On top of sweeps, no sitting or lying, aggressive parking enforcement: how the race to displace continues now / Noisy Waters Northwest

March 31, 2023 Dena Jensen

Click the screenshot to access the information in the 3/27/23 Bellingham City Council regular meeting summary

On Monday night March 27, 2023, Bellingham City Council voted to advance (first and second reading) “An Ordinance Prohibiting the Use of Controlled Substances in Public Places” toward approval by a vote of 5-2. The earliest final vote on the ordinance will not be until the next regular Council meeting in two weeks on April 10, 2023. If approved on that date, the ordinance would go into effect two weeks later.

Downtown business owners were pointed to as the “community” driving the ordinance, along with alarm over rapidly increasing overdose numbers.

Before the first and second reading of the ordinance was approved, two related clauses from the recitals in the original ordinance were removed due to it being established that the City administration had no factual materials to back up assertions it had made in those clauses that the increased use of controlled substances in public is due to a state law that requires community members to be assessed and referred to treatment services on at least two occasions in lieu of arrest.

The vote to recommend approving the first and second reading of the ordinance occurred during the Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting that same day.

During that Committee of the Whole meeting, Bellingham Police Department Chief Rebecca Mertzig and City of Bellingham, Civil Prosecution Division, Assistant City Attorney Sr. Ryan Anderson had thrown out suggestions of how they might actually proceed to enforce a law prohibiting public use of controlled substances. They made off-the-cuff references to how Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team (MCOT), and Drug Court might be used. There was no definite implementation plan or policy that had been developed.

Following the 5-2 vote to recommend approval of the ordinance, a second and related motion was made.

That motion, originally proposed by Council Member Anderson and restated and seconded by the Committee Chair, Michael Lilliquist, was to direct the administration to bring forward to the Public, Health, Safety and Justice Committee, interim plans with regard to how this new ordinance will be implemented prior to the activation of a municipal court program designed to deal with this kind of offense prior to the third and final vote at a future meeting.

The motion passed unanimously.

Related to this, I decided it would be good to look at information about LEAD, Drug Court, and MCOT from some sources I could find that would be independent of meetings where the programs were being suggested for the purpose of enforcing this ordinance. I sent what I found to the City Council and Mayor Fleetwood this morning in the following email (contact information is at the bottom of this post):

Sent: Friday, March 31, 2023, 12:28:00 PM PDT

Subject: Some issues to explore regarding LEAD, Drug Court, and MCOT

Dear Bellingham City Council and Mayor Fleetwood:

I spent some time going through Whatcom County Justice Project Stakeholder Advisory Committee meeting and discussion summaries/minutes to find occasions where any information was shared about Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) or Drug Court (I looked for the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team or MCOT too, but there were not many meetings where MCOT was discussed). I looked for information that would be relevant to these government resources being viable at their current capacities and methods of operation to serve community members that would be targeted by the ordinance you are in the process of moving forward that would make the public use of controlled substances in Bellingham a misdemeanor. 

Since your are pursuing an ordinance that can potentially increase criminal records and incarceration in Whatcom County, I wanted to call on you, before you would officially approve such an ordinance, to engage in a thorough process to assess if we have the needed community services to successfully remove the need people have to use drugs publicly.  

Additionally, I call on you to evaluate that process by applying the Racial Equity Toolkit to it, along with gathering input from your Immigration Advisory Board and other marginalized members of the community with lived experience. I would point out that in notes from the November 29, 2022 meeting applying the Racial Equity Toolkit to the SAC’s work, there were statements that, “There is clearly a lack of adequate data, and that data is necessary to monitor whether we are changing the disproportionate incarceration of BIPOC community members,” and “What appears to be the most important strategy for change, however, is to ensure inclusion in the process of implementing the recommendations, and monitoring results.” Link to those meeting notes: https://www.whatcomcounty.us/DocumentCenter/View/71391/Racial-Equity-Toolkit-Mtg-Notes-112922?fbclid=IwAR3j4CdBhoU2pfm9HcK9dZOeLe7hZWMz_z5x9E0I68vWLVlk_5sawGgbIS8

I have included in this email quoted sections from SAC meeting and discussion notes and a link to the appropriate summary or minutes that each section came from. 

