By Janine Unsoeld
To potentially thwart the activity of drug dealers in downtown Olympia, a proposed drug-free zone ordinance passed the city’s Land Use and Environment committee on February 20 and will now go to the full council.
It has not yet been scheduled to be heard by the city council as of this week.
The draft ordinance designates five civic centers located in downtown Olympia and the area within 1000 feet of the perimeter of each civic center as drug-free zones.
These civic centers include the Hands-On Children’s Museum on Adams Street, the Washington Center on Washington Street, the Olympia Center on Columbia Street, Olympia City Hall on Fourth Avenue, and the Olympia Timberland Library on Eighth Avenue. A map indicating the areas shows that the downtown core of Olympia is covered.
The draft ordinance, states, “…there is an increase in the consumption of illegal felony drugs, including methamphetamine and heroin….Drug-free zones will permit a potential enhanced sentence if a person is convicted of a felony drug offense in violation of 59.50.401, 69.50.410, and 69.50.204, excluding marijuana leaves and flowering tops….”
The creation of the draft ordinance was a joint decision made between multiple agencies and departments within the city.
The police department worked with the city prosecutor, the Thurston County prosecutor, the Thurston County Sheriff, the city manager’s office, the Community Planning & Development department, the Parks department, and the Public Works department.
The top five reasons for arrests downtown in 2013 in descending order, are outstanding warrants, drinking in public, trespassing, assault, and narcotics, says Amy Stull, senior program specialist for police community programs at the Olympia Police Department.
Roberts and Tunheim Address Proposed Ordinance
Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts and Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim explained the proposed ordinance in a brief presentation to the committee.
“State law allows this designation….It certainly is not the solution. We can’t arrest our way out…but it does allow us to identify those repeat offenders and refer those cases….All these areas are where we’ve had a considerable number of calls,” said Chief Roberts.
The proposed ordinance uses current statute language and does not take the passage of I-522 into consideration. “The marijuana discussion is different,” said Tunheim.
Tunheim said his office would use the designation as a strategy, and is a collaborative effort with other agencies. “It has a valuable role, and is really consistent with the ongoing efforts of the Olympia Police Department and all law enforcement leaders of the community with a more regional approach….I want to stress it’s not our intention to go on an all-out enforcement effort and jail everyone we can….It’s about the prosecution of drug dealers and the ability to address the chronic offenders with some enhanced sentence.”
Tunheim said that with an arrest for a felony drug case, the offender could go to the state prison system if the sentence exceeds one year, or it could get handled on a county level. “The enhanced sentence automatically kicks us into that conversation for treatment options, through the Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA) or Drug Court.”
The Thurston County Superior Court Drug Court is a 12 – 18 month treatment program, but not everyone is eligible to participant.
Tunheim said, “Coerced drug treatment can be as effective as voluntary treatment, and that’s a shift of what we’ve known before….The more leverage you put on the table, the greater chance they can get treatment. Make no mistake - dealers are in it for the money. That’s what they’re motivated by.”
Roberts and Tunheim would like a map of the ordinance area to be part of the ordinance. “Admitting it into evidence makes it easier for us, so we can say, ‘here’s the zone, here’s where the deal happened.’”
Tunheim added that the prosecution doesn’t have to prove that the offender knew it was a drug-free zone and says a dealer is defined as someone who possesses drugs and paraphernalia with intent to deliver. Evidence could include packaging, materials for the purpose of redistribution, scales, notes, records, multiple packages of all the same weight, and the presence of drugs.
“There is no automatic threshold – it’s just the totality of evidence,” said Tunheim.
Tunheim said he plans to ask the court to restrict the offender’s ability to come into downtown. “If the court puts that in place and a law enforcement officer knows they have that order, then they will be in violation of a court order, and the officer can engage that person and make an arrest.”
The specifics of an exclusion order will be addressed at the time the order is issued by the court, said Chief Roberts, when asked later by Little Hollywood.
Asked if there is capacity to hold additional offenders, Tunheim said yes. “Yes, we have capacity. We have for quite awhile. We face this challenge of people not looking at a lengthy sentence for a felony…they serve time, get out, and do it again. It’s tougher for us to push people into treatment….The Drug Court has their own treatment staff. There is capacity. In the county overall, outside the criminal justice system, for detox and drugs, there is a lack of capacity.”
