It was a solid consensus among community members at tonight’s East Precinct Crime Prevention Coalition meeting: the city’s Drug Market Initiative seems to be making a difference at 23rd & Union.
As we exclusively reported back in June, the program is designed to take drug dealers off the street with a deal: work with the community to turn around and stop pushing drugs, or else face the full brunt of the law.
The intersection at 23rd & Union has had long-term problems, and over that time a lot of the residents in the area have become the most frequent attendees of the precinct’s monthly crime meeting. Each of them commented tonight that there’s been a major transformation in the last several weeks, with fewer drug deals, less loitering, and overall a safer feeling in the area.
For example, two neighbors said that they’re now able to walk to the post office and back and feel completely safe. Another said that the improvement has spread up the hill to 21st and Union, describing it as having had a “wonderful effect” up at that intersection. A third said that while he has still seen the occasional drug deal, the volume and traffic in the area is much improved.
While the program may be making a difference on the street, it’s less clear whether it will have a positive long-term impact on the lives of its participants. Jonah has a great story on the SLOG today (update: more coverage at the Seattle Times) covering that angle, including the news that three additional participants have been arrested and are now facing serious drug charges. Additionally, he quotes Kay Godefroy of the Seattle Neighborhood Group, who says that other participants are not taking full advantage of the drug treatment options and other social services that have been made available to them.
But Tienny Milnor, deputy prosecutor for the city and a key organizer of the program, said tonight that the overall goal is to dismantle the open-air drug market along 23rd. If that happens, the program will be considered a success, regardless of the personal outcome of individual participants.
The path forward is less clear if the program doesn’t achieve that goal. The list of eighteen participants in the program was built using an unsually heavy application of police resources, including a lot of narcotics detectives that built the detailed cases needed to coerce the dealers to join the program. But while normal patrol officers are still keeping tabs on the area, those centralized investigative resources have been spread back around the city, opening a chance for other dealers to take the place of those who have been removed from the street. Additionally, Milnor says that there are no plans for any new lists of participants or additional community call-ins in the future.
Seattle Police Director John Hayes said tonight that expansion of the DMI program to other neighborhoods is under consideration, but no decisions have been made. Continued positive progress here in the Central District is the key thing that they’re keeping an eye on before it could be tried elsewhere.
Police leaders stress that community participation is key for the program to continue to make improvements. They urge everyone to keep an eye out for drug activity and to call 911 if they see it happening. SPD will continue to put a priority on those calls and will try to prevent new problems from popping up within the 23rd avenue corridor.