Dan Templeman: Drug possession law will take some adjustment

The new law can effectively address addiction, but the public will notice a change in procedure.

Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman

Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman

By Dan Templeman / Herald Forum

Everett Police Department has adopted a balanced approach when it comes to addressing the impacts of drugs, homelessness and untreated behavioral health disorders. We strive to treat those living and using drugs on our streets with compassion, dignity and respect, while also leveraging enforcement when individuals refuse offers of assistance and continue to violate the law.

I applaud our officers and social workers for the extremely difficult and challenging work they do every day in an attempt to balance the public’s interest in resolving these very complex societal issues. Oftentimes police officers are caught in the middle between community members who do not believe we are doing enough and those who argue that our actions criminalize homelessness and addiction.

Earlier this year, the state Legislature passed a new law affecting drug possession, which will further intensify this conflict. It’s time for some in our community to reset their expectations of police when it comes to the role we play in enforcement of our state’s drug laws.

Engrossed Senate Bill 5476 took effect May 13 and will funnel much needed resources and funding to local communities to address the root causes of substance use disorder. There is hope that we can begin to dig ourselves out of the hole we are in and establish robust services and systems to support those who need it most.

But the new law also affects how police respond to calls about drug use on our streets. Under the new state law, when a police officer develops probable cause to arrest a person for possessing any controlled substance, to include methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin, the officer must refer that individual to assessment or treatment services for the first two contacts. It is only upon the third violation that an officer regains their discretion to arrest, cite or book the person into jail. ESB 5476 also decriminalizes the possession of drug paraphernalia in most cases.

What does this mean for the Everett community? It means that if you see someone using illegal drugs in your neighborhood and call the police, you’ll likely see an officer show up, make contact with the individual, offer them a referral and clear the scene while leaving the individual behind.

It is understandable that this is not the outcome some community members will be hoping for, and that they’ll conclude that the police are not doing our job. I urge you not to become frustrated with law enforcement: Our officers do not make the laws; we simply enforce them.

While ESB 5476 will prompt changes in how we enforce drug possession crimes, it will also strengthen regional capacity to help those struggling with substance abuse, which is a goal we support. And fortunately Everett has wonderful community organizations already in place to lean on as we navigate this new road together.

It will be important that we collaborate as a community to make this a successful journey and create the lasting change we seek.

Dan Templeman is the chief of police for Everett.

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