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With rising gun violence, south King County mayors ask to pause criminal diversion program

Restorative Community Pathways was implemented in November, but mayors worry it's too lenient on some serious crimes.

FEDERAL WAY, Wash. — Mayors of Kent, Auburn, Federal Way and Renton are concerned over a new King County diversion program out of the prosecuting attorney's Office. 

The mayors argue the program doesn't prosecute some felony crimes, and with rising gun violence, they're asking the county to pause the program for further discussion. 

"Instead of trying to meet the cities halfway, the King County prosecutor's office is running in the opposite direction. It's an outrageous breach of public trust," said Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell. 

Restorative Community Pathways (RCP) was implemented in November. It's a diversion program for some first-time criminal offenders. Instead of court, some people who've committed a crime could stand before a nonprofit community panel, which will decide how to hold them accountable for their crime. 

The goal is to keep people charged with their first felony offense out of the legal system and provide them with a support plan. 

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RCP was approved unanimously by the King County Council last year. But the mayors, including Ferrell a former King County prosecutor himself, worry it's too lenient on some serious crimes.

"One of the things that we've been very concerned about is guns at schools. We have had six guns taken off students in Federal Way high schools this school year already. So, the inclusion of unlawful possession of a firearm in the second degree and unlawful display of a weapon was alarming," said Ferrell. 

The mayors were aware of the program, but Ferrell said they weren't given a full list of the eligible crimes until an educational PowerPoint from the county was shown to law enforcement and forwarded to Ferrell's office. The presentation lists RCP eligible crimes, which include felony harassment, assault in the third degree, assault in the fourth degree, residential burglary and unlawful possession of a firearm in the second degree.

"None of this was ever run by us. None of this was ever approved by any of the cities," said Ferrell. 

The group of mayors issued a letter last week asking for the program to be placed on pause for further discussion. The letter said the mayors want to find a balance "between restorative justice and the safety of our communities."

Ferrell thinks a solution is to remove about five of the crimes currently eligible for RCP. 

"We're certainly not in the battle with [the mayors]," said Casey McNerthney, spokesperson for the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, "We want to make sure the mayors feel comfortable with understanding the work that's gone into creating this program." 

The King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office has no intensions of pausing the program or making any immediate changes. McNerthney said the office is working to provide more context to the mayors and continue discussions in hopes of easing concerns. 

"I think when people look at the steps of how they evaluate this and what has gone into it, the scary part of it will be replaced by the reassurance that people are paying attention and being very thoughtful about it," said McNertheny.