Treatment, yes, but a crime is still a crime

The OlympianApril 10, 2014 

During his routine patrol shift Oct 31st Olympia Police Officer Jeff Herbig walks the rail tracks near the Jefferson Street tunnel amongst discarded hypodermic needles and other drug paraphernalia found strewn along the line.

STEVE BLOOM — Staff photographer Buy Photo

Olympia City Councilman Jim Cooper based his vote against creating drug-free zones around five downtown civic centers on the greater need to provide treatment programs. He expresses a well-intended, yet curious approach.

It’s no secret that a substance abuse problem exists in downtown Olympia. The city has launched initiatives on several fronts, including coordination with the regional narcotics task force, to get it under control.

“We have a systemic problem, and we need to fix it,” Cooper said at last week’s council meeting.

Cooper objected to the proposed new law that would create 1,000-foot drug-free zones because it focuses on enforcement and incarceration instead of treatment and prevention for drug offenders. But city governments don’t fund treatment programs; the state and federal government do.

Mayor Stephen Buxbaum suggested that Olympia has limited influence on making the kind of systemic change that Cooper envisions. He’s 95 percent right, but there is one thing the city could do: lobby our state legislature and our federal government for more funding for treatment services, and for research to improve their effectiveness.

Decision-makers at that level need to know that failing to adequately fund addiction treatment drives up police costs and interferes with economic revitalization efforts in cities such as ours.

Addiction is a dangerous, often fatal disease and should warrant the same passionate advocacy for research and treatment as breast cancer, diabetes and other more respectable illnesses.

We appreciate Cooper’s sympathy for the addicted and his idealistic desire for more humane treatment of their disease. But we don’t think those impulses ought to be at odds with the imperative of enforcing laws and social norms that will make downtown safe and welcoming for all.

When people deal drugs and commit felonies, they need to be arrested and jailed, period.

A compassionate society helps people with addictions find the way to recovery, sobriety and productive lives. A just society enforces commonly accepted rules for orderly and civilized behavior.

These two goals are not mutually exclusive.

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