Detailing the Expansion of the Domestic Violence Unit

This morning, I received questions from the City Council about staffing levels in our department’s Domestic Violence Unit. After a thorough review, showing our department has increased the number of investigators in our nationally-recognized DV Unit to 15, I have sent this letter to Councilmember Tim Burgess, providing a detailed accounting of the expansion. Further, I have provided an explanation of the varied responsibilities that those detectives perform.

 

Dear Councilmember Burgess,

I am writing in response to the letter, dated October 22, 2013, from King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, addressed to you, with a copy to Seattle City Attorney Peter Holmes.  In that letter, Mr. Satterberg asked you to consider funding additional domestic violence (DV) detective positions at the Seattle Police Department (SPD) to focus on misdemeanor cases of DV occurring within the city of Seattle and outlined why DV misdemeanors matter.  Unfortunately, I was not aware of the letter until I was notified about it earlier today; and therefore, I was not able to offer any input until now.

Let me make very clear, SPD does, and has always, taken the crime of DV very seriously.  We have been recognized locally and nationally by many organizations, including the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (KCPAO), for our efforts to combat the crime of DV and offer services to the victims of DV.  I have a very good working relationship with Mr. Satterberg and concur with his statement that DV crimes are very serious criminal and public health issues.

The SPD DV unit has 15 full-time budgeted sworn police detectives.  Nine detectives focus on the investigation of DV assault, stalking and related crimes.  Four additional detectives focus on DV elder abuse and neglect and elder financial exploitation.  An additional two detectives focus on the service of court orders (e.g., orders of protect, no contact orders, anti-harassment orders, etc.).  There is an additional detective that shares time between DV and Homicide/Assault to assist with unique investigations.  As with all other units/sections, there are vacancies from time to time.  The DV unit currently has two employees unavailable for work.  One position is temporarily vacant and one is being backfilled by a patrol officer from Operations.

To my knowledge, SPD has not reduced the DV section.  In fact, two additional positions were added in 2009 (Elder Abuse Detectives) and one full-time Victim Advocate was added in 2013 to replace a grant funded position that was expiring.  We are one of the only departments in the country to offer victim services every day of the week.

Beginning in 2012, the City and the County began experiencing an increase in DV felony assaults.  We examined ways to allow more time to be spent on the more serious felony assaults within existing

resources.  We had expanded our DV unit to systematically address Elder Crimes as described above, and refocused existing staff to address the increased workload in DV felony investigations.  We also worked closely with the City Attorney’s Office (CAO) for criminal prosecutions to develop a way that officers could charge misdemeanor cases direct to the CAO.  We had a full-time detective from Criminal Investigations assigned to this project.  This project was called the ‘charge by officer’ (CBO) initiative.  Officers were trained on how to prepare the general offense report for the CAO.  Additionally, we assigned a full-time police officer from Patrol Operations to the CAO to assist their prosecutors in any needed follow-up for the misdemeanor cases.  Other than routine issues, we have never been notified of any problems with the CBO initiative.

Until the letter sent earlier this week, which the department only received today, the DV unit was never made aware by the King County Prosecutor of the need for additional staffing or the other concerns articulated.  Further, we have no correspondence from the CAO regarding the need for additional staffing.  Regardless, I will be in touch with both the KCPAO and the CAO so we can come to a common understanding of how best to respond to and investigate the serious crimes associated with DV.

Most importantly, I have directed Assistant Chief Nick Metz of the Criminal Investigation Bureau to immediately take the following steps: 1) examine the current case assignments in DV to determine how many misdemeanor cases can again be worked by the existing DV detectives; 2)  make sure that all misdemeanor cases get routed through the DV unit before being routed to the CAO; 3)  perform a staffing analysis of all other criminal investigation units and reassign misdemeanor DV cases to an additional two detectives; and 4) work with the CAO criminal deputy to determine if there are any other improvements to be made to the CBO initiative.  Lastly, if your additional analysis shows that the Department needs more DV detectives, I would gladly receive them to work the misdemeanor cases.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with your thoughts and ideas on how to best remedy this in addition to what I outlined.

 

Sincerely,

 

Jim Pugel

Chief of Police