Seattle Pilot Program Offers Treatment Not Arrest [FEATURE]

The Belltown neighborhood near downtown Seattle is a charming, vibrant urban locale, located just south of the city's landmark Space Needle. Filled with bars and cafes and desirable condos, it is a nighttime hot spot, but it is also a neighborhood where a relatively small number of problematic drug users have reduced the quality of life for residents and businesses alike. According to a recent study by the Seattle Police Department, some 50 people in Belltown were responsible for a whopping 2700 arrests.

4th Ave. & Wall St., Belltown neighborhood (Chas Redmond via wikimedia.org)
Now, instead of cycling those people through more endless -- and expensive -- rounds of arrest, prosecution, incarceration, and supervision, local officials and the Seattle Defender Association have embarked on an innovative pilot program in which beat officers will offer to take low-level, nonviolent drug offenders to drug treatment instead of arresting them, booking them into jail, and prosecuting them.

The pioneering program will allow officers the discretion to offer treatment to people charged with crimes such as public intoxication or drug possession, but not people with records of violence or those accused of dealing drugs. Offenders can decline the offer of treatment and instead be arrested and go through the criminal justice system.

Known as LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion), the pilot program is designed to improve public safety and order and reduce the criminal behavior of program participants. It is based on successful "arrest referral" programs that have been operating in the United Kingdom for the past several years. The program has strong support from local elected and law enforcement officials.

"We are looking for effective public safety solutions,” said Mayor Mike McGinn. "If drug dealing and crime could be solved by arrests alone, we would have solved this problem a couple thousand arrests ago. LEAD offers a promising alternative to traditional responses to street-level drug dealing, and we look forward to tracking its results in Belltown."

"We know that the issue of chemical dependency in our society cannot be solved by law enforcement alone. It is a complex social problem that requires a comprehensive social solution,” said Seattle Chief of Police John Diaz. "LEAD provides our front line police officers with the discretion necessary to ensure that treatment diversion is utilized as a viable alternative to incarceration."

"Sheriff Sue Rahr and her staff support the concepts that act as the basis for the LEAD program, and we look forward to our participation," said King County Sheriff Major James Graddon. "Respect, open communication and common goals among some historically adversarial groups have created a positive environment to move this program forward. Using the formal criminal justice system for all offenses is costly and has proven to not necessarily be the most effective way to impact future offender behavior."

Graddon was referring to strained relations dating back to the last decade between the Seattle Police and the Defender Association, a nonprofit agency that provides legal representation to indigent defendants. In a bid to reduce tensions and work together on the common goal of reducing the number of repeat offenders cycling through the system, the Defender Association and law enforcement began discussing possible responses to the continuing problem of drug-user generated low-level crime with back in 2008. The LEAD program, which rolled out in Belltown a month ago now and which will also be tried in the Skyway neighborhood of unincorporated King County, is the fruit of those discussions.

Mayor McGinn at LEAD program press conference (mayormcginn.seattle.gov)
Defender Association Deputy Director Lisa Daugaard has been a prime mover in getting the program going. Given that the state of Washington faces a $2 billion budget deficit and looming social service cuts, Daugaard managed to obtain $4 million in grants from private foundations, including the Open Society Institute and the Ford Foundation, to pay for four years worth of LEAD services, including not only drug treatment, but also job training, housing assistance, and educational opportunities.

"Now, because of the dismantling of the social safety net, these LEAD resources may be the only way that some people will be able to get treatment, housing, and other services," said Daugaard.

LEAD supporters hope that the by the end of the four-year pilot period, the program will be able to demonstrate that it can generate cost savings worthy of being picked up by state and local government. They aren't the only ones watching with interest. Stateline, a media outlet covering state government issues across the land, reported last week that Baltimore, New Orleans, Oakland, and the state of New Mexico have already expressed interest in the program.

As a pilot program, LEAD will undergo a rigorous evaluation to determine whether it has been a success. It that proves to be the case, it could be expanded in other Seattle and King County locales, officials said.

"The LEAD pilot has the potential to help people struggling with addiction and save public dollars at the same time," said King County Executive Dow Constantine. "We can work in partnership to replace a downward spiral toward jail with support and resources. Our families and neighborhoods are better off when those headed for the criminal justice system are instead given the opportunity to lead a fulfilling and productive life."

It won't take four years to see what kind of impact LEAD has on Belltown and Skyway. Within a matter of weeks or months, we should be able to see whether this experiment in smart policing is working and produces a model that can be adopted elsewhere.

Seattle, WA
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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drug users

Be careful.....so called DRUGS vary in type,uses,abuses , ethneogenetics. religion and control..If all u want to do is 'save 'money! chances r  u  r  on the wrong path

Criminalization of drug users

This alternative is an improvement to automatic arrest. But underneath this newfound leniency is the belief that the state must criminalize drug use.

When the drug war is over, the only people getting arrested will be criminals of robbery, rape, child abuse, etc. If any of the criminal suspects have drug problems, then that would be a good time for the state to leverage their treatment options while a prison sentence loomed.

