By Associated Press - Thursday, September 17, 2020

SEATTLE (AP) - King County Executive Dow Constantine in Seattle this week proposed several initiatives that would reduce funding to the county Sheriff’s Office, shift resources from the traditional criminal system toward community-based alternatives and move away from longstanding fare enforcement on buses.

His pitch Wednesday brought immediate pushback from Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht, whose office said she was not consulted, The Seattle Times reported.

The proposals are part of the biennial budget that Constantine will present next week and were spurred by months of protests against police violence and systemic racism that have dominated the nation this summer. And they come as the coronavirus pandemic has forced cutbacks across most branches of county government.

“We have a system that is wildly racially disproportionate, and it’s disproportionate despite what Fox News will tell you, because Black and brown people are treated differently throughout our society, including by every element of the criminal and legal system,” Constantine said.

Almost all the proposals will require the OK from the Metropolitan King County Council, which will review Constantine’s budget this fall.

Constantine is proposing cutting $4.6 million in funding that the Sheriff’s Office receives from tax on retail marijuana sales. That money would be used instead to help people vacate old marijuana-related convictions and settle fines and fees.

Chase Gallagher, a Constantine spokesperson, said the Sheriff’s Office was consulted, although the sheriff disagrees.

More savings will come from continuing to limit the county’s jail population, Constantine said. The number of jailed adults dropped from about 1,900 before the coronavirus pandemic to about 1,300 now, according to the county.

Earlier this year, Constantine said the county would repurpose its new youth jail by 2025 and close the adult jail in Seattle at an undetermined point in the future.

The county will launch new restorative justice programs, for both adult and youth offenders, aimed at keeping people out of the criminal judicial system.

A $6.2 million program called “Restorative Community Pathways” would refer up to 800 young people, by 2023, to community-based services already established locally.

An additional $2.7 million investment would divert about 1,000 first-time, nonviolent adult offenders from the judicial system. It would be the county’s first diversion program in this form for felony offenders, said Anita Khandelwal, director of the King County Public Defender’s office.

Marlon Brown, a board member of Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County, called the changes a first step.

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