Clallam prosecutor: Case clearance, data are goals for 2024

After adding staff in 2023, Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols says he has several goals he wants accomplished in the coming year.

“I’m pleased to report the four vacancies that we’ve had for some time are now down to two,” Nichols said, speaking to a meeting of the Port Angeles Business Association in December.

“I expect that we’ll see probably an increase in filing activity and the general pace of work in the district court environment starting in 2024,” Nichols said.

The criminal justice system is a slow process even with a fully staffed office, Nichols said, but with the new attorneys, it’s hoped cases can be prosecuted in a more timely manner.

“We’ll be making a few changes with the addition of some new staff to see if we can speed things up a bit and maintain service levels at the highest level possible,” Nichols said. “My goal as your elected prosecutor is to ensure that we continue prosecuting crimes from the low level and all the way up to high level.”

Nichols also hopes to increase the efficiency of the coroner’s office.

In Clallam County, the prosecuting attorney also serves as the coroner, and Nichols said county commissioners have supported a funding request to start building out a coroner division within the attorney’s office.

Clallam County is the largest county in the state population-wise that still has the coroner within the prosecuting attorney’s office, Nichols said, and two forensic death investigators have been added within the past two years.

The coroner’s office uses the professional autopsy facilities in Thurston County for its examinations, but that requires the deceased in the county to be transported there. Currently, that job is done by contracting with local funeral homes, but Nichols said he hopes to have the coroner’s office be able to transport bodies, hopefully reducing the time it takes to complete an autopsy.

“One of the things we’ll be doing is working to outfit a vehicle that will allow us to actually conduct those transports ourselves, speed up the entire process, I think significantly in many cases, probably at a cost savings to the county at the same time,” Nichols said.

The coroner’s office has already begun the process of receiving accreditation from the state, a multi-year process, and in 2024 Nichols said his office will begin that process in earnest.

The county is also in the process of obtaining body cameras for its law enforcement and is still in the process of figuring out how much labor managing all the footage is going to take.

“What many people don’t know is that all of that footage ends up being downloaded and sent to the county prosecutor’s office, where we have to review it all,” Nichols said.

Nichols said he also wants to set up a better information dashboard for the county which will provide crime statistics to the public in an easily accessible way.

Crime data is currently available from the prosecuting attorney’s website, but the dashboard is “fairly primitive,” Nichols said.

“I’ve been working with the (county) IT director to ask the question of whether there’s the ability to have something more interactive that allows for citizens a deeper dive into the work of the office,” Nichols said.

Ideally, the county would emulate the dashboard created in King County, which allows statistics to be compiled in various ways by the public.

“I think from a transparency perspective, it is absolutely vital, especially in relation to the operation of the criminal justice system, that these sorts of resources exist for people because so much of what we do is just a mystery,” Nichols said.