King County budget cuts slice into criminal justice programs

Proposed cutbacks to King County’s budget to make up for a nearly $70 million shortfall in 2009 will likely cause a ripple effect throughout the county as court services, sheriff’s deputies and prosecuting attorneys will likely be cut.

  • Monday, June 9, 2008 7:30pm
  • News

Sheriff Sue Rahr speaks last Thursday during a press conference in Seattle about the proposed cuts to the criminal-justice system in the 2009 King County budget. With her are

Proposed cutbacks to King County’s budget to make up for a nearly $70 million shortfall in 2009 will likely cause a ripple effect throughout the county as court services, sheriff’s deputies and prosecuting attorneys will likely be cut.

During a press conference on Thursday morning, King County Sheriff Sue Rahr, Bruce Hilyer, presiding judge of County Superior Court, Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, and District Court Presiding Judge Barbara Linde talked about the cuts County Executive Ron Sims has asked them to make in their departments.

Each department is expected to cut 8.6 percent of their budgets, which will total about $33 million across seven criminal justice departments, due to a $68 million shortfall in the county’s overall 2009 budget.

“Never in my 29 years as a police officer have I seen a situation that so severely impacts our ability to deal with crime,” Rahr said.

Rahr may be forced to cut as many as 100 deputies and potentially scale back or eliminate investigation of most fraud, Internet, property and identity theft crimes where the loss is less than $10,000.

Satterberg described the county’s entire criminal justice system as one “that is in trouble.”

Maple Valley officials, who contract with the Sheriff’s Office to provide deputies for its 10-member police department, are cautiously optimistic about how this could impact the city, City Manager Anthony Hemstad said.

There are 135 patrol deputies based out of Precinct Three headquarters in Maple Valley. The precinct covers about 740 square miles from Sammamish to the Muckleshoot Reservation as well as unincorporated areas as far west as Federal Way and includes several contract cities. There are about 250,000 people living within the precinct, according to information provided by Precinct Commander Maj. Dave Germani.

The precinct includes Fairwood and other areas east of Renton.

There will also be large reductions in the Prosecutor’s Office, including as many as 30 deputy prosecutors losing their jobs, Satterberg said. There is already a hiring freeze in place so new hires who were supposed to start this fall have been told they are in an indefinite holding pattern.

“The cuts will devastate the entire public safety system,” Satterberg said. “We’re already feeling the pinch of being short staff. It’s our obligation to say … we are in trouble.”

In response, Sims held a press conference shortly afterward, saying “You now know what a $33 million cut looks like.”

Sims blamed the combination of the downturn in the state and national economies with the state and federally mandated required services the county must provide for the budget shortfall.

“King County has a fundamental financial challenge,” Sims said. “We’re going to work on a myriad of options to resolve this. Before this is resolved, as King County Executive, I must first propose a balanced budget.”

Meanwhile, Superior Court and District Court may have to get rid of what Hilyer and Linde described as effective programs that dealt with offenders with mental health issues, services for addicts that helped them into recovery rather than jail, and other optional discretionary services designed to reduce recidivism.

Linde said these programs help because “intervention works.”

In addition, thousands of Superior and District Court cases will be re-distributed among the municipal courts of the 37 cities in King County, primarily cases dealing with petty crime as part of an effort to cut back the work load.

All four said they brought the issue public because they feel it’s important to educate county residents so they in turn can voice their opinion to elected officials.

“That’s how the process works,” Hilyer said.


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