King County prosecutors target repeat burglars
King County prosecutors say that although overall crime is down 8%, one category of crime is still increasing. Burglaries are up 1% and much more in certain locations, going up 25% in Tukwila, 20%t in Des Moines, 17% in Bellevue and 9% in Seattle.
Their solution is to refocus prosecutorial resources on the problem with a new Repeat Burglar Initiative, which will dedicate a deputy prosecutor to work directly with burglary detectives across the county and try to bring convictions against the most prolific thieves.
The initiative is modeled after a similar program that began to target auto theft 3 years ago. Also focusing on repeat offenders, it is credited with a 32% reduction in stolen vehicles over that time.
In an interview Monday, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said coordination across jurisdictions and detailed tracking of evidence will be used to bring big cases against the busiest burglars. For example, the county’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System will be used to link together fingerprint evidence throughout the county and then try to find matches out of its database of known criminals. Timeliness will also be a key component, with an effort to rush file charges against suspects to get them off the streets before they can commit additional crimes.
Recent burglary cases show some good examples of how much of the burglary problem is driven by a dedicated set of repeat offenders:
- John Forbes pleaded guilty last week to two counts of residential burglary with aggravating factors. His burglary history goes back 20 years and include a pattern of crimes against women such as rape and standing around watching his female burglary victims as they slept.
- Joseph England has trials pending in 10 residential burglary cases that included the theft of guns, laptops, jewelry and Christmas gifts.
- Lynell Denham was convicted in 2008 in a series of commercial burglaries in which he and his associates would use detailed plans and two-way radios to drill holes in the walls of businesses and steal goods and money inside. He got 51 months in that last conviction.
Satterberg says there’s more work to do at the state level. Currently, state law limits the effect of prior criminal history to escalate sentencing levels for burglary convictions. The standard sentencing scale for burglaries tops out at a range of 63 to 84 months regardless of how many prior convictions a person may have. His suggestion: Change the law to bring burglaries in line with other Class B felonies, with a maximum 10-year sentence. (Note that burglaries are not subject to the three-strikes law, which mainly targets violent crimes.)
Police officials consistently say individual citizens have the most control to avoid becoming a victim. Simple things such as locking your doors, arming your security system and leaving easy-to-resell items such as electronics out of view can cause thieves to move on to easier targets.