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Policy memo: Everett needs changes on juvenile, gang justice

The Daily Herald - 1/10/2019

EVERETT — The Everett Police Department needs to make changes to better hold young people accountable for crimes involving firearms and gang activity, according to a new internal report.

But it can't do so without intense communication with judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and the Denney Juvenile Justice Center, the local lockup for minors, the report says. Those conversations are ongoing.

The unsigned Dec. 27 memo, addressed to Mayor Cassie Franklin, opens with the statement: "Juvenile violent crime presents a serious public safety risk to our communities."

Of most concern are youths who "possess lengthy criminal histories and who have demonstrated a propensity for violence or unlawful firearm possession," it says.

City staff spent the better part of a year preparing the three-page document, which was supposed to be due to Franklin by May 25, 2018, according to public records. The Daily Herald has been asking for a copy since then and obtained one Tuesday.

The county executive's office and prosecutor's office on Tuesday said they support continuing the discussion around juvenile justice.

Franklin took office in January 2018. Within the first few weeks, she laid out her leadership priorities in five executive orders, which she called directives. The first one addressed gang and youth violence and outlined a number of goals and deadlines.

Franklin noted in the directive that parts of the effort might take years to come together. She also asked for a specific report on juvenile justice with recommendations on how to balance public safety concerns with the goals of rehabilitating underage offenders.

"We simply did not make as much progress on this (juvenile justice) initiative early on as we had hoped," said Meghan Pembroke, a spokeswoman for the mayor's office. "Additionally, we felt it was important to meet and confer with many of the other juvenile justice partners … to open a dialogue and solicit their input."

Other initiatives within the mayor's directive saw progress in 2018, such as those creating new prevention and intervention programs and an advisory board on gang issues, as well as the distribution of more than 200 free gun locks. The City Council also passed new legislation on firearms, including cases where they are lost or stolen.

On another front, the police department's gang response unit now is staffed with one sergeant and three officers, with another officer expected to join later.

The memo was written by representatives from the legal department and the police department, Pembroke said. She noted that shootings and gang-related crimes saw decreases in 2018, though gang violence in Snohomish County historically is cyclical.

Despite what's been done, more still is needed to target those "not receptive" to prevention and intervention, the memo says. Officials must establish a system to track juvenile gun crimes and produce annual data, it says.

"When arrested, many of these juveniles are released from custody on minimal bail or after serving short sentences," it says. "The police department has knowledge of incidents in which some of these youth offenders have then gone on to commit additional violent crimes after their release."

Everett police officers as well must do a better job in writing their reports to make clear any concerns about gang activity and threats, the memo says. That information is considered by judges at bail hearings and other pre-trial appearances, along with what's gathered by court staff.

Together, the authorities need to do more screening for mental health conditions, including developmental delays, the memo says. In Washington and across the country, juvenile justice has seen reforms in recent years, in part spurred by research into the adolescent brain. For example, some Washington inmates who killed people when they were minors are now allowed to petition for their freedom after 20 years, among other requirements.

Many of the issues are being explored at the state level as well, Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Adam Cornell said. He noted that changes from the Legislature went into effect in June expanding diversion options for juveniles. The move appears to be part of a long-term shift away from more punitive practices.

Franklin is sparking important conversations, Cornell said.

"I met with her and the chief on my first official day of office, and I'm looking forward to partnering with the city on addressing this critical community safety issue," he said.

There's also a provision in the memo about lobbying for new legislation, on topics including mental health and addiction treatment.

An action plan is supposed to be sent to the mayor by July 1.

 
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