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

Echo Glen juvenile...

Kate Stone

Echo Glen juvenile escapees to remain in custody in Seattle

All seven juvenile escapees from Echo Glen Children's Center will remain in custody in Seattle, following a judge's ruling.

1 day ago

seattle housing levy...

Frank Sumrall

$970M Seattle Housing Levy moves forward, awaits vote

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda -- alongside a series of affordable housing developers -- announced the renewal of the Seattle Housing Levy.

1 day ago


Frank Sumrall

Capitol Hill sandwich spot HoneyHole embroiled in controversy

HoneyHole has become the subject of controversy among its employees who have been distraught and unhappy with new leadership.

1 day ago

Federal Way light rail...

Micki Gamez

Federal Way Link light rail extension delayed until 2026

Federal Way can't catch a break from Sound Transit. Link light rail service will be delayed another year, until 2026.

1 day ago


Bill Kaczaraba

SB I-405 in Renton reopen after rollover collision causes delays

All lanes of southbound I-405 at SR 900 in Renton were blocked Wednesday afternoon after a serious two-car rollover collision.

1 day ago

auburn apartment shot...

L.B. Gilbert

Man shot at Auburn apartment, police say multiple people involved

A man was left in critical condition after being shot at an Auburn apartment building Tuesday night, according to police.

1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Internet Washington...

Major Internet Upgrade and Expansion Planned This Year in Washington State

Comcast is investing $280 million this year to offer multi-gigabit Internet speeds to more than four million locations.

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.

Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.

SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...

Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

SPD: Arresting people is not helping solve the heroin crisis