SEATTLE (KOMO) — King County prosecutors and the Seattle City Attorney’s Office claim they are making progress in an attempt to reduce organized retail theft.
Nicole Lawson is a King County Deputy Prosecutor and claims her department has charged 75 cases since August, with 509 theft or attempted theft charges overall, which works out to three a day.
“It's not to be tolerated,” she told KOMO News about the effort, part of a task force launched last year to combine resources to tackle the issue. Both Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison have also weighed in and suggested referrals were not being acted upon, allowing the issue to fester.
For instance, Davison’s office says only 630 cases were charged in 2021 out of 1,865 referrals. There were 1,377 charges already in 2022, out of 2,073 referrals.
Lawson is highlighting two men who will be sentenced tomorrow. Both Levi Shirley and Dylan Jackman have pled guilty to a series of retail theft charges. Prosecutors are recommending six months of drug treatment and two years in prison.
The deputy prosecutor wasn’t speaking directly about the cases, noting that some of what she is seeing involves chronically homeless individuals and people from outside the state who are consciously coming to Washington with the intent to steal. What are the odds of them being out soon to commit another crime?
“That's a possibility, as it is with any crime,” answers Lawson. “The hope is that with increased coordination between the law enforcement partners, the retailers, myself, the city attorney's office, and the aging Task Force, we can create a message that organized retail fast is something that we take very seriously.”
Renee Sunde, President of the Washington Retail Association, said by email:
"There has been good progress most notably defined through the Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison’s release of the High Utilizer Initiative’s report. The report revealed a 57% drop in high utilizer criminal referrals and over 750 police referrals averted. The partnerships between Seattle Police and the King County Prosecuting attorney’s office have been critical in supporting this effort. In the past year more than half of Washington State retailers have report an increase in theft, resulting in a $2.7 billion problem. 80% of retailers have reported a rise in violence and aggression towards frontline workers. Clearly we are still dealing with a significant problem and addressing the public safety issues haves required a multi-pronged approach. The AG’s Task Force will need funding through the state’s budget in order to accomplish the coordination necessary to tackle organized crime in Washington. WR is supporting the full $3 million requested by the AG’s office. There is much more work to be done."