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Belltown resident filming drug and homeless activity to send message

In this Monday, May 7, 2018, photo, person sleeps under a blanket on the grass at Denny Park in Seattle, not far from Amazon.com's headquarters. Seattle's latest tax proposal to combat homelessness takes aim at large businesses such as Amazon that have helped drive the city's economic boom. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Downtown residents are familiar with seeing illicit drug activity. But Belltown resident and real estate broker Melody Paxton is making sure others see it too. She’s taken to filming homeless activity and drug use so city officials better understand the depth of the problem.

“I’m upset with the political lack of leaders in Seattle who have zero plans and have allowed the special interests of the 11,000 homeless to control the city,” Paxton said.

“It is literally the tail wagging the dog. They don’t do anything about panhandling, and they don’t do anything about camping on public property and parks,” she said. “The people who live in the city are just being held captive by this.”

She believes that cops’ hands are tied and doesn’t blame them.

“I’m not upset with them at all,” she said. “I have sympathy for my community police officers because they are as frustrated as I am.”

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Paxton began filming incidents around her Belltown neighborhood, primarily in the alcove outside her apartment. She sent the videos to David Preston, who manages HomelessIndustrialComplex.com, as well as the Safe Seattle Facebook group, and the Recall Mike O’Brien effort. The videos display rampant drug activity, related to sexual acts, and homeless people going to the bathroom outside. Preston wasn’t entirely surprised.

“The LEAD program was supposed to make things better in Belltown. We’re not supposed to be seeing so many junkies on the street,” Preston said. “But based on what Melody’s sending me here, that’s not working.”

The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program or LEAD was developed by the City of Seattle and community members to address low-level drug and prostitution crimes. Instead of prosecuting offenders, police refer them to social workers and services.

What concerns Preston is that proponents of the LEAD program hope to take it national, while holding it up as a bold, effective program.

“And the message we’re getting from the people that actually live there is: No, it’s not making a difference,” Preston said. “It’s possibly even making things worse.”

We spoke with Lisa Daugaard, the Director of the Public Defender Association. She was an integral part of getting the LEAD program off the ground in 2011 and she says the program is working.

“The problem isn’t that we don’t know what works best. We do,” Daugaard said. “What works best is to have law enforcement making smart decisions about what to do, with social workers, with a lot of information, and with prosecutors coordinating.”

“We just aren’t doing that at the scale that would yield the kind of results that I think neighborhoods appropriately want to see. But that does work better than just punting people through the justice system.”

Is Seattle becoming a magnet for drug use and homelessness?

There is currently $1.7 million devoted to the LEAD program downtown. But Daugaard would like it to be citywide and with a greater level of intensity. With officers and caseworkers overstretched, she believes only about 10 percent of the homeless are being helped. Daugaard thinks LEAD would be more effective with a $4 million increase for Seattle and an additional $2-3 million increase for King County.

For his part, Preston believes the program is not working and will never work. He worries that Seattle is becoming a magnet for such activity.

“If you want to go to a place where you know the cops aren’t going to hassle you, where you’re going to be offered all sorts of services,” Preston said. “But you don’t have to accept them if you don’t feel like you’re ready for treatment. Then you can just hang out for as long you like.”

“Word is going to get around, and we’re going to be overwhelmed with people coming here from elsewhere. No amount of money that Seattle could possibly raise is going to fix that problem.”

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