According to an internal memo that was recently made public, in light of an escalating personnel shortage, the Seattle Police Department has been compelled to cease accepting new adult sexual assault cases for the remainder of the year.
The Seattle Times first reported on Tuesday that the four-page internal memo was issued by the sergeant in charge of the Sexual Assault/Child Abuse Unit, Sgt. Pamela St. John, and sent to Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz on April 11.
St. John wrote in the document under “Staffing Issues” that she cannot introduce additional adult cases of sexual assault “because of other statutory requirements.”
There were 12 detectives in the team three years ago, but only four are still active now.
St. John wrote, “This depletion has left the remaining detectives with unsustainable caseloads. That burden is much 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 sergeant also pointed out that the unit has noticed an uptick in instances involving children and young adults, and in March, they had 107 recommendations from Child Protective Services.
According to St. John, this number is “on par with where the referrals were before the pandemic,” likely since children are returning to school and becoming more publically visible.
“The community expects our agency to respond to reports of sexual violence and at current staffing levels that objective is unattainable,” St. John allegedly 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.”
There is a problem with staffing in all departments, the sergeant said.
Even though the sexual abuse and child abuse unit has always had between 10 and 12 detectives on staff, the officer told the chief that she would be happy with at least eight investigators exploring sexual assault and cases of child abuse.
Therefore, she could assign elderly instances of sexual assault and allocate the caseloads emerging from the forensics lab with DNA whacks as in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).
“This year alone I have 30 adult sexual assault cases that should be assigned to a detective if I had proper staffing,” St. John said. “The detectives will still need to be working overtime, but the cases can then be assigned.”
The sexual predator and abduction detail only has three detectives because one is on leave, and the commander does not expect him back.
When a registered sex offender is found to be breaking the law, the detail is instrumental in bringing the case to the attention of the King County prosecutor.