High Priority Offender Program

High Priority Offender Program targets crime-drivers, career criminals

The Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office has launched its High Priority Offender Program (HPO), which aims to reduce crime by using data to identify and focus resources on chronic offenders.

As of June of 2016, 382 HPO offenders had been identified, arrested and charged with new felonies. Each of these offenders had previously been booked into the Pierce County Jail five or more times, and collectively were responsible for more than 2,000 felonies. As of May 2016, this new program has grown to include about 400 offenders. By focusing resources on this small percentage of chronic offenders, the office has already seen a decline in crime.

“We are making the community safer by focusing resources on the small percentage of criminals who are causing a large percentage of crimes,” said Prosecutor Mark Lindquist. “Similar programs have worked to reduce crime in other parts of the country, and I’m confident this program will reduce crime in Pierce County.”

Investigators in the Prosecutor’s Office’s Investigative Services Unit utilize police reports, information from the Department of Corrections, and other law enforcement databases to identify high priority offenders and classify them into three categories. “High-rate offenders” are considered the crime drivers, committing felonies regularly, and are currently the most active criminals in the county. “Persistent offenders” are often referred to as career criminals, and continue their criminal activities after being released from jail or prison. Lastly, “high-risk offenders” pose the most substantial risk to the community. They are identified as violent, and include Level III sex offenders and gang leaders.

“Identifying these offenders earlier in the process allows us to more effectively protect residents from future victimization,” said Prosecutor’s Office Investigator Gene Miller.

When a high priority offender is arrested for a new crime, the case is handled differently from the outset. The Prosecutor’s Office’s Investigative Services Unit assists deputy prosecutors in obtaining a full picture of the offender’s criminal history, including arrests, convictions, incarcerations, violations of court ordered supervision and active criminal investigations. Armed with this information, deputy prosecutors ask the judge to set higher bail at arraignment. As a result, high priority offenders are typically unable to secure bail and aren’t out on the streets committing more crimes while awaiting trial. Early results indicate that approximately 80% of high priority offenders are being held in jail prior to trial. The rate for non-priority offenders is approximately 25%.

Deputy prosecutors are holding these offenders accountable with longer prison sentences and, when appropriate, exceptional sentences beyond the standard range. More than 100 of these high priority offenders have been sentenced to prison with an average sentence double the state average.

“To maximize our effectiveness we need to work with the Prosecutor’s Office to focus on criminals who do the most damage and cause the public the most trouble,” said Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor. “Public safety is about making smart choices with all the resources we can muster.”

The supervisor of the HPO unit, Scott Peters, said “We are already seeing positive results for public safety.”

In addition to protecting the community and holding offenders accountable for their criminal behavior, the program aims to reduce costs for Pierce County taxpayers. The faster an offender’s case can be resolved, the faster the offender can be moved from the Pierce County Jail to the prison. Shortening the length of an offender’s stay at the jail reduces the financial burden on County taxpayers.