Felony offenses are already illegal in parks so drug-free zone signs will not need to be placed in parks such as Heritage Park or Sylvester Park, which are governed by the state. It is expected one sign per city facility would be sufficient notice.
“The signs will send a message to the community that we’re taking this serious, that we’re cracking down,” said Councilmember Jeannine Roe.
Councilmember Langer said he would like to get the word out to the Tacoma community that dealers are not welcome in Olympia. Roberts and Tunheim said there are already collaborative efforts underway with the City of Tacoma Narcotics Task Force.
Connie Lorenz, executive director of the Olympia Downtown Association, asked about the Olympia Farmer’s Market. Roberts admitted that the market is not included in the zone and is a point of contention in discussions. “I was concerned with going too far. It is city property….the city attorney will have to weigh in.”
Councilmember Steve Langer invited public comment during the meeting, and community member Monica Hoover said that the proposed ordinance criminalizes poverty.She followed up her comments with a letter to the council, saying in part, “I have no faith that the prison system contains solutions for the vast majority of the problems we are facing in society. They are mostly part of the problem that drains resources away from what people really need.
“The United States has the highest incarceration rates in the world; many times greater than countries that we might consider our peers. Longer sentences for drug related crimes are a significant part of this problem. Please reject this ordinance and work for solutions that don't exacerbate the prison problem.”Tunheim responded, saying that in the last 25 years, there has been a dramatic shift away from incarceration to treatment. “….Evidence is showing us that criminal justice gets people into treatment and use the system as a way to get into treatment.”
Roberts said that when people complete Drug Court, the charges are dismissed.
Roe said she views the proposed ordinance as a deterrent for hardcore dealers. “It may save some lives, and targets individuals making a business of this.” Langer agreed. “I support this. It deals with drug dealers and not users.”
Exclusion From Downtown Olympia
Later, Tunheim clarified for Little Hollywood that whether a certain offender is excluded from the downtown or not is ultimately a judge's decision and will likely be made on a case by case basis, depending on the circumstances of that case and the offender.
“Both the state (through the prosecutor) and the defense are allowed opportunities to make recommendations to the court before a judge makes the decision. My deputy prosecutors will generally recommend a condition like this if they believe the person continues to present a risk of further criminal behavior downtown. A judge can potentially order someone excluded from downtown at any point in time after they are arrested and charged and, once imposed, a condition like this would likely last until the case is concluded. However, if the defendant is convicted, the same order can also be part of the court's sentence extending the condition up to a couple of years.”
To clarify questions regarding the Drug Court program, Tunheim also said later:
“In almost all cases involving drug related charges, participants who graduate have their charges dismissed. That is part of the reward for successfully completing the treatment program. Their “record” (because it does not involve a conviction it is generally only available to law enforcement) shows only that they were arrested and charged, but that the charge was dismissed. If someone enters drug court but is terminated before they graduate, then the judge decides their guilt or innocence for the original crime based only on the information contained in the police report. If convicted, then they will have that conviction on their record.”
A conference, Substance Abuse: A Community Response, will be held Wednesday, April 30, 2014, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Great Wolf Lodge Conference Center, 20500 Old Highway 99 SW, Centralia, WA 98531.Sponsored by the Thurston County Drug Action Team, the conference will provide educational breakout sessions, opportunity for discussion and collaboration, and informative professional keynote speakers.
Prevention leaders, treatment professionals, law enforcement professionals, educators, health professionals, government officials and community members are invited to attend.
The conference is designed to cover all community sectors and focus on current and emerging issues, latest research findings, best practices, successes, lessons learned, and problems solved. The conference is designed for all levels of experience.
Early-bird registration, on or before March 31, is $35 and includes lunch. Regular price registration, April 1 and later, is $45. Payment for registration must be received on or before March 31 to qualify for the early-bird price.For more information, contact Tamara Clark, Events Coordinator, TOGETHER!, at email@example.com or 360-493-2230 ext. 10.
For more information about the proposed ordinance, go to the February 19, 2014 story, “Draft Drug Ordinance Covers All of Downtown Olympia,” at www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com.
The City of Olympia website is www.olympiawa.gov