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Chief Lifts Auburn Police COVID-19 Booking Restrictions

Auburn Police Chief Dan O’Neil announced Friday that he was lifting precautionary booking restrictions established due to COVID-19. The restrictions will no longer be in place beginning April 1.

“In order to address your concerns and do our part to bring accountability to those who are engaging in criminal activity and victimizing our community, I will be lifting all COVID-related booking restrictions effective April 1,” states O’Neil in his announcement. “Booking decisions going forward from that date will be based on officer discretion consistent with pre-COVID operations.”

Prior to making this decision, O’Neil confirmed both the City of Auburn prosecutor’s office and SCORE jail would be able to handle the increase in bookings.

It’s Worse Than It Looks

Most bookings for felonious crimes, however, go to King County jail and are referred to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (KCPAO).

The pandemic has caused a case backlog within the prosecutor’s office. In addition to in-progress cases facing delays due to courtroom limitations, new filing decision referrals did not stop. The KCPAO received 10,833 case referrals in 2020, down only 1.77% from 2019’s 11,028.

a key with a round loop at the end sets in the key hold of a gray jail cell door
source: Shutterstock

In March 2021 the KCPAO had 6,107 open cases, the pre-COVID average for this time period is 3,252.18 open cases. What isn’t included in these numbers are the cases referred to the prosecutor’s office for a filing decision that have not yet been filed.

In addition to public health restrictions in the courts, King County jails also have restrictions that impact the KCPAO caseload. “A year ago we had almost 2,000 People in our two jails in the county and we’re under the instruction to get that down to 1,400,” said Satterberg.

The in-custody population reduction is an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. “We didn’t have to double-cell people and we could have more distancing. And so there is a cap, not a hard and fast cap, but it is something that we’ve been working on to try to keep the population down and around 1,400.”

With in-custody population reductions, courtroom proceeding limitations, and updates required due to Supreme Court rulings and legislative decisions “it’s worse than it looks,” said Satterberg, “and it looks pretty bad.”

Clearing the Backlog

“We’ve got just a tremendous amount of work to get through, really three years’ worth of work that’s kind of stacked up,” Satterberg said.

Satterberg hopes to persuade the King County executive and the county council to utilize some of the federal COVID relief money on a King County justice recovery plan. Some things such a plan might include are funding for both courts (Superior and District), staffing support for the KCPAO, Public Defender support, and support for the clerk’s office.

Despite the sizeable backlog and restrictions remaining in place at the county level, O’Neil concluded his message with reassurance that the Auburn police “is committed to bringing those who victimize our community to justice as we work to improve community safety.”

a bar graph comparing 2019 crime in Auburn WA to 2020 crime in Auburn
source: City of Auburn

Auburn Police Chief Dan O’Neil’s Full Message:

To our Auburn Community,

APD, auburn wa police, chief dan oneil, dan o'neil, auburn wa dan oneil, dan o'neil, auburn dan o'neil, chief dan o'neil
Chief Dan O’Neil, Auburn Police Department | Courtesy Photo

As the Chief of Police and a community leader who is deemed responsible for community safety, I have been listening as you have become more vocal and concerned about increasing crime. In order to address your concerns and do our part to bring accountability to those who are engaging in criminal activity and victimizing our community, I will be lifting all COVID related booking restrictions effective April 1. Booking decisions going forward from that date will be based on officer discretion consistent with pre-COVID operations.

I have had conversations with our City prosecutors and the SCORE jail to ensure they can handle this change in practice. I am also aware that corrections employees are now eligible for the COVID vaccine and have been for several weeks.

Under COVID restrictions, we have only been booking under the following circumstances:

  • RCW 10.31.100(2) DV No contact order violations and “4 hour DV assaults”
  • Extreme risk protection order violations
  • RCW 10.31.100(16)(a) DUI/physical control with a 10 year prior.
  • All DUI related offenses (except cases involving blood draws where toxicology results are pending).
  • DV arrests
  • Felonies
  • Warrants of 10K or more

In addition to APD efforts to address our community concerns through changing our booking practices, I am hopeful that as we see decreases in COVID numbers, hospitalizations, and more people become vaccinated, we will again see our courts start issuing warrants for those who fail to appear. 

Members of the Police Advisory Committee have voiced the sense of lawlessness that is being felt by our community to me, the Mayor, and the City Council and Mayor Backus supports this decision as a response to community concerns. 

There are several components to public safety and the enforcement of the law: law enforcement, courts, prosecution, and corrections. Law enforcement has been essential during the pandemic and our City prosecutors have been working relentlessly to file cases. SCORE has been an outstanding partner, while being flexible to meet our needs and keeping staff and those incarcerated safe.

Unfortunately, the courts and correctional system at the county level have slowed the justice system. The lawlessness that is occurring as a result of restricted action by the courts is becoming a bigger threat to our community than the pandemic itself.

After having 12 months to plan, we are hopeful that our court system will find a way to operate at full capacity while adopting protocol to keep those involved in our criminal justice system safe. Until then, your police department is committed to bringing those who victimize our community to justice as we work to improve community safety.   

Sincerely, 
Daniel O’Neil
Chief of Police

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