(The Center Square) – Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell is issuing a new executive order that reiterates a treatment-first approach when it comes to the city’s law against the public use and possession of drugs.
Last week, the Seattle City Council passed a drug possession bill that makes the use or possession of controlled substances in a public place a gross misdemeanor. The legislation emphasizes jail diversion as the preferred approach when enforcing laws against the public use and possession of drugs.
Harrell’s office had already signaled its expectation that Seattle police officers offer diversion services when approaching suspects in such cases. The mayor’s executive order provides direction to police officers on how to enforce the ordinance and identify circumstances that do not warrant arrest but where officers can still play a constructive role.
The executive order includes examples of how public use and possession can be established and factors that will guide the threat of harm assessment. The order’s definition of harm pertains to the impact drug use has on other people sharing public spaces.
Areas within the city identified as having a high likelihood of the presence of other community members and where the use of controlled substances impacts public safety and security are identified in the order as well.
Council Bill 120645 takes effect in October. Along with designating jail diversion and treatment as the preferred approach to addressing public drug use, the legislation also defines the harm assessment in the same way as Harrell’s latest executive order.
“The passage of [Council Bill 120645] anticipated the issuance of an executive order to give direction to city department and employees on how to effectively, safely, and professionally implement that law,” the executive order states.
Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz said the department appreciates the executive order’s guidance and is ready to implement policy and training that is consistent with the terms of the ordinance.
“We are committed to ensuring that enforcement efforts are equitable, treatment-focused, and evidence-based, but which also provides communities some respite from the chronic public harm that both the ordinance and the executive order acknowledge,” Diaz said in a statement.
The city’s Fentanyl Systems Work Group is working on improving how the criminal legal system interacts with people who suffer from drug addiction. The work group will assess the diversion and treatment systems and evaluate a potential successor to community court.
The Seattle City Auditor’s Office is also engaging in an audit to assess best practices for public safety in terms of open drug use.