SPD: Arresting people is not helping solve the heroin crisis

Jan 12, 2017, 5:50 AM
heroin crisis...
“It’s really frustrating with how our systems are working and the opportunity that there is in the criminal-justice system to really address some of the underlying root causes of criminal behavior,” Seattle's Public Safety Adviser Scott Lindsay said. Lindsay is running for city attorney. (AP)

It’s no secret that Seattle is stuck in the middle of a heroin crisis. That is well known. What Seattle police have come to realize is that arrests are not helping solve the problem.

Related: Safe injection sites proposed for Seattle to address heroin crisis

“You got sons and daughters, mothers and fathers being killed by heroin because they become chemically addicted,” said Sergeant Sean Whitcomb with the Seattle Police Department.

“And the cycle of arrest-and-release does not seem to be working,” he told KIRO Radio’s Ron and Don. “There are alternatives with law enforcement assisted diversion and drug court … The approach we have taken is one that is multifaceted.

“The destruction and the grief and the misery caused by the heroin epidemic can’t be measured and it certainly can’t be counted in arrests,” Whitcomb said.

Seattle heroin crisis

Such “destruction” and “grief” was apparent last weekend when Seattle police responded to a cluster of heroin overdoses in a small area over one Saturday afternoon.

“There was some concern because of the time and proximity of four overdose events,” Whitcomb said. “Three were immediately fatal. We learned on Monday that one individual died at the hospital.”

“What our North Precinct officers saw was this cluster of overdoses — four people within about a square mile,” he said. “That leads any reasonable person to conclude that there might be a problem with the heroin being injected. There might be a purity level or some other issue that created a lethal experience.”

A problem like fentanyl. It has not been confirmed that fentanyl was involved in any of the recent overdoses, but it is suspected. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid. It is much stronger than heroin and is sometimes mixed in with batches of the drug.

“The problem with fentanyl for people who are using and for first responders is if you get the wrong amount, you are going to die,” Whitcomb said. “It will shut you down. It is that lethal.”

The recent spike in overdoses caused Seattle police to deploy bike officers to contact known addicts in the area and warn them.

“We told them, ‘If you have to use, by all means, call 911 if there is an emergency. Have someone there with you, don’t use alone. And if you aren’t alone, make sure the other person with you isn’t using at the same time for obvious reasons,'” Whitcomb said. “It’s dangerous. And we want people to be aware of those dangers.”

For Whitcomb, it’s a reminder to be thankful officers are now carrying naloxone — a drug designed specifically to remedy overdoses. It has to be used immediately. It’s beneficial for saving a person who has overdosed, or an officer accidentally exposed to an opioid. But naloxone is a solution for a symptom — a fatal symptom — of the heroin crisis.

SPD approach to the heroin crisis

While arresting and releasing addicts isn’t helping solve the problem, Whitcomb said they are interested in arresting certain people.

Seattle’s RV issue is a good example. Whitcomb stressed that police are not interested in RV dwellers, rather people involved with criminal activity who are using RVs. There’s a distinction, he noted. He asks Seattle residents to report suspected criminal activity. That way, an investigation can get started. Investigations take a while, but it’s a big picture approach.

Related: Did SPD get a ‘stand down’ order on RVs?

“We do investigate criminal behavior,” Whitcomb said. “If there are reports of crimes committed by people who might be living in RVs, we want to know about it. We don’t investigate people in RVs. We investigate people in RVs who are committing crimes. If there is information, we want to know about it.”

“I can tell you we have done operations against people dealing drugs out of cars and RVs,” he said. “If you are dealing drugs it doesn’t matter if you are living in a home, a high rise or an RV. We want to know about it so our investigators can take care of it … we want the dealers. When they are distributing large amounts to small-level dealers, we want to work our way up the chain and take down the bigger fish.”

Local News

SDOT Light Rail Ped...
KIRO 7 News Staff

Pedestrian struck, injured by Link light rail train in south Seattle

A pedestrian was struck and injured by a Link light rail train Wednesday afternoon in south Seattle.
1 day ago
(Photo courtesy of King County)...
Frank Sumrall

King County executive initiates plan to conserve and save the region’s wilderness

King County executive announced a plan to protect 65,000 acres of forests, farmland, and greenspace, raising property taxes in the process.
1 day ago
MyNorthwest Staff

Drought may impact most of Pacific Northwest this summer

Drought is expected to impact much of the Pacific Northwest this summer, impacting areas throughout eastern Washington, southern Oregon and southern Idaho.
1 day ago
(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)...
Frank Sumrall

SPD report discovers 80% of 911 calls were for non-criminal events

After reviewing more than 1.2 million 911 calls from 2017 to 2019, the Seattle Police Department (SPD) found 79.7% of calls were for non-criminal events.
1 day ago
KIRO 7 News Staff

9-year-old boy shot by younger brother in Federal Way

A 9-year-old boy was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center after being shot by his younger brother in Federal Way.
1 day ago
The US government will fly in baby formula on commercial planes contracted by the military in an ai...
Heather Bosch

A guide to locate baby formula from Washington’s Department of Health

Washington's Department of Health has put together a list of resources to help find nutritious food to feed your newborn.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles


Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) initiative provides […]

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
SPD: Arresting people is not helping solve the heroin crisis