King County Prosecutor’s new dashboard shows pandemic impacts
The King County Prosecutors Office has unveiled a new online tool to help people track the types of felony cases it is pursuing. The goal is to provide more transparency to a system Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said some have criticized as a “black box.”
One of the most dramatic charts on the new data dashboard shows the sharply escalating number of unresolved or “open” cases. They nearly doubled to more than 6,000 over the course of the pandemic.
“These are not cases we can dismiss or divert, these are really serious, violent cases and we need to deal with them in a responsible way,” Satterberg said.
He’s hoping some of the Covid relief funds can be used to expedite these cases, to maintain the defendants' right to a speedy trial.
“In the last year we’ve done about 24 jury trials,” he said. “Normally we would do 300 to 400 during that time.”
Trials have resumed, but at a much slower pace.
Satterberg said the dashboard also shows the types of crimes being prosecuted by his office, and last year's increases in violent crimes like assault and murder.
“Some of the narratives about 2020 are true: that we set a record for the number of murder cases that we filed, and that it was well above the average that we’ve had,” he said.
The dashboard shows 2019 demographic data for people charged with felonies as well as for crime victims. But Satterberg said that data is far from complete and they're working to improve it.
“Victim data is of an even poorer quality than data on defendants,” the dashboard notes. “Over 50% of victim race data, 23% of victim gender data, and 10% of victim age data was missing or unknown.”
The dashboard states that the King County Prosecutors Office “has partnered with the Urban Indian Health Institute to improve how race and ethnicity data is collected and analyzed.” It also states that the partnership was launched in part by the Institute’s “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) initiative, which documents how inadequate data collection systems obscure the magnitude of violence against Indigenous women and girls.”
Satterberg said he also wants to highlight the decline in prosecutions of drug crimes by his office in recent years.
“They haven’t stopped," he said. "We filed 650 felonies in 2020, but if you compare to 2009 we filed 1,400 then.”
He said most of the more recent charges are for people accused of selling drugs. Prosecution for simple drug possession halted statewide in February with the Washington Supreme Court's "Blake" decision.
Satterberg said the purpose of the dashboard “is to put it all out there, and you can see where we spend our time and what our priorities are.”