If you've always dreamed of quitting your job to become a petty criminal or drug dealer but haven't yet gathered up the chutzpah to finally flip off your boss and walk out the door, now might be the time.
Because of a massive, sucking hole in King County's budget, a number of agencies have been asked to make drastic cuts to staff, work hours and services.
As Erica C. Barnett posted last week, domestic violence and public health programs are getting the axe, and agencies like the King County Prosecutor's office are completely revamping and rethinking how to prosecute crimes through the next budget cycle.
In August, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg sent a memo to law enforcement agencies laying out the county's plans for coping with with an 11% budget cut.
In the letter, Satterberg told police and prosecutors that a number of smaller property crimes and drug crimes valued under $1,000—such as theft, forgery, possession of stolen property, malicious mischief, insurance fraud, organized retail theft, burglary, identity theft and money laundering—would be kicked down to municipal courts around the county.
"It puts us in a difficult position but we’re going to do what we can," says City Attorney Tom Carr. "The mayor refused to budget for these additional cases. We’re kind if caught in the middle."
In 2003, KC decided to stop handling "trace drug paraphernalia" cases, and the city picked up the slack. Carr says that city prosecutors expected to receive about 150 drug cases in the first year, but ended up flooded with an additional 900.
The county has projected it will hand over about 1,200 petty theft cases to city courts this year, but with the economy in the shitter, there's always the chance that prosecutors could see a higher number of theft cases. "I’m very concerned about my staff and their ability to do their job," Carr says.
The budget has also forced the county to cut drug diversion and mental health court programs and under the new filing standards, you can get busted with up to 3 grams of cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine, 20 ecstasy pills, 50 prescription pills, 100 grams of pot or 12 plants and walk away with a gross misdemeanor. Remember, kids: drug dealing is recession proof.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg says about 1,500 drug cases will end up in King County District Court. Is King County finally easing up on drug crime? "Those are decisions I get to make about what our priorities are," Satterberg says. "I think in any evaluation of the work that we do, those cases are going to come out toward the bottom of our priority list. We can achieve significant budget savings but I think it’s...a defensible public policy as well."
Defensible public policy? Sound like King County is giving permission to potheads to start their own grow-ops.
On the other hand, even if you do end up in court, there's still an off chance that KC could screw up and leave you in jail longer than they're allowed to.
The county will soon require employees to take 10-day furloughs (i.e., unpaid vacations), but the prosecutor's office is still going to have to maintain a skeleton crew.
"There’ll still be skeletal operations during the furlough days but that might be 5 percent of the office handling the rush file cases and to do the arraignment calendars and the juvenile stuff," Satterberg says.
"We’re feeling the pinch right now," Satterberg says. "We have taken a 27 [full-time employee] cut. You can’t do everything well when you’re cutting 11 percent out of your budget."