‘This is not about arresting people:’ SPD rolls out enforcement of new drug possession ordinance

The Seattle Police Department said officers began enforcing the city’s new drug possession ordinance in downtown areas on Friday. 

At a 30-minute press conference, Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz said officers conducted an enforcement operation in the areas of 12th Avenue South and South Jackson Street in the Chinatown-International District, and also on 2nd 3rd, and Pike, Pine Streets downtown.  

"People want to feel safe," Diaz said. "Our community wants to feel safe." 

The areas of patrol are well known for rampant public drug use. 

SPD said officers started with the distribution of flyers in multiple languages to people in the area, educating people on the ordinance and treatment programs. 

During the operation, Diaz said officers made 25 "contacts," and 13 of those people were referred and connected to a caseworker. Two people declined services and 10 other people were booked into the King County jail for charges ranging from drug possession with the intent to deliver, to possession of a stolen firearm. The arrests also included people with felony warrants including for rape, assault, and domestic violence. 

Diaz stressed this is not a "sweep" type operation but rather a type of community intervention. 

Watch the full press conference

"This is not about arresting people," he said. "We want to make sure that people are taking advantage of services. Right now, we know 13 people were referred to the case managers and that’s really what’s important to us." 

The police department said the ordinance is a "tool" for officers to use, adding officers will be "compassionate" in their approach, but will do what’s needed to ensure public safety. 

"We will continue with this type of outreach weekly," said Diaz. 

Previous coverage regarding Seattle's drug use ordinance:

The Seattle City Attorney's Office will handle all misdemeanor laws and will file all new drug ordinance violations that are referred by Seattle police. However, the ordinance does put a focus on diversion and connecting suspects with treatment programs and other services. 

People who spoke to FOX 13 said they hope this ordinance is helpful, but are weary of enforcement and its outcome. 

"I hope it gets people the help they need," said one man in the CID. 

"I’m glad that some people took advantage of the resources," said one woman, "but it’s systemic. The problem started with these folks a long time ago. Not today, when they got caught. It’s hard to tackle. I’m glad I’m not in charge." 

According to the ordinance, people arrested for violating the new drug ordinance are not eligible to be booked into the King County jail for that offense. They may be booked into jail if they have also committed a companion crime, such as burglary while possessing drugs.