Programs to help users bump up against drug-free zones

Trinity Lutheran Church says Everett’s Stay Out of Drug Areas law essentially banishes people in need.

Programs to help users bump up against drug-free zones

EVERETT — The city wants to fight drug trafficking. The pastor wants to help his neighbors.

At times, those goals seem to clash in north Everett.

The Rev. Tim Feiertag leads Trinity Lutheran Church at 2324 Lombard Ave. The property is across the street from Clark Park, where drugs have been a problem for generations.

The City Council this spring expanded the boundaries of what are called Stay Out of Drug Areas, or SODA. The Everett Municipal Court issues SODA orders, which ban people with drug history from entering those parts of the city. The orders are applied most often in misdemeanor drug cases.

The expansion surrounds Trinity Lutheran, which houses a food bank and 12-step recovery groups. Feiertag wonders if those with SODA orders won’t be able to seek help or worship at the church.

“Our entire neighborhood is identified as a heavy drug zone,” he said.

The pastor is asking questions as Everett considers how and where to deploy social services. There are efforts in town for churches to coordinate outreach activities, to limit loitering and litter. It’s an ongoing conversation without easy answers. At the same time, other local cities are adding or expanding SODAs.

Arlington recently created SODA boundaries at Smokey Point, where police say more than 1,000 crimes have been linked to drug activity. They aim to start enforcement in November. Marysville has orders covering downtown and is considering an addition for the part of Smokey Point within city limits.

The court orders are a lot more frequent in Everett, though. Marysville has handed out six this year. From January through June, Everett had 59.

SODA is designed to interfere with the drug market, said Leslie Tidball, the lead city prosecutor. The bans, which started a decade ago, now include much of Broadway, Hewitt Avenue, W. Casino Road, Everett Mall Way, Evergreen Way and Smith Avenue, among other routes.

No one has stepped forward to say a SODA order keeps them from Trinity Lutheran, Feiertag said. Still, he worries about the church’s continued ability to provide assistance and spiritual guidance.

“If the person has the SODA order, I would be surprised if they would be that direct,” he said. “I would assume they would keep it quiet or they would fade away.”

City Hall says the pastor has not requested a meeting to discuss his concerns, beyond a church member chatting with police at National Night Out in August.

SODA questions came up at a recent City Council talk about opioids. Hil Kaman, the public health and safety director, said the SODA expansion has “allowed us to be agile and respond to issues we are seeing.”

The orders leave room for discretion, by the judge and police, Tidball said. The court considers exceptions if the defendant needs to travel into SODA boundaries for services or appointments.

The orders generally are issued after charges are filed, or as part of sentencing. As with any instruction from a judge, a violation can bring jail time.

SODA isn’t aimed at someone taking a bus to a food bank or walking to the Everett Gospel Mission to stay the night, Tidball said. She characterizes those with the bans as chronic users with criminal history. Her logic is, if they can’t hang around an open-air drug market, they can’t shoot up next to a playground, or peddle to someone else.

“The homeless are often victims of people wanting to sell drugs,” she said.

If someone is sitting at a transit stop hours after all the buses have rolled by, they likely are loitering, she said.

Tidball said a SODA violation is not an automatic arrest, because of the discretion allowed.

Police need a “reasonable suspicion” to stop a random person on the street and frisk him, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled. SODA is different from a stop-and-frisk, because it’s legal, Tidball said.

The city also noted that some SODA areas have been targeted in recent drug sweeps.

Between early August and late September, 45 arrests were made at Clark Park, city spokeswoman Meghan Pembroke said. Most were drug-related. The activity at Clark Park also spills over to affect Everett High School, according to a police memo from May.

The block of Smith Avenue that runs underneath I-5 is considered “the most concentrated area of drug activity in the city,” the memo said.

Jail records show the orders are being enforced.

On a recent day, eight people were detained at the Snohomish County Jail with Everett SODA orders. Most had additional reasons for being booked, such as possessing burglary tools or prowling cars.

Churches aren’t immune to the impacts of addiction. Feiertag and staff participate in the Everett Faith In Action group, which talks about homelessness and substance abuse.

Trinity Lutheran keeps bright lights and surveillance cameras trained on its property. Complaints from neighbors have focused on those attending recovery groups, Feiertag said.

The church has a box in the office for safely disposing of found needles, as do an increasing number of businesses and government buildings. For Feiertag and others, checking the ground for needles has become routine.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @rikkiking.

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