Seattle Councilmember Lewis: Police, solving fentanyl needs to be re-imagined

24 July 2023

The Gee & Ursula Show is doing a series of interviews with Seattle City Council candidates who represent downtown. Today’s interview is with incumbent  Andrew Lewis (7th District) who is running against Isabelle Kerner, business owner; Robert Kettle, retired U.S. Navy; Aaron Marshall, Seattle Police Officer; Olga Sagan, owner of Piroshky Piroshky; and Wade Sowders, software engineer at Amazon. The 7th District represents downtown, Queen Anne, and Interbay.

Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis was the swing vote that killed the ordinance that would have made it illegal to use drugs in public in Seattle.

Ursula Reutin wanted to know why.

“I believe you shocked a lot of people by changing your mind (on that vote),” said Ursula. “One of the criticisms is that you do flip-flop on many issues. Why should you get another term in office?”

“I think what’s really important is that we have leaders that roll up their sleeves and try to solve problems in the city,” incumbent Andrew Lewis said. “We’re going to see, in the coming weeks a comprehensive plan from Mayor Bruce Harrell, myself, and other stakeholders on how to really tackle the fentanyl epidemic that we’re seeing in the city on our streets.”

Lewis said the ordinance he voted “no” on was “symbolic” because it didn’t have any resources or plan attached to it.

“So instead of committing to something symbolic, I’m committing to something substantive, to something that holds people accountable, but also delivers treatment and other services to people who need it.”

Lewis said his upcoming proposal will require accountability of people who take advantage of these kinds of programs.

“That’s what I’ve actively been doing being on the fentanyl discussion, or being on things like getting Memorial Stadium rebuilt, and renovating the Queen Anne Community Center with $23 million.”

Ursula followed up: “I was in downtown Seattle walking along Third Avenue, I saw open drug dealing also when using light rail. What are you expecting as a council member? What do you want police to do in that situation?”

“There has to be engagement,” explained Lewis. “But we can’t be in a position where we’re just turning a blind eye to things that are corrosive to public order. We don’t have the option really to arrest people who are openly using drugs, because the King County Jail has essentially told us they’re not going to book people who are arrested on those charges. So we need to be creative.”

Lewis said the city has to come up with a way to do “warm handoffs.” He said police need to be able to send users to a caseworker at the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program.

“We need to figure out ways that we can be diverting people to places where they can be inside. But they aren’t necessarily jail, places like data centers or places like enhanced shelters like Tiny House villages. So this is going to be part of the plan.”

More on Andrew Lewis: Seattle Councilmember Andrew Lewis will run for re-election

Fill-in host Mike Lewis asked what he thought of the decision to end the Seattle Community Court (SCC), which was ended by City Attorney Ann Davison, and was a way for people to have their low-level misdemeanor charges dismissed through community service.

“The decision to end community court resulted in the city attorney’s office, dismissing about 1,000 cases, without any accountability whatsoever for the victims in those cases, or accountability for the people who committed those offenses,” Lewis said. “And, you know, as imperfect as community court was, it was helping with the economy of the court and allowing the court to operate. Of the people who actually went to community court and completed [it], 75% of them did not commit a new criminal offense. So for the people who actually went through the program, it was very effective.”

Lewis explained that whatever replaces the community court should have been executed before the current program was ended.

“It’s going to harm our ability to get justice for victims who have been wronged.”

Lewis is also known to support “the defunding police movement.” Something he says is more nuanced than some people understand.

“I’ve never supported unilaterally removing police service without having it be replaced by something. That was never something I was willing to sign on as some of my colleagues were fine with.”

Lewis said the council never defunded the police because there weren’t replacement services in place.

“It’s a hard hiring market for us to get new police. I’ve consistently supported our hiring plan every single year to bring them the next generation of police into the departments and under Mayor Harrell.”

Community Court ends: Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison says it was ineffective

Lewis said it is important to differentiate what police should and should not do.

“If you have someone who is posing a threat to public safety, someone who is, like an active shooter or someone committing an armed robbery, someone committing a criminal offense, you want to send the police, but we shouldn’t be sending police to a lot of these mental health calls or a lot of these calls where the person doesn’t really pose a significant threat to public order. And another intervention would be more effective. So it’s a balance we need to strike.”

Lewis said the council needs people who are going to build out comprehensive public safety.

Listen to Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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