Confronted with photos, video clips and binders full of evidence gathered in a year-long operation along Seattle's 23rd Avenue corridor, from Madison to Jackson streets, [more than a dozen drug] dealers were promised they wouldn't be arrested, prosecuted or sent to jail for 20 months or more if they embraced the job training, educational opportunities, housing assistance and chemical-dependency treatment being offered them.
Should they break the bargain by selling drugs anywhere in King County, the dealers were told, they'd feel the full force of the law.
"The community here cares about you but will no longer tolerate drug dealing in their neighborhoods," said Interim Seattle Police Chief John Diaz. "This isn't a joke, and it isn't a threat."
At a Friday morning news conference at Seattle Police headquarters, Diaz acknowledged, "There's a risk in doing this," but said it's time to try something different to eliminate street-level drug dealing in the city.
"We've done sweeps, we've done undercover buys and crackdowns, and we're still not getting a handle on drug dealing in our neighborhoods," he said. "We're trying to change the culture and the norms in the neighborhood."
The program is based on one implemented in High Point, N.C., in 2004 by police and David Kennedy, a criminologist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. Five years later, the city has virtually no remaining public drug dealing, and violent crime has fallen 20 percent citywide, according to the college's Web site.
Kennedy, who visited Seattle in June, spent two days in private meetings with law-enforcement officials, city leaders and pastors and activists from Seattle's black community. His model, which is being replicated in places like Milwaukee; Nashville, Tenn.; Chicago; and Indianapolis, is being backed by the U.S. Department of Justice, which awards federal grants to train local officials on how to establish programs.