FeaturedLatest NewsLocal Government

Lynnwood City Council discusses criminalizing open-air drug use

LYNNWOOD, Wash., February 8, 2023—Law enforcement measures and public waste management made up the majority of the Lynnwood City Council work session on February 6th

A proposed ordinance, presented by Lynnwood Chief of Police Jim Nelson, would “make the use of dangerous drugs in public enforceable as a misdemeanor.” 

“So what does this mean? It means first off, it allows us to detain the person,” Chief Nelson said. “We also get to collect the items they’re using — if it’s the tin foil, if it’s the fentanyl — so at least in that moment in time, that person is not going to walk around the corner and potentially overdose. It also makes the deposit of dangerous drugs and drug paraphernalia enforceable as a misdemeanor. So in our parks, where kids are supposed to be playing, somebody can’t just throw a piece of burned tin foil down or a drug needle down and just walk away.”

Law enforcement agencies were forced to adjust the policing of possession crimes due to a Washington State Supreme Court decision in 2021, State v. Blake, and the passing of ESB 5476 by the state legislature which made said crimes a misdemeanor.

Currently under state law, police must — on the first two occasions — refer individuals to resources like Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) before a custodial arrest can be made. While this would still be done under the proposed ordinance, Nelson believes the ordinance will “fill a hole” created by current state law. 

“Essentially though, when people realized that if they just didn’t give us their name or they didn’t talk to the police when we contacted them and they were in possession of a controlled substance, we didn’t really have a way to record the referral,” Chief Nelson said. “What routinely happens now is that a person just does not cooperate and they move on with their controlled substance still in their possession because we don’t have the ability to perform a custodial detention, even if we wanted to refer them to some of the resources we have.”

According to Nelson, as they are unable to stop individuals for referral and record that instance, the police are essentially unable to act. 

“Unsurprisingly, we’ve seen a corollary increase of open-air drug use — something we’ve never really seen in my career,” Lynnwood Police Chief Nelson said. “When the public calls the police department, they’re pretty shocked when we show up there and the person walks away and we get in our car and drive away.”

Nelson affirms that the proposed ordinance “is not an attempt to fill our jails” or to bypass the Blake decision, but rather “another tool for us to divert people from the criminal justice system into the resources that they so desperately need and may be unwilling to seek themselves.”

Similar laws have been passed in both Kent and Marysville

The other measure by the police department proposed revisions to the city’s photo enforcement ordinance (LMC 11.18). The proposal would change the violation tiers from two to four and increase the fine prices.

6-10 mph over: $1506-15 mph over: $124
11-15 mph over: $20016+ mph over: $250
16-20 mph over: $250
21+ mph over: $300

The proposed fines are lower than what is allowed in the Revised Code of Washington, but some council members expressed concern about basing rates around the RCW.

This proposal would add a $25 traffic safety fee to every violation. This fee would go to a police department fund and — according to the department — would offset traffic-related staffing costs. Based on the 35,939 red-light violations in 2022, the department would have brought in $898,475 at $25 per violation.

As for the waste management items brought forth to the council, one pertained to the buildup of sludge at the Lynnwood Wastewater Treatment Plant. 

The plant is in the process of a multi-year construction project, but the current, aging incinerators are functioning below what is needed. The sludge buildup caused three of the four primary clarifiers — tanks with mechanisms that continuously remove solids — to go down over the course of a week. This was initially resolved by pumping and hauling the sludge to a facility in Renton at the cost of roughly $100,000 per week. As the city gets bids with contractors to set up mobile drying operations and haul the dried sludge, this cost will be on a monthly basis. Eventually, the incinerator will be decommissioned, and the facility will have its own drying and treatment capabilities to turn the waste into agricultural products.

The other waste related item brought to the council was the suggestion to begin the 7-year process for Lynnwood to manage its own waste and recycling contracts. As previously reported by the Lynnwood Times back in 2021, Lynnwood is still under the Washington Utilities & Transportation Commission (WUTC). The WUTC negotiates the contract with the waste companies that service Lynnwood, which made city efforts to improve conditions this winter difficult.

“Some of the events we went through — the labor strike, a couple different snow events — where we really wanted to get their (the waste companies) attention and have them respond… basically, they don’t really have to respond because they don’t report to us,” Public Works Director Bill Franz. “They report to the state. We have a little bit of pull with them, but without a direct contract, we kind of feel helpless.”

This poll is no longer accepting votes

Do you support a proposal by Lynnwood Police to criminalize the use of illegal or controlled substances such as methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl in public spaces with a misdemeanor?
104 votes

2 thoughts on “Lynnwood City Council discusses criminalizing open-air drug use

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *