SPD Considering Soft Touch for Columbia City Crack Dealers

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?Skeptical cops have called it "hug-a-thug." Supporters maintain that it is far and away the most effective way to fight crime. It is the Drug Market Initiative--a program created by a renowned criminologist from New York that encourages law enforcement to take a carrot-and-stick approach with street-level drug dealers. Seattle Police tried the strategy last year in the Central District, and now they are reportedly considering a second go-round in Columbia City.

The P-I broke the news of the new Drug Market Initiative (DMI) yesterday:

The boundaries of the operation are 37th Avenue South to 47th Avenue South and South Brandon Street to South Edmunds Street. The effort began Oct. 19, according to police documents.

When one undercover detective was purchasing drugs in that area on Nov. 1, a group of kids age 10 to 15 started conversations with him as they were getting off a school bus, police reported. Noting the problems in the area, the detective wrote in court documents that kids have to walk through street drug deals to get home.

A quick overview of last year's DMI on 23rd Avenue--which culminated with a dramatic meeting in August between cops, prosecutors, community leaders and drug dealers at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center--shows the program didn't pan out to be the panacea it's been in other cities.

Of the 16 dealers invited to attend, at least seven were arrested in the following months. Crime, meanwhile, seems to have continued unabated. In September, SPD rounded up seventeen people around the Union Street corridor and charged them with drug crimes.

The DMI program--the brainchild of David Kennedy, of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York--has received serious accolades when implemented elsewhere. Police in High Point, North Carolina, were awarded the 2007 Innovations in American Government Award from the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Crime dropped 57 percent in the city's most notorious neighborhood after the program was put in place.

Kennedy outlined the strategy--focusing on its success in reducing murders in Boston--in a Washington Post op-ed:

When police are frank about the limits of traditional law enforcement and about their desire to stop doing harm; when communities look offenders in the eye and tell them that they are doing wrong but are loved and deserve help; when old gangsters tell young ones that the code of the street leads only to grief, things change.

But it sounds like a heart-to-heart with Columbia City's crack suppliers won't happen anytime soon. The P-I reports that, although the Columbia City DMI is apparently in the works, SPD says it "hasn't' been announced" and is "not officially confirmed."

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