Correction since publication: A deeply civically informed friend noted privately to me that Council’s proposed action on Monday relates to pre-filing of charges (i.e., whether to decline or file charges), not post-filing diversion programs such as LEAD. This is despite the fact that the Bill, 120247, mentions LEAD multiple times. My friend’s clarification is a very important distinction, and one I misunderstood. This rushed Council bill has almost nothing to do with LEAD specifically as a program; and this should be considered when reading the original note below. But it doesn’t obviate the essential point: Council is setting up historic new constraints on the City Attorney — likely tying funding to decisions to decline/file/divert. This despite the fact that they do not seem to demand transparent, regular quarterly reporting on the most important metric (recidivism) for our biggest diversion program.
They are clearly setting up constraints for the City Attorney to dictate how big a role they want prosecution or credible threats of prosecution (broadly) to play in our justice system. At the same time, they seem utterly incurious about the hard comparative metrics of the most significant and highest-profile non-prosecution diversion investment and tradeoffs we’ve made to date. Ideologically, many Councilmembers are committed to further reduction of prosecution of low-level offenses, and they no longer have a City Attorney who vehemently agrees in all cases. Such decisions — to prosecute alleged offenders or divert them into other non-prosecutorial programs — have always been the role of the City Attorney, and should remain so. That none of us — neither the public nor City Council — actually know the annual change in recidivism rates of our largest formalized diversion program participants on an ongoing transparent basis remains emblematic that the Council majority is driven more by ideological certitude than comparing what works and what doesn’t, and when. Perhaps Council can focus on first quantifying regular, transparent reporting metrics on such efforts before constraining what another department should do with respect to the prosecution-diversion tradeoff.
December 11, 2021
Dear Seattle City Council Members:
I have a simple question for you. What has been the recidivism rate of Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program participants, for 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 or 2021? You, the City Council, who repeatedly fund this program and laud its effectiveness, do not know. No one does, as the consultant report on LEAD clearly indicated. Perhaps it’s very effective at reducing repeat offenses. But perhaps it isn’t. Maybe it reduces recidivism for some kinds of offenses but not others. Maybe it robustly reduces recidivism for the young but not the old, or maybe the addicted but not the well. Or maybe it’s entirely the other way around. We don’t have the metrics to know.
Heavily aligned academic research and 2019 followup based on a snapshot of seven-year old data suggested LEAD did reduce recidivism in a 316-person cohort, compared to a synthetically modeled comparison group. But reality is different than modeling, and since that time, all kinds of parameters of the program have changed, including levels of law enforcement participation, consequences for veering from the program’s requirements, who is eligible for the program, program staffing, which offenses qualify, and much more. I fully acknowledge there is other evidence directionally supporting diversion programs, and that’s great. I do believe such programs can work well in certain circumstances, and so does the new City Attorney, as she has repeatedly made clear.
But shouldn’t we know for sure where it’s effective, year by year, and where it’s not?
Even though you do not even know Seattle’s recidivism numbers, or when specifically LEAD clearly works to reduce recidivism and when it doesn’t, you’re clearly setting up new constraints on decisions which used to be under the purview of the City Attorney’s office. Even more astonishingly, you don’t even insist that such diversion programs which you wish another city branch to favor report overall participant recidivism quarterly as a requirement for continued funding.
Is there any more important metric than recidivism for whether such programs deliver for the community compared to, say, criminal prosecution, mandated treatment or drug court?
This coming Monday, in a rushed vote, you will be deciding to place new reporting — and likely commensurate funding — restrictions on the new, incoming City Attorney, which you never have done before.
Prosecutorial discretion is up to… the prosecutor. Your appalling decision here is a clear attempt to hamstring the duly elected City Attorney before she has even taken office. You have an ideology, and you want it enacted, regardless of whether we have clear evidence in Seattle that it’s the best way to reduce repeat offenses, or when and where.
The City Council’s fast track bill to be voted on Monday subjects City Attorney Elect Ann Davison to unprecedented City Council oversight. In the 100-year history of the City Attorney’s office no previous (male) attorney has faced this kind of pre-emption of their powers.
The bill goes against the voice of the voters, who voted Pete Holmes and his policies out. Nicole Thomas-Kennedy and her decriminalization policies were also voted down. The people have spoken. Some on the City Council may disagree, but you are supposed to represent the wishes of your constituents.
At a minimum, you owe the citizens clear understanding that the heavy emphasis on diversion you continue to insist upon actually does make neighborhoods safer. The research that is trotted out to justify this is based on data that is now more than seven years old. Program parameters have changed dramatically, including who participates, what criteria is used, what interventions are used, what follow-up is done, and more. Yet you, the City Council, cannot even concretely report to the citizens the most important metric for this program: the recidivism rates for the program participants.
As the Seattle Times put so clearly: “The city attorney, not the council, is elected to handle misdemeanor cases in Seattle. Yet the bill would impose the council’s ideas about which cases go to courts and which are diverted into community programs.”
Voters elected Davison to get on top of the nearly 4,000 cases that Pete Holmes allowed to accumulate without prosecution. Let her do her job, figure out whether LEAD works and where with actual data (not just clever story-based marketing), and focus on the many other urgent tasks of the SCC. At a bare minimum, if you are so fond of the diversion program, don’t you owe it to constituents to know the recidivism results? Start there.
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Ann Davison’s Email to Council this week:
Steve’s a Seattle-based entrepreneur and software leader, husband and father of three. He’s half Canadian, and east-coast born and raised. Steve has made the Pacific Northwest his home since 1991, when he moved here to work for Microsoft. He’s started and sold multiple Internet companies. Politically independent, he writes on occasion about city politics and national issues, and created Alignvote in the 2019 election cycle. He holds a BS in Applied Math (Computer Science) and Business from Carnegie Mellon University, a Masters in Computer Science from Stanford University, and an MBA from the Harvard Business School. Steve volunteers when time allows with Habitat for Humanity, University District Food Bank, Technology Access Foundation (TAF) and other organizations in Seattle.