To just bust someone for drug possession and force them into treatment or jail means that the crime is the drug. Once you see that, there is an obvious discord with the legality of alcohol, a drug that leads to many thousands of crimes annually and the illegality of most other drugs that by themselves rarely lead to crime.

stpnddg's picture

If you outlaw Drugs...?

Maybe you could use  Marijuana as a treatment for their "drug" addiction. That would SAVE  money all by itself.

Antidotes as antidrugs (and/or subtler highs as antidrugs)

I think a good regulatory framework for when drugs are legal would be to provide two things for consumers: 1)antidotes, and 2) variations of the same drugs in less potent forms and less potent forms of administration. 

For example, if crack cocaine was legal, consumers should also have the option of less concentrated crack cocaine (dilute it with something to an extreme degree, and sell all the potencies in between), to the point where you can smoke crack and it would be like half a cup of coffee, also provide powder cocaine in all the possible levels of potency, provide oral cocaine in all levels of potency, and provide coca in different forms and degrees potency. Also, plenty of other stimulants would be available, natural ones and pharmaceutical ones, in different forms and levels of potency. When it comes to crystal meth, there's plenty of other amphetamines available, like meth itself in pill form, adderall (which i think is dextroamphetamine or something sounding like it), and even plant based amphetamines like khat and ephedra. There should also be power drinks of all those different sorts (and only the very mild ones would be sold to children). Anyway, this seems potentially hazardous, and it is, but overall i think (and this I admit is a personal subjective philosophy not based on science), that the more alternatives you provide people with, the better decisions they will eventually make (emphasis, admittedly, on the word eventually. but still, even in the beginning, it could be no worse (different perhaps, but not worse), than adulterated drugs sold on the black market where people don't know what they're getting). 

                 Oh, and to add some examples, opium and all sorts of its derivatives all the way up to heroin, and all sorts of different kinds of pot.

The other part of this is the antidotes. To buy opiates you must also buy naloxone (in nasal spray), the antidote for opiate overdoses. You can keep it until it expires or you use it up, but you must show the cashier you have a certain amount of antidote left before he lets you buy the opiate. For cocaine and cocaine based products it is likely they will find an antidote if they put money into research. They already found that for low doses of cocaine, Precedex (a drug used for something else, i don't remember what), is an effective antidote. It seems likely that for high doses it does the same thing (with a correspondinlgy higher dose of precedex, i suppose), and that it should be able to stop an overdose. So again, if precedex is found to work, no one would be able to buy cocaine based products without showing the cashier that they have enough antidote left. 

For marijuana there isn't an antidote, and obviously, there doesn't have to be because it's not going to kill anyone. There is an analogous thing, though: high cbd, low thc strains. I've never tried this as i've never had access to high cbd strains, so i'm speculating here. This might not really work, but i'm throwing it out there because it seems likely to work and also because i want to know what other people think and if anyone has tried it. When it comes to marijuana having the "antidote" should not be mandatory for the consumer, but i do think that all coffeeshops should have it so that people can buy it if they want to (and to promote its use, assuming it works of course). For most people marijuana is not significantly harmful, but for those for whom it is, the problem is essentially bad trips. I've heard in several places that cbd modifies the effects of thc (or rather, they modify each other's effects, probably in combianation with a lot of other cannabinoids), but cbd by itself (in extracted pill form) has been shown to be anxiolitic and antipsychotic, thc is psychedelic and euphoric (and euphoria, as with many other drugs, can sometimes be replaced by anxiety or even panic) (i'm somewhat making this up but this is the way I THINK it works, i'm no cannabinnoid doctor). Strains that have higher cbd are less psychedelic but more relaxing and strains that have lower cbd and high thc are more psychedelic and euphoric, but can are also more likely to cause bad trips. People who are prone to bad trips should have, not only the option of buying buds that have higher cbds and/or lower thcs, but also have the possibility of buying strains that are actually higher in cbd than in thc (and we could have a whole sub-industry of people trying to grow the highest cbd, lowest thc stuff). This would not get anyone high as far as i understand, but it would be great for the more vulnerable ones among us, because it would provide us with a sort of antidote to bad trips. If you know you're vulnerable (as i used to be; i hardly ever smoke pot anymore because of it), you could buy the high cbd stuff and have it handy, get high on the high thc stuff, and if so necessary, smoke the high cbd stuff, thereby modifying the effects, eliminating the bad trip, and averting mental illness. 

I think drug use is all about culture, and the anti-drug should become part of the culture so as to have harm reduction embedded into drug use itself. It would be the best way for society to manage drug use. The perfect anti-drugs are the antidotes and the lower potency stuff.

re: criminalization vs. regulation

Why are we allowing police input/intervention in drug policy?  That form of intervention has dismally failed.  Law enforcement has no understanding of pharmacology and don't want to become informed, mostly. When do we require the people who understand pharmacology, the effect of chemicals on the human body, regulate drugs.  Or is that too sane an approach?  Historically we have allowed input from TX providers promoting a religious 12 step approach, police who want to punish users, a prison/industrial structure intent on making money and no doctors or pharmacists.  When will we take a pragmatic look at the issue, criticize and dismiss the current failed drug policy and replace it with effective, humane approaches?  

In other words, fuck the police!  

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