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SODA: The tool Seattle is ignoring to fight drug crime

Seattle police (AP)

The City of Seattle could take a cue from Everett in the fight against drug-related crime.

SODA regulations aren’t an end-all solution, but they could reduce programs in infamous areas of the city, such as 9.5 blocks, or around the King County Courthouse.

RELATED: Arlington passes SODA law to clean up Smokey Point

“SODA” stands for “Stay Out of Designated Area.”

“We use them a lot,” said Hil Kaman, public health and safety director for the City of Everett. “… They are under the authority of our municipal court judges to order them as a condition of release for people charged with certain crimes, or a condition of a sentence. They essentially say that if you are convicted of these crimes, and there are certain parts of the city we know are drug areas, you have to stay out of those areas.”

When a person under a SODA order is found within the restricted area, police can immediately arrest them.

“You don’t have to have a primary crime,” Kaman said. “So they look for other areas to spend their time. Hopefully, people change their behavior. But with addiction, many people keep it.”

Everett has used SODA orders for at least 10 years, targeted at areas known for heavy drug crimes. Most recently, Arlington passed its own SODA ordinance, and similar methods have been used in Marysville.

SODA in Seattle

Seattle has the ability to use SODAs right now, but according to a spokesperson for the city’s law department, “they are uncommon.”

Consider Seattle’s notorious 9.5 blocks, also known as “stab alley,” which is known as an open-air drug market. Another problem area is around the King County Courthouse, also known as an open-air drug market where jurors report being assaulted while walking to the building. Not to mention, officials have said that in order to get rid of the urine issue there, it would be a “two- to three-times-a-day operation.”

Seattle only prosecutes drug traffic loitering charges in its municipal court. Other drug crimes are handled through the King County court system. According Washington law, drug traffic loitering is when a person “remains in a public place and intentionally solicits, induces, entices, or procures another to engage in unlawful conduct…”

A captain of a precinct can submit an affidavit to the court, specifying an area that a person convicted of a crime should stay out of. There are exceptions if the person needs to pass through the area to get to work, court, etc. The duration of the order depends on if it is a requirement of pretrial release (it lasts as long as the case continues), or if it is a condition of probation, which could last as long as two years.

Though a SODA order is one method of dealing with drug crime, it’s a considerable tactic that Seattle is not taking advantage of.

The area around Third Avenue, and Pike and Pine streets is notorious for drug-related crime. There were more than 10,000 calls to police about in the year before cops swept it, making mass arrests to clear out the open-air drug market. Two years later, they did it again. The effort involved undercover narcotics purchases and surveillance to build cases against suspects.

SODA in context

On the streets in Everett, they call it “getting SODA’d out,” Kaman said.

People convicted of drug crimes are well aware of it. He says it’s important to understand that this won’t solve drug crime. After all, Everett still has a drug problem. It’s to be used in concert with other tactics. In Everett, this concert means an embedded social worker, supportive housing, policing emphasis, and work diversion programs (cleaning up litter instead of going to jail). Kaman also said his city is trying to get more access to treatment for drug addiction.

“You can arrest all day long,” he said. “With a lot of these folks, if you are shooting up on the street, your addiction has gotten to a point where you are incapable of stopping drugs, despite the fact you are out in public; you cannot take care of your housing and basic food needs. That’s pretty serious. It’s an extreme form of addiction. Arresting people for that activity is not hard.”

But for crimes such as drug dealing, or in Seattle’s case drug traffic loitering, a SODA helps remove the source of drugs — the dealers.

“When we’ve done special enforcement in high drug areas, the officers will familiarize themselves with who has SODA order and they will be able to take enforcement action,” Kaman said. “Or when they make an arrest and they run their name the way they do for warrants, they learn they have a SODA order.”

“I think we have been successful in having certain people stay away from those areas,” he said. “This is part of a multifaceted approach. One part is enforcement. We know that when you have a lot of emphasis on one area, people will move to other areas. So we monitor the data and recently adjusted the boundaries and added new areas.”

It seems that cities north of Seattle have started to catch on. It’s about time Seattle did, too.

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