Monday, August 10, 2009

Seattle Tries Unusual Drug Strategy

Last week, Seattle Police contact a group of small-volume drug dealers.  The cops had plenty of evidence to successfully prosecute the dealers, but the contact didn’t include arrests.  Instead, the repeat offenders and known small-volume dealers were invited to a community meeting.  That’s right, they were invited to a community meeting, and no arrests were made.  Instead, Seattle police and county prosecutors held a community drug impact meeting and asked the dealers to remain after the public meeting broke up.  In a nearly unique approach (I know of only one other example, in North Carolina, where it has worked well for a couple years now by all accounts), the law enforcement officials outlined for the dealers what they were proposing.  The deal:  you guys quit dealing now, and we will not prosecute you.

Crack cocaine bags

Eighteen dealers attended the meeting and it sounds more like a Rotary meeting than a get-together of drug dealers.  City Attorney Tom Car said that the attendees were networking, getting contact information from each other, police and county prosecutors.  “They were in a kind of shock”, he said, and the frustrations that police have had with constantly re-arresting the same small-volume guys seemed at times to be a kind of drug-dealer Whack'-a-mole.

The attendees were informed of the evidence against them, but were told that if they stopped the dealing now, they would not be prosecuted.  Police are not making the same offer to big-time drug sources, but for the small-volume guys it amounts to one free pass.  The community presence at the first part of the meeting serves a purpose as well:  it lets the dealers know that the community has tired of their activity and will not be so ready to look the other way in the future.  It is a type of peer pressure that seemed to make an impression.  Police also provided drug treatment counselors and resources after the meeting in an effort to make it as easy as possible for the small-volume dealers to make a break with their past.

If the project is successful in the Central District indications are that it will be rolled out in other parts of Seattle.  The real question is, how long will this work?  So far, it has worked for a couple years in North Carolina.  Seattle is yet to be determined. 

Seattle Times

King 5 TV

Seattle P-I

My Northwest News



Leah said...

Huh. That is interesting. I'm skeptical, but we'll see.

My personal favorite is when the dealers are telephoned and told that they have won a prize of some kind and need to report to a certain place at a certain time to receive it. Of course, this certain place is usually a bunch of cops sitting around a room or a gym, handcuffs ready. I've seen it on tv (yeah, probably COPS) and some of the guys just end up laughing at themselves for being so stupid. Other run of course. But it's still pretty funny!

- Leah

Michael Burt said...

"I won't be selling drugs again", or what day is it?

from the Seattle PI Crime blog:


Friday afternoon, Gerald Allen Cowles was thankful for his wake-up call.

The day before, he and 15 others who police labeled as low-risk drug dealers were at an intervention-type meeting and offered a deal Seattle police and prosecutors had never made: Stop dealing drugs and we won't file our cases against you.

The police showed they really cared, Cowles told a television reporter. Asked if he would be out selling drugs again, the man who court documents show had 40 warrants in the past two decades said no.

"It's not beneficial, it's not healthy and it is dangerous," he told KING/5, using an alias.

But Friday evening, prosecutors say Cowles was near the corner of 23rd Avenue South and South Jackson Street using drug paraphernalia while exchanging and smoking cocaine.

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