In a stunning move by the city, and an acknowledgment that we cannot arrest our way out of a drug problem, the Seattle Police Department, King County prosecutors, and the city attorney's office have announced plans for a program to get street dealing out of Seattle's neighborhoods.
The Drug Market Initiative (DMI), based on a program in High Point, North Carolina, aims to provide social services to low-level street dealers, instead of simply arresting and jailing them. The program will focus on the 23rd Avenue corridor in the Central District, home to several open-air drug markets.
On August 6, the city held its first intervention, inviting 18 street dealers—along with their families, community members, and nonprofit groups—to the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center in the Central District to talk about the impact their dealing has had on the neighborhood. Dealers were presented with evidence collected against them during buy busts and video surveillance over the last few months, and they were told they could either quit dealing or go to jail.
While police and neighbors say dealers were generally receptive to the program and offer of services, prosecutors could file charges against two of the participants later this week. Of the 18 dealers offered clemency through the DMI, one failed to show up to the intervention and another was busted for dealing the next day.
If the program goes well, the city says it will survey neighbors in the next three or four months and look at expanding it to other neighborhoods in Seattle affected by the drug trade.