SPOKANE, Wash. - Seattle is dying. It seems like a dramatic statement, but it is the title of a documentary produced by KOMO 4 in Seattle. The news station wanted to show how the city's homeless problem has exploded, in part due to drugs.
Surprisingly, Seattle police officers said prosecutors and administrators have told them not to cite or arrest users caught with less than three grams of a controlled substance like heroin or meth.
Possession of either drug can land anyone a felony in Washington state, but only if police and prosecutors enforce the law. So, what happens 300 miles east, in the state's second largest city?
"An officer has some level of discretion. Depending on the crime, the level of seriousness and other factors. But in the case of things like methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin, to have any amount of that substance is a felony, " said Spokane Police Sergeant Terry Preuninger. "With a felony here in the city of Spokane, that's usually going to be a bookable offense. You're going to go to jail for that."
Preuninger said officers do arrest drug users, even for small amounts.
"I arrested a man and got a conviction for the amount of .01 grams of a controlled substance and it was literally taken from a sample of his saliva," Preuninger said.
Police say drugs of any amount have an impact on the entire community.
"You have people that take drugs that will commit crimes to get money for other drugs. The use of the drugs itself is a crime, but it also destroys the life of the person using the drugs," Preuninger said.
For eligible offenders willing to get help, Spokane County Drug Court offers a court supervised recovery program. In the last 3 years, 112 graduates had felony convictions dropped from their record.
"Our community is having great success with the drug court," Preuninger said.
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