Pubdate: Sun, 19 Jan 2014
Source: Olympian, The (WA)
Copyright: 2014 The Olympian


The Olympia City Council seems more determined than ever to rescue the
downtown core from urban decay and prevalent violent crime. At its
annual retreat, the council discussed strategies to tackle these twin
downtown issues and is wasting no time putting its plans into action.

This week, the council unanimously moved closer to utilizing the
Community Renewal Area to improve downtown blighted properties. Last
week, it met with the Thurston County Commission to address the
epidemic of heroin addiction and discarded syringes.

It's a sad but well-known fact that people addicted to dangerous drugs
go downtown to buy and use them. As a result, a whole litany of
drug-related crimes occur there, accompanied by frequent anti-social
and violent behavior.

To reverse this trend, Olympia Police Chief Ron Roberts told The
Olympian's editorial board he has launched a number of new initiatives
to tackle drug crimes and ultimately change the culture of what
constitutes acceptable behavior in the downtown core.

We wholeheartedly support Roberts' efforts, even though we know
increased enforcement will not solve the problems of those who are
addicted or suffer from mental illness. Fixing the problem downtown
merely disperses it elsewhere.

There will be no satisfying solution for people damaged by negative
life experiences until all levels of government and community
activists muster the political will to provide adequate resources for
treatment facilities and intensive case management.

But the level of drug-related crimes and threatening behavior in the
downtown core has risen to a point that endangers the economic
viability of small business and consequently the city center's future.

Next month, the city's alcohol impact area takes effect, prohibiting
downtown businesses from selling single-shot, high-alcohol drinks.
That should reduce public drunkenness downtown, which is presently the
most frequent cause for arrest by Olympia police officers.

Roberts wants to take the next step and declare a 1,000-foot area
around city-owned buildings as drug-free zones. If applied to all
public facilities, the zones would encompass a good portion of the
downtown core.

The drug-free zones would allow prosecutors to seek enhanced penalties
on conviction and an exclusionary policy that would prohibit previous
offenders from returning to that zone.

The OPD is teaming up with the Washington State Patrol, Thurston
County Drug Task Force, the Sheriff's Department, other city chiefs
and the Department of Corrections to put a full-court press and
disrupt the drug trade in the downtown core.

Thanks to Olympia voters who approved last year's public safety levy,
Roberts has added a second downtown daytime walking patrol officer and
assigned an officer to the regional drug task force. Until now,
Olympia has had no voice in how or where the task force applied its

Roberts is also working with the homeless advocacy nonprofit Sidewalk
to target the city's top 10 utilizers of police time and jail beds,
and direct them to more helpful housing and care programs. At present,
those top 10 individuals cost the city about $340,000 per year.

The City Council and the OPD chief are headed in the right direction
to revitalize downtown. We hope the Legislature and Congress will
catch the city's enthusiasm and restore funding this session for
mental illness, alcohol and drug treatment programs.
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