"This is not a hearing about police. This is a hearing about policy," announced state Sen. Pam Roach.

Nice try.

Although policy was on the

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Terms of enforcement

A state senator comes to town to examine Seattle's drug-abatement ordinance.

"This is not a hearing about police. This is a hearing about policy," announced state Sen. Pam Roach.

Nice try.

Although policy was on the agenda, the 200 or so people in attendance at last Tuesday's meeting of the state Senate Law and Justice Committee wanted to talk about enforcement. Most of them had marched to the hearing from two Central Area clubs threatened with closure by Seattle authorities. The hearing, intended as a review of the state's existing drug abatement statute, served instead as a chance for citizens to raise concerns about unequal enforcement and the targeting of clubs that serve a predominately black clientele.

Several personalities stood out: Roach, the brash former gubernatorial candidate, impressed the crowd with several statements sympathetic to the affected business owners; City Attorney Mark Sidran, roundly booed upon his arrival, served as the focus of citizen anger; County Council member Larry Gossett was the clear crowd favorite—largely because of his forceful criticisms of city policy.

Gossett said that the city's use of the abatement ordinance has been targeted toward clubs serving young African Americans. "Outside of crack houses, it's primarily been [used] in restaurants where they have hip-hop music," he said. "I think the community can objectively raise concerns that the abatement is aimed toward a certain class and a certain kind of people."

Also testifying were the owners of Oscar's II and Deano's Cafe & Lounge, whose businesses have been targeted for closure by Seattle Police. Oscar McCoy told the senators that he had cooperated with police for years in fighting drug activity in and around his restaurant. But recently, undercover cops have set up drug deals in his club and let the criminals walk away because they were merely manufacturing evidence for the city's challenge of his liquor license on drug-abatement grounds. "[The police officer] made no arrest and then he went to court and said we let it happen," said McCoy.

Police officials at the meeting countered with praise for the law and a caution against hasty change. Mike Patrick, representing the Washington Association of Police and Sheriffs, said the law was enacted to give neighborhoods a tool to fight crack houses and other drug transaction centers. Maj. Jack Beard of the King County police called the law "a godsend," even though King County has infrequently used it. (Prosecutor Norm Maleng estimates that the county has filed just seven cases under the law, all of which have been settled before trial.) Sidran said Seattle has filed approximately 75 cases under the law, which was enacted in the late 1980s as part of the state Omnibus Drug Act.

Several of those testifying cited problems with the law, most notably a provision requiring the property owner to "immediately abate the nuisance and prevent a recurrence for a one-year period." Dave Osgood, attorney for Oscar's II, notes that the clubs are open to the public. Although owners strive to prevent fights, unruly behavior, and drug activity, it is unfair and unrealistic to expect them to "guarantee" perfect compliance. "See if Mr. Sidran or Mr. Maleng can guarantee that there are no drugs in their jailhouses," said Deano's owner Dean Wells, to cheers from the crowd.

Testimony at the hearing highlighted a growing schism between authorities and neighborhoods. Although the drug abatement law was specifically written to allow neighborhood residents to file civil cases against owners of crack houses, it has thus far only been used by government. Now that police have moved beyond crack houses and started to go after private businesses where some drug activity may be taking place, it is no longer clear that neighborhood opinion is on the side of the authorities.

When police can't keep drug activity out of parks or off of city streets, asks Chris Clifford, owner of Jersey's All American Sports Bar, how can they hold business owners to a higher standard? "You're talking about people who have invested their life savings to build a business, and the city is conspiring to take it all away from them," said Clifford. "We don't treat drug dealers like that."

 
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