The Seattle Police Department stopped investigating new adult sexual-assault cases this year due to a detective shortage in the Sexual Assault and Child Abuse unit, according to an internal memo between Sgt. Pamela St. John and interim Chief Adrian Diaz obtained by the Seattle Times.
St. John in the document dated April 11, said the 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."
The Sexual Assault and Child Abuse unit currently has one sergeant, one administrative assistant, and four detectives. The Sex Offender Detail has three detectives and one administrative assistant. Before 2019, the Sexual Assault and Child Abuse unit was staffed with one lieutenant, two sergeants, one administrative assistant and 10 detectives, while the Sex Offender Detail had four detectives and one administrative assistant.
The department’s Alternative Response Team that responds to homeless encampment removals has twice the number of officers.
Seattle has had 225 sex offenses reported this year.
"The community expects our agency to respond to reports of sexual violence," St. John wrote, "and at current staffing levels that objective is unattainable."
St. John said she was not able to assign adult sexual-assault cases that came into her unit and that the cases involving children and adult cases where a suspect was in custody were being prioritized.
Assistant Chief Deanna Nollette told the Seattle Times and KUOW this week that St. John’s portrayal of what was happening in her unit was "not accurate" and a "gross oversimplification."
"Sexual assault cases are still being assigned, but the workload is being triaged based on a number of factors that we would traditionally use to triage those cases," Nollette said.
The Seattle Police Department in March 2022 had just 968 officers, compared with 1,290 in early 2020.
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