The Seattle Police Department, the King County Sheriff's Office, Seattle and King County prosecuting attorneys, the Defender's Association, the ACLU, local drug treatment centers, and downtown business and community advocates all agree: Continuously arresting and prosecuting low-level drug dealers, addicts, and prostitutes hasn't eliminated open-air drug markets or made Seattle streets any safer.
"One million people have been 'contacted' in downtown Seattle by SPD and King County deputies since 1999," said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Leslie Miller at a press conference this morning. Miller explained that only 2,800 people account for those million arrests. "It’s a revolving door. Communities get mad that they’re not seeing results—the results [will come from] alternatives to incarceration."
KC Prosecutor Dan Satterberg: "You can force people to change. You can create the situation for change to occur and you can force that change."
And so on October 1, the city launched a collaborative new approach to dealing with low-level offenders. Called the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, it gives Seattle police officers the power to offer select low-level offenders they routinely arrest a choice: Jail or treatment. A chance to break the destructive, expensive cycle of arrest and incarceration.
"The LEAD program will give officers on the street the option to drive past the jail, past the courthouse, to treatment," explained King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. "We believe now that drug treatment works, even if the original motivation for someone entering is simply avoiding incarceration."
In general, the pre-booking diversion program will accommodate between 100-120 individuals annually who don't have a violent criminal history and who aren't profit-driven drug dealers (i.e. people who clearly addicted to drugs and are most likely dealing drugs to pay for their own addiction).
Lisa Daugaard: "People living a miserable existence have the opportunity to live a better life for themselves and their neighbors."
These people will be ushered into intervention programs designed by case managers from Evergreen Treatment Services, where they'll be offered the tools to make a better life for themselves—education opportunities, housing assistance, job training, and mental health and drug counseling, among other things. "A win would be changing a landscape that looks intractable," said Lisa Daugaard, the Deputy Director of the non-profit Defender Association, who has long championed the LEAD program. "The approach we’ve taken to date is the single most expensive way to address the problem—and it hasn't worked. It's time for a new approach."
The $950,000-a-year, privately-funded program will operate exclusively in Belltown over the next four years. The city will evaluate the program's effectiveness after two years. If it turns out to be as successful as the UK programs it mimics, "We’ll be able to expand it to other neighborhoods," says Mayor Mike McGinn.