In a move acknowledging that the city cannot arrest its way out of a drug problem, the Seattle Police Department, King County Prosecutors, and the City Attorney's office have announced plans for a new drug diversion program to take 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 arresting and jailing them.
According to a release from the city attorney's office, the DMI will begin in the 23rd Avenue corridor in the Central District, focusing on open-air drug markets in the neighborhood. The city hasn't released all of the details of the plan, but so far it seems to involve getting dealers' families, community members, and non-profits to take part in interventions.
Strangely, the announcement came through city attorney Tom Carr's office—strange because all drug-dealing cases end up in King County Superior Court rather than municipal court. It's unclear whether the city prosecutor will actually play a large role in this initiative, or whether Carr is simply attaching his name to a headline-grabbing project during election season. Carr has never been particularly soft on drugs; after the total number of marijuana arrests began to drop following the passage of I-75 in 2003, making pot the lowest law-enforcement priority, Carr began to prosecute a higher percentage of marijuana cases referred to the city attorney's office by SPD. However, Carr has reversed his position on other issues before.
The city is holding a press conference later this morning to provide more details on the plan. Police have apparently already identified drug dealers and users who will be eligible for the program through undercover drug buys surveillance conducted in the Central District.
In an interview with The Stranger in June, Interim Police Chief John Diaz voiced some reservations about the practicalities and politics of running a drug diversion program. "I think we all agree there has to be a better way to deal with that [low level drug dealers]," he said. "The concerns I have on that are there are a fair amount of people that say police in general have too much discretion and too much power. That’s putting an awful lot of decision making on [SPD] and I don’t know if that’s a good thing. The devil’s in the details."