West Seattle Crime Prevention Council: Drug Diversion Court spotlighted; holiday crimefighting plans

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Seattle Police plan a crackdown on holiday crime, with the help of an extra overtime allotment.

So reported Southwest Precinct Operations Lt. Pierre Davis during his briefing at the start of this month’s West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meeting.

In addition to Q/A with Lt. Davis, the meeting included an SPD narcotics detective and King County Drug Diversion Court manager explaining how that program works to try to stop the cycle of crime by addicts who are in and out of court and jail as they just keep stealing to pay for their habit.

First, the holiday-crime crackdown. “Lots of foot beats for the holidays” in potential trouble spots – The Junction, Westwood Village, etc. – said Lt. Davis, elaborating on something he and precinct commander Capt. Joe Kessler had brought up when briefing the Alki Community Council last month – the allocation of more overtime so they can use it for patrols – money he said “we’re hoping to stretch out to the end of the year, for as much crime-deterrent visibility as possible.

As for overall current crime trends – no new revelations. Lt. Davis once again hammered on the theme of encouraging community members to report anything and everything in hopes of getting crooks off the street, considering that, as he put it: “They strike when the opportunity is golden, and sometimes the opportunity is grand.” He also exhorted community members to report ALL crimes (all the way down to car prowls in which nothing was taken) – he says police still believe some are not being reported. So call 911, and don’t be daunted by dispatchers’ pointed questions as they do their job – be ready with as much suspect information (if applicable) as you can offer. “We really do need to get that information out there.” He stressed repeatedly, if you don’t tell police about trouble spots, they don’t know, so: “If you see something, say something.”

The burglary and car prowl trends go up and down; “auto theft, same thing,” said Lt. Davis, “all depends on who’s in and who’s out of jail – often we catch the (suspects) but it’s very very difficult for us to keep them in jail,” the way the justice system works (or doesn’t). “We’re working very hard to get them the type of time they truly deserve.” With juvenile suspects, he said, it’s tougher to keep them in – they’re not held for very long, under current laws. (The most recent SPD crime stats are for August – we published a brief breakdown/comparison here.)

Disappointment in the justice system also came up during this meeting’s Q/A, which also touched on issues ranging from response times to crashes (if they’re not major, it depends on what else officers have on their plate at the time), to the rationale behind school-zone cameras and other zones’ radar-camera signboards, both of which Lt. Davis defended as life-savers.

Also from Q/A: No new information on the 28th/Roxbury assault reported here on Monday night, said Lt. Davis, nor on the stabbings in the Westwood Village area, nor on the West Marginal crash death over the weekend.

And he wrapped up with a reminder about Drug Takeback Day at the precinct on October 26th.

Speaking of drugs …

Det. David Doucett, a narcotics detective with SPD and veteran law enforcer, was one of the featured guests focusing on the King County Drug Diversion Court. He went into background of how it came to be – addicts would get arrested, no treatment, would get back out, get back to using, and then get back to crime to pay for their habit, and the cycle would resume.

Then in 1994, then-King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng, hailed by Det. Doucett as “visionary,” created the county’s Drug Diversion Court. “Instead of completing this cycle, we would try to intervene with treatment.” That would require some incentive, to say the least – such as, you go to prison for five to 10 years, or accept treatment.

He went into some of how it works – those who slip up in the program go into jail for a while “to get a taste of what they would be facing otherwise”; the program also offers tools to help the addict, for example, methadone for heroin addicts. There’s also required urinalysis, for example. If participants don’t show up for court hearings or other requirements – “I’m going to find you – and I’m really, really good at finding people” – he gave one example, of someone he had to go up to Oak Harbor to find (but he did find them).

In a current case, he said, he’s working to make sure that one person’s “gang membership doesn’t get in the way of his treatment.”

Do you go after the dealers, too? the detective was asked. Right now, in fact, he said, that’s the focus of what they are doing. “The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office says in order to get into Drug Court, you either have to have a high number of (arrest/conviction) points or 3 to 6 grams of drugs.”

For more about how it works once a defendant is in the system, Tom Essex from Drug Diversion Court picked up the presentation.

An opiate addict needs a “fix” every four to six hours, for example, he explained. And that’s why they are such prolific thieves – they have to get money and go get more drugs. And that’s why treatment can reduce crime. “These guys are constantly figuring out how they’re going to feed their habit.”

“Drug courts do work – I’m not going to give you a bunch of statistics ’cause you can look that up yourself,” he said. But candidates have to have no violence or sex-offender crimes in their history, he noted. It means a minimum 10-month commitment. The urine samples are twice a week, observed, and administered randomly.

Drug Court has two hearing times daily – about 20 people in the morning, 20 in the afternoon. “We use Drug Court as theater,” he explained. And they have to have a conversation with the defendant about how it’s going. It’s not “hug a thug,” he said – it’s people agreeing that they are guilty and waiving their right to a jury trial because if they make it through the program, the felony charge will be dismissed; if they don’t, they’re off straight to prison.

He explained the expectations – tell the truth (“difficult for addicts, but they CAN do it”), for example, show up for the urinalysis, etc., and if there is a mistake, they get put behind bars for one to three days (short enough to keep them from getting comfortable.

The ten months (minimum) are broken into three phases. They have rewards for participants who are doing well – show up, full compliance – they get to the head of the line at court check-ins, even coffee cards.

He offered volumes of information – including how they can detect if somebody is trying to cheat on their urine tests (from temperature to levels of certain non-drug substances), how there’s a “chain of custody” for samples, how offenders are observed when they give samples, etc. And he acknowledges there are “tons of drugs in jail.”

The two types of people who don’t do well with Drug Court are people with traumatic brain injury and paranoid schizophrenics, Essex said – it’s just too rigorous. “Other than that, we actually look for the biggest and baddest – we screen everybody coming into the program for criminogenic risk and prognostic need.”

Essex also discussed some of the drugs used for addicts – from methadone to Narcan (which “peels off all the opiate receptors and puts them into immediate withdrawal”) to Antabuse.

The immediate goal: Become clean and sober. “As they progress in the program, we start raising our expectations – the longer they’re in the program, the more we expect of them.”

Do you think it’s working? Det. Doucett was asked. His reply: Yes.

The next West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meeting on November 19th will focus on traffic/transportation safety with Jim Curtin from SDOT.

4 Replies to "West Seattle Crime Prevention Council: Drug Diversion Court spotlighted; holiday crimefighting plans"

  • ACG October 17, 2013 (12:41 pm)

    How many times can a criminal go through this program? If a person makes it through and gets the felony waived, and then falls back into the addict/crime pattern again, can they go through the program again for another opportunity for the felony to be waived again?

  • D I D October 17, 2013 (2:06 pm)

    Thanks WSB for great reporting on how drug court works, and that according to the detective, it is actually working.

  • wscommuter October 17, 2013 (5:20 pm)

    Unless extraordinary circumstances, an offender gets one chance to go into the program. While in the program, they may get a “second chance” to not be kicked out for a dirty UA, but if they are kicked out – or complete the program and graduate with a dismissed felony, then that person will not get into the program again. The only exception is if the prosecutor and judge both agree to give an offender that opportunity. This is exceptionally rare.

  • Nick October 18, 2013 (6:17 am)

    Drug courts don’t work. The courts should be fully taken out of the process. Treatment should be handled by health officials for users. Drug courts are a joke if we were serious about helping people we should implement something similar to what is being done in Portugal which actually works.

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