The struggling Seattle Police Department, which is facing an increasingly worsening staffing crisis due to being defunded, will no longer take on any new adult sexual assault cases this year, according to an internal memo recently made public.
According to a report by the Seattle Times, in the four-page memo titled “Staffing Issues,” the sergeant in charge of the Sexual Assault/Child Abuse Unit, Sgt. Pamela St. John told interim police Chief Adrian Diaz that she is not currently able to assign any new adult sexual assault cases “because of other statutory requirements.”
Only three short years ago, the unit had 12 detectives, but when the internal memo was sent on April 11, there were just four remaining. “This depletion has left the remaining detectives with unsustainable caseloads. That burden is even more impactful in our unit given the content and nature of the investigations, which directly leads to secondary issues such as burnout and compassion fatigue,” wrote St. John.
Sgt. St. John noted that the unit had seen an uptick in cases involving teenagers and children. In March this year, the unit received 107 referrals from Child Protective Services. St. John said this is “on par with where the referrals were before the pandemic” due to children becoming more visible after returning to schools following the pandemic.
St. John wrote, “The community expects our agency to respond to reports of sexual violence, and at current staffing levels, that objective is attainable. The necessity for on-call detective response to Sexual Assault cases cannot be understated, but with current staffing levels, the burden that falls upon our detectives is too high. A skilled detective is required to investigate a sexual assault case proactively.”
“I understand the staffing issue is department-wide,” she continued.
Sergeant in charge says more detectives needed
Although the child abuse and sexual assault unit has always been staffed with between 10 and 12 detectives, St. John told the interim chief that she would settle for at least eight detectives to investigate the cases and allow her to assign the growing backlog of cases being forwarded from the crime lab as the result of DNA hits using the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).
“This year alone, I have 30 adult sexual assault cases that should be assigned to a detective if I had proper staffing. The detectives will still need to be working overtime, but the cases can be assigned,” said St. John.
Additionally, only three detectives are assigned to the kidnapping and sex offender detail since one detective is unavailable and the sergeant does not expect to return. The unit is responsible for monitoring over 1,200 registered Seattle sex offenders and filing cases with the King County prosecutor when one is found out of compliance. The department also completes risk assessments for new offenders as well as existing ones requesting to have their levels changed.