Seattle City Attorney, Ann Davison, left, and Renée Sunde, WR President & CEO at a recent Project 42 reception.
Soon after Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison was sworn in, she announced that the City Attorney’s Office would focus its attention on “high utilizers” of the criminal justice system.
One year later, City Attorney Davison issued her first report on the impact of this change in prosecutorial priorities. The High Utilizers Initiative (“HUI”) focused on 168 individuals, accounting for almost 3,500 misdemeanor referrals since 2017. Before the initiative was launched, these individuals averaged 6.3 criminal referrals per year. Last year, the group averaged only 2.7 referrals. And for individuals who exited the HUI, the average number of referrals dropped to 0.6.
What accounted for this success? The City Attorney’s Office prioritized jailing and prosecuting high utilizers. Although limits on jail capacity generally prevent misdemeanor defendants (and the City Attorney only prosecutes misdemeanors while the King County Prosecutor tries felony cases) from being held in the King County Jail, King County agreed to provide an exception for high utilizers.
The City Attorney’s Office estimates that the HUI eliminated “over 750 criminal police referrals reflecting many thousands of criminal acts.” The City Attorney’s Office handled about 6,000 non-domestic violence, non-traffic misdemeanor referrals in 2022, so the 750 fewer referrals are equivalent to over 12 percent of that caseload.