It’s been almost a year since we got the scoop on the city’s Drug Market Initiative, which focused police resources and community involvement to clean up the open-air drug sales in the area around 23rd & Union. Dealers were identified, cases were built against them, and they were given a choice: get help and stop dealing, or go to jail for a long time. More than a dozen dealers took them up on their offer and left the streets.
For about six months afterwards the comments from community members were glowing. Residents could walk to the post office without wading through crowds of users and dealers. Nearby streets that were once occupied at all hours were suddenly quiet.
But things began to take a turn last month, where residents at the East Precinct Crime Prevention Coalition meeting reported seeing an increase in activity around 24th & Union. And based on reports from tonight’s EPCPC meeting, the situation has only worsened since then.
A resident on Spring Street near 24th said that traffic is way up on that street at all hours, with people hiding out and doing deals behind the bushes. Other neighbors confirmed the increase, including reports of new issues around the post office parking lot.
Police Lt. Sean O’Donnell says that they are “well aware of it, and there are issues being worked.” Residents confirmed that, saying that they’ve seen a frequent police presence in the area.
Bob Hood, the former Director of the criminal division in the Seattle Attorney’s Office, has been described as one of the prime forces in launching the DMI program last year. We spoke to him at the meeting tonight, and he said that temporary setbacks have been seen in other cities where DMI has been tried. “When you think about how these things have happened in the past, big sweeps come through, everything calms down, and then it’s time to go back into business as it has been before.”
He says that the key is to maintain a strong relationship between the community and police, with open communication from residents about what they’re seeing on the street. Citing new statistics that show that 50% of area residents call 911 to report drug crimes, Hood said that “we’ve seen a great improvement, but we still have a lot of work to do. To really make the impact, the police need to know about it when it happens.”