SPD, city attorney spar over downtown's repeat offenders

SEATTLE -- The Seattle Police Department and the Seattle City Attorney are at odds over what to do about repeat offenders who commit crimes Downtown.

Police want to put those people behind bars, but the city's top lawyer won't do it. Instead, the disagreement over this issue has turned into a duel with both sides battling it out -- by letter.

The spat began in the wake of the shooting of a Metro bus driver on Seattle's Third Avenue last week. Acting Seattle Police Chief Jim Pugel named 28 people he says were ignoring repeat warnings about minor infractions, but then he didn't exactly get a welcome response from his partners in law enforcement.

The fear for Pugel and his police department is the impact repeat low-level offenders have on quality of life downtown.

"It erodes the quality of life and it makes people feel more fearful," said SPD spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb.

Pugel wrote about it in a letter to City Attorney Pete Holmes last week, sending him a binder with information on 28 repeat offenders and asking him to file criminal charges for everything from lying on sidewalks to urinating in public.

Holmes sent a note back, disagreeing with Pugel's request.

"It's expensive. It's ineffective," Holmes said. "And as Chief Pugel has said, we can't arrest our way out of this problem."

Holmes says instead of arresting and prosecuting the 28 people Pugel inquired about, social services are a better long-term solution.

"For the overwhelming majority, jail is not going to do anything," Holmes said. "It's simply going to give you about a one week respite from the activity at great expense to taxpayers."

So Holmes' office spent the past week putting together two bigger binders and a response, including that he was "surprised and dismayed" by some of the dialogue about the issue.

Wednesday night, the dialogue was sounding more diplomatic.

"We're working collaboratively with our partners at city law," Whitcomb said.

Even if the desire to solve the problem remains the same.

"For every time they commit that crime and people see it, and they do it again and they do it again, it has an exponential effect," Whitcomb said.

Holmes counters: "What I ask for in exchange from SPD is that they use other tools where appropriate instead of simple arrest and incarceration, otherwise we're going to be back at the same old cycle."

Both sides said they seemed a little surprised this fight ended up in the public eye, but both sides also said this would not sour relations, but instead hopefully put everyone on the same page.