Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Draft Drug Ordinance Covers All of Downtown Olympia

Draft Ordinance to be heard in Land Use this Thursday

By Janine Unsoeld

A draft ordinance designating certain civic centers located in the city of Olympia and the area within 1000 feet of the perimeter of each civic center is being proposed as drug-free zones. The ordinance would add a new section to Olympia's municipal code.

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 entire downtown Olympia region is covered.

The draft ordinance will be heard on Thursday, February 20, 5:30 p.m., in the city’s Land Use and Environment Committee, at Olympia City Hall, 601 4th Avenue East.
The committee is chaired by Olympia city councilmember Steve Langer, and includes Councilmembers Jeannine Roe and Julie Hankins.
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 RCW 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.
In response to several questions from Little Hollywood about the draft ordinance earlier this week, Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts responded:
Little Hollywood:

I am not sure stiffer drug sentences are a deterrent to drug use or an ordinance will be helpful in guiding people where they choose to do drugs, do you? Perhaps this is one piece of an effort to "clean up" downtown?
The ordinance covers all of downtown. It sounds like the police would be doing their regular job to make arrests as needed, but the additional police time would come primarily after the arrest. If our police are able to do their part, and make the bust, have additional police time and court trial times been taken into consideration?
Has a potential enhanced sentence been discussed with city or county prosecutors? Is the Thurston County Drug Court involved in these discussions?
In the course of enforcing this ordinance, could there be an increased effort, or perceived effort, that police could stop and question/frisk people who look undesirable? I am not sure what our current police protocol is about this, but it's been an issue in other cities.
Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts:
“The concept of creating drug free zones was an idea proposed by the county prosecutor several months ago when he and I were discussing a regional approach to address crimes downtown.  The RCW already identifies drug free zones and allows for local governing authorities to identify and designate civic centers as drug free zones. 
“The designation is not designed to eliminate drug crimes but can serve useful purposes.  It is part of a much broader strategy to reduce the impact of drugs in our downtown core.  It serves as a positive statement about what behaviors are acceptable and desired in our downtown and provides a way for the County Prosecutor to address chronic and repeated violations of drug crimes. 

“While the statute allows for enhanced penalties and some may be prosecuted under that context, it will help guide individuals into drug court and treatment through a criminal justice process.  It will also work to assist the prosecutor’s office in creating exclusion orders for individuals who are repeated committing felony drug crimes in downtown.  The prosecutor has committed one prosecutor to handle all downtown felony cases to ensure we are responding consistently.  She is also closely connected to the Thurston County narcotics task force. 
“The intention is to not prosecute every felony drug crime under this statute, we do not have the space to house every offender even if we wanted to but there are individuals who need treatment and the only likely way they will receive it is through an enforcement process. The city prosecutor has been involved in the drafting of the proposed changes to our municipal ordinance.

“The Olympia Police Department has made no changes to stop and frisk policies and will follow current laws.  There is a focused effort to change downtown and officers will be actively engaged in reducing crime downtown.  We are focused on criminal behavior not on social status.  We have two foot patrol officers assigned downtown who work with the Ambassador Program, Capital Recovery Center, Union Gospel, Sidewalk, Behavioral Health Services and many other services to address negative behavior that often stems from mental health issues and chemical dependency.”

Echoing Chief Roberts' response, Laura Wohl, public information officer for the city of Olympia police department, added: “The enforcement of the drug-free zones is really no different than the enforcement of the rest of our drug laws.  The drug-free zones add additional sentencing criteria for crimes that are committed within the zones that are drug-related.  In that sense, no additional enforcement is needed. 

“However, the illegal drug use has been growing downtown which is what has prompted a multi-prong response, including the drug-free zones.  Part of that response includes the addition of two walking patrol officers to our regular patrol complement.  One position was started in 2013 as a temporary position, but two full-time positions were funded in 2014.  In addition, we have emphasis patrols also occurring downtown. 

Emphasis patrols involve officers working on a specific issue for a particular amount of time.  For example, several officers might be assigned to patrol a known area of drug dealing over Friday and Saturday night when drug deals are expected to occur.

“As you note, the criminal justice system is greater than just the police.  Most drug crimes are felonies, meaning they will be prosecuted by the county prosecutor’s office.  The prosecutor has worked closely with the city in developing our drug-crime reduction strategies and is prepared to devote the resources necessary to prosecute drug crimes.  Any incarceration would occur at the Thurston County jail and the Thurston County sheriff, who runs the jail, is also on board.”
Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim is expected to be in attendance at the Land Use committee meeting. 

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