Seattle police memo shows defunded force stopped investigating new adult sexual assaults this year

Seattle police sergeant says current staffing levels make it 'unattainable' to meet community's expectation of responding to reports of sexual violence

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The worsening staffing crisis at the Seattle Police Department has forced the defunded force to no longer take on new adult sexual assault cases this year, according to a newly revealed internal memo. 

The Seattle Times first reported Tuesday about the four-page memo, which the sergeant in charge of the Sexual Assault/Child Abuse Unit sent internally to interim police Chief Adrian Diaz on April 11. 

In the memo, titled "Staffing Issues," Sgt. Pamela St. John said she currently is not able to assign new adult sexual assault cases "because of other statutory requirements." 

Just three years ago, the unit had 12 skilled detectives, but at the time the memo was written, there are only four remaining. 

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A family walks past Seattle police on 3rd Avenue on March 11, 2022, in Seattle, Washington. Police set up a mobile precinct to curb the heavy crime and drug use there, only a block away from Seattle's iconic Pike Place Market. 

A family walks past Seattle police on 3rd Avenue on March 11, 2022, in Seattle, Washington. Police set up a mobile precinct to curb the heavy crime and drug use there, only a block away from Seattle's iconic Pike Place Market.  ((Photo by John Moore/Getty Images))

"This depletion has left the remaining detectives with unsustainable caseloads," St. John wrote. "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." 

St. John noted how the unit has seen an increase in cases involving children and teenagers, and in March of this year, received 107 referrals from Child Protective Services, which is "on par with where the referrals were before the pandemic" as children return to school and become more publicly visible. 

"The community expects our agency to respond to reports of sexual violence and at current staffing levels that objective is unattainable," St. John wrote. "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 proactively investigate a sexual assault case."

Seattle Police Department vehicles surround a mobile precinct unit on Third Avenue in downtown Seattle, Washington, U.S., on Thursday, March 24, 2022. 

Seattle Police Department vehicles surround a mobile precinct unit on Third Avenue in downtown Seattle, Washington, U.S., on Thursday, March 24, 2022.  (Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

"I understand the staffing issue in department wide," the sergeant added. 

Even though the sexual assault and child abuse unit has always been staffed at between 10 and 12 detectives, the sergeant told the chief that she would settle for at least 8 detectives investigating sexual assault and child abuse cases to allow her to assign adult sexual assault cases and assign the backlog of cases coming from the crime lab with DNA hits in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). 

A Black Lives Matter mural stretches across a city block in front of Cal Anderson Park on March 13, 2022, in Seattle's former so-called CHOP/CHAZ protest zone. 

A Black Lives Matter mural stretches across a city block in front of Cal Anderson Park on March 13, 2022, in Seattle's former so-called CHOP/CHAZ protest zone.  ((Photo by John Moore/Getty Images))

"This year alone I have 30 adult sexual assault cases that should be assigned to a detective if I had proper staffing," she said. "The detectives will still need to be working overtime, but the cases can then be assigned." 

In the memo, St. John acknowledged that she was aware of 116 CODIS hit returns that are outside the Cold Case backlog, which "I am not able to assign currently."

Also, there are only three detectives assigned to the sex offender and kidnapping detail, given one detective is HR unavailable, who the sergeant does not expect to return. 

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The detail is responsible for monitoring the more than 1,200 registered sex offenders in Seattle and filing cases with the King County prosecutor when one is found to be out of compliance. It also completes risk assessments for new offenders and ones requesting to have their level changed.