From the notes, I found the following issues should be explored as you discuss LEAD, Drug Court, and MCOT in your Public Health, Safety, and Justice Committee. 

  • Whatcom County Health Department assumed the job coordinating behavioral health programs less than a year ago. Thus these programs -especially Drug Court, which is not run by the Health Department but by the court system – may not be operating with an optimal level of health and wellness approach at this time 
  • There are indications that qualifying for the LEAD program may be difficult for some people and that there are other obstacles to people taking part in the LEAD program, including capacity
  • If enough dedicated housing isn’t available for drug or other therapeutic court members, as well as those on sentencing alternatives, or if housing does not offer the right services and levels of staffing (as evidenced by challenges at 22 North, for example) they can be set up for failure in those programs and consequences of that failure can be significant
  • The prosecutor’s office shared that Drug Court lacks the ability to keep people detained so they can detox
  • There have been drawbacks to the slower response times of the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team (MCOT)
  • MCOT has been identified by the Whatcom County Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force (IPRTF) Behavioral Health Gap Analysis Team (BGHAT) as a program in place with a resource shortage

And of course, LEAD, Drug Court, and MCOT are only a small fraction of services needed to meet the needs of community members who are going to be targeted with this law and it would be more valuable for you all to promptly be encouraging, advancing, and providing all of those services and ways to help community members use them without creating additional ways to criminalize their behaviors.

Near the bottom of this email I included links to a few resources discussing shortcomings of Drug Courts where you will find more issues to address related to the pros and cons of Drug Courts. 


“The Whatcom County Health Dept. is working to centralize behavioral health programs (GRACE, LEAD, Alternative Response) and has created the Response Systems Division. The goals are for people to be able to access services through any door, and warm handoffs between providers. This requires a deep level of coordination between community partners, and shared/transparent data. Over time, the hope is to fill the gaps in the behavioral health system.”


“Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program (LEAD) are great because they are able to pull people out of the criminal justice cycle. However, studies are showing the number of enrollments is very low due to booking restrictions and offenders not being able to sign up.”


“Erika Lautenbach – Both LEAD & GRACE were transferred to the Health Dept. this year. There are high thresholds for participation in these programs given the model and capacity. It’s part of a continuum that is really important, but not the only factor that will reduce the jail population. Many people have had a lot of interactions with the jail before becoming clients in these programs.”


“Dedicated housing for therapeutic court members has already been developed as an accomplishment of the IPRTF. There is clean and sober housing on Meridian St. for Drug Court members. This is a one-year+ program. If people go back to the drug-infested social networks they have come from it won’t work. People need a stable place to go for successful diversion. Permanent supportive housing programs is a critical factor to success in diversion programs such as LEAD & GRACE. We need more. We know this from the people working with folks on the ground.“ 


“Make #3 broader [#3 of Needs Identified is “Increased capacity of effective existing programs to divert more people from incarceration (LEAD, GRACE, MH Court, Drug Court)”] than just therapeutic courts. About 85% people in LEAD & GRACE are unhoused, and so are people on sentencing alternatives. Housing is a huge problem for all these groups.”


JUSTICE PROJECT whatcomjusticeproject.org



“LEAD has 4 intensive case managers and 1 outreach coordinator. Program is expanding in 2022 to add a fifth case manager and 2 outreach coordinators.”


It’s about coordination and when we are able to have the same leadership and coordination among the programs it allows us to do it well.

When we did GRACE and LEAD we knew we were missing parts (more immediate response) because MCOT couldn’t get out there fast enough.


“The Health Dept receives funding for drug court, which is passed to the court system that runs it. Traditionally, the Health Dept runs mental health court and drug court is run by the court system. The Response Systems Division coordinates with drug court.”


“Presentation on Behavioral Health in the Criminal Justice System – Judge Lee Grochmal, Prosecutor Eric Richey

• Judge Grochmal presides over felony drug court in Superior Court and does regular rounds on the criminal calendar in Superior Court.

• The Thursday morning criminal calendar every week from 8:30-noon is where she hears motions on criminal charges for those in custody.

• There is a large percentage of people that have issues with competency to stand trial, waiting for evaluations or restoration services and are incompetent to stand trial.

• Roughly 40% of the criminal calendar are people held in jail with cases going nowhere because they are waiting for competency stage, and they not receiving care in the jail.

• Drug Court is lacking an ability to keep people detained so they can detox. Currently, people can walk away. We need a new jail and my dream would be to have a lock and key detox facility. There’s not enough detox in our community.”


“Stephen Gockley – An example is in intercept 3. Drug Court (DC) is an intervention which diverts people into treatment instead of incarceration. The DC team found that a challenge was where to house people while they were in DC. If people were in their old environment, they were less likely to succeed in the DC program and more likely to be incarcerated. The IPRTF worked with partners to start housing people in the Meridian St. detox housing. This also is important in intercept 5. When people succeed in the DC program, they still need support to keep them from re-abusing substances and re-offending.”


Link to BGHAT’s Sequential Intercept Model Update 2022: https://www.whatcomcounty.us/DocumentCenter/View/67214/6122-BHGAT-SIM-UPDATE


“Research on the availability and quality of drug treatment through drug courts shows that at the most basic level, access to quality treatment is hampered by the inherent tension between a punitive criminal justice logic and therapeutic concern for participants as patients. Despite the stated intention of drug courts to treat people who use drugs as ill rather than deviant, participants are often punished for relapsing, for missing therapy appointments, or otherwise failing to follow court rules.”


“Even as counties across the United States talk about the successes of their drug courts, other groups point out significant weaknesses.

Reports from the Government Accountability Office, the Justice Policy Institute and the Legal Action Center show drug court policies ignore medical science.

Often someone who experiences a relapse ends up incarcerated and spends more time in jail than if he never participated with the drug court at all. Drug courts also commonly ignore the advice of physicians, who call for medications to treat opiate addictions, including treatment with methadone and buprenorphine. Many patients benefit from these medications, which help them avoid heroin and other opiates and lower their chance of overdose.[3]”


“Perhaps most harmful though, while drug courts are often sold as a way to reduce the rate of criminal justice involvement among those suffering from drug addiction, research has shown that they actually may increase the time a person spends behind bars – fueling rather than decreasing our the rate of criminal justice involvement. Participants that fail a drug test or miss an appointment are often subject to periods of incarceration as a sanction. While relapse is often considered a part of the recovery process, drug courts continue to penalize it with incarceration and often can eject someone from the program who is not able to abstain from drug use for a period of time deemed appropriate by a judge – who under most circumstances does not have medical training. Unlike health-centered programs, drug courts treat as secondary all other measures of improved health and stability, including reduced drug use and maintenance of relationships and employment.



Dena Jensen

Birch Bay, WA


This email was sent to the following addresses:

To: ccmail@cob.org <ccmail@cob.org>; Michael W. Lilliquist <mlilliquist@cob.org>; kmmartens@cob.org <kmmartens@cob.org>; Hannah E. Stone <hestone@cob.org>; Hollie A. Huthman <hahuthman@cob.org>; ehwilliams@cob.org <ehwilliams@cob.org>; Lisa A. Anderson <laanderson@cob.org>; Daniel C. Hammill <dchammill@cob.org>; mayorsoffice@cob.org <mayorsoffice@cob.org>

Cc: G. CC. Immigration Board <immigrationboard@cob.org>; Chuckanuthealthfoundation Info <info@chuckanuthealthfoundation.org>; Health <health@co.whatcom.wa.us>; phab@co.whatcom.wa.us <phab@co.whatcom.wa.us>; council@co.whatcom.wa.us <council@co.whatcom.wa.us>; Satpal Sidhu <ssidhu@co.whatcom.wa.us>

2 thoughts on “On top of sweeps, no sitting or lying, aggressive parking enforcement: how the race to displace continues now / Noisy Waters Northwest

  1. Pingback: Additional data related to Bellingham’s pursuit of an ordinance against people using drugs in public / Noisy Waters Northwest | noisy waters northwest

  2. Pingback: Law enforcement remains in the lead to re-criminalize drug use and possession / Noisy Waters Northwest | noisy waters northwest

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