EVERETT — Citing crime statistics, the Everett Police Department has asked the City Council to keep its nine drug enforcement areas largely intact for the next two years.
The only change Sgt. Chris Bennett requested at a council meeting Wednesday was removal of a section of north Broadway, based on low numbers of drug citations there last year.
The Stay Out of Drug Areas (SODAs) are zones with high illegal drug activity, where a municipal court judge can prohibit people convicted of drug-related crimes from entering. People with such a court order can be arrested if they violate the ban.
“Statistics really show what’s happening out there,” Councilwoman Judy Tuohy said Wednesday.
Everett first adopted the SODAs ordinance in 2007, and police department staff are required to review them every two years.
Since then, other cities, including Arlington and Marysville, have implemented similar ordinances. In 2017, Everett added two SODAs: a box around Clark Park and Everett High School, and the length of Everett Mall Way.
City leaders and staff say the prohibited zones are a helpful tool for keeping people with substance-use disorders away from hotbeds of illicit drug sales and use and are curbing nearby residents’ 911 calls. Last year, Everett police received 1,359 service calls for substance abuse crimes, which resulted in 774 narcotic-related arrests, mostly for possession, drug trafficking and SODA violations, Bennett said.
“We find them in the prosecutor’s office to be immensely effective,” said Lacey Offutt, an Everett prosecutor.
But the zones sometimes work against the purported goal of helping people who struggle with substance abuse and to get them into treatment. Robert Smiley, founder and president of The Hand Up Project advocacy group for people who are homeless or have a substance use disorder, said the ordinance can make it difficult for organizations within the areas to help people, even if there’s an exception that lets them access those locations.
“They’re focusing a lot on trying to (make) rules and regulations, when they should focus on the process,” Smiley said.
He wants to see governments bolster their social worker ranks, such as the Everett Community Outreach and Enforcement Team, so those professionals can increase follow-up and have lower caseloads as they encounter people on the streets and offer them resources and services for housing, health care and recovery programs.
“If they want to make a difference in Everett, once they get them into detox, the embedded social workers need to follow up twice a week, not once a week, and not with 50,000 clients,” Smiley said. “If the money’s not there, it’s not going to happen.”
During the council meeting, Councilwomen Brenda Stonecipher and Liz Vogeli said they were worried about the stigma that could accompany a neighborhood that has a SODA. Stonecipher said the zones “kind of paint a label on certain areas in our community,” and Vogeli asked Bennett and Offutt to produce data about firearm recovery and gang violence in other SODAs, after both were mentioned in the report for the Casino Road area.
“It just exacerbates that Casino Road is a scary and horrible place to be, and I think we’re moving past that,” Vogeli said. “I know we’ve got some issues.”
The City Council could vote on the issue next week.