treatment and begin to heal.

On a side note, the new crisis recovery center in the Parkland/Spanaway area opens next month and while thanks to COVID we can’t do a ribbon cutting, I look forward to providing you with a digital tour of the new center in December.

Thanks for reading,