Additional data related to Bellingham’s pