As the Seattle City Council finalizes its 2020 budget, members should continue funding the city’s innovative approaches to persistent crime problems.
That includes the Navigation Team, which pairs police and social workers to provide outreach — connecting people to services and housing — as well as removal of unsanctioned encampments.
The 38-person team is a cornerstone of the city’s massive homelessness response that’s showing progress — slowly but significantly. This year’s point-in-time count saw a 17% reduction in the number of unsheltered people living in dangerous, inhumane conditions.
Council members on Tuesday wisely rejected a proposal by Kshama Sawant to defund the program. A final budget vote is expected Monday.
To help address safety and civility problems caused by prolific offenders cycling through the city’s court system with little consequence, the council should also fund creative new responses proposed by Mayor Jenny Durkan.
They include an expanded shelter with supportive services in a vacant section of the King County jail downtown; an additional city attorney to improve case management and coordinate with diversion programs; and a pilot program providing specialized probation services, with counselors using trauma-informed strategies to better serve offenders with high needs.
These suggestions were generated by a task force, including social-service providers and public-health experts. Whether they go far enough to address crime problems remains to be seen, but the council should support this fledgling effort.
So far the council has funded the expanded jail shelter and services but not $170,000 for the probation pilot program.
Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who is leading the budget deliberations, supports the pilot program and said “it’s not going away.”
The program is called enhanced probation, “but they’re talking about enhanced services — meeting people where they are, getting them the services they need and making sure there’s a warm handoff” after they leave the courtroom, she said.
If the council majority insists on making a political statement against probation by declining the $170,000 appropriation, Durkan should find a way to fund it with other revenue in the $1.5 billion general fund, or with a supplemental budget addition next year.
Budgets are a statement of priorities. Providing supportive programs for a few hundred criminal offenders with behavioral health problems is one priority.
There are many more victims of crimes these offenders commit. Victims are often low-wage workers, including retail clerks threatened and assaulted at random. Providing these workers and other residents safety and justice must also be a top priority of the city’s elected representatives.