Pete Holmes Isn't The Only One Easing Up on Drugs in Seattle

By Jonah Spangenthal-Lee January 25, 2010

By now you've probably heard that City Attorney Pete Holmes has effectively legalized pot possession in Seattle and has already begun the process of reviewing and dropping cases filed under former City Attorney Tom Carr's regime.

Holmes certainly deserves all of the good press that's been heaped upon him, but it appears he isn't the only one easing up on drugs in Seattle.

Data obtained through a public disclosure request shows drug arrests in Seattle dropped nearly 40% last year.

SPD records show that between January and November 2008, Seattle police made 2,425 arrests for drug related offenses. Last year, that number dropped to 1,479 over the same period.

While Initiative 75 forced police to deprioritize marijuana-related offenses, the numbers would indicate that police are giving citizens a pass on more than just pot.

The department's official line is that they're still very much anti-drug. "Narcotics violations are still against the law," says SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb. "When we come across them we take appropriate enforcement action."

From talking to officers on the street, Whitcomb is right. Police are taking "appropriate enforcement action." But that's because officers are being given more leeway to decide what they think is an appropriate way to handle drug crime.

I've personally witnessed one officer take a crack pipe away from a man smoking on the street and given him a stern talking to before sending him on his way. Could the officer have arrested the man? Absolutely. But doing so would've taken the officer off the street while he processed the suspect and wrote up a report.

While the department's struggling with understaffing issues, it's not always prudent for police to make an arrest for every little offense.

As SPD brings on more cops in the next few years, it's likely arrest rates will increase accordingly. But hopefully someone at the top of the department—maybe even the new chief—understands that police have bigger fish to fry, and continues to allow officers to use their discretion.

Filed under
Show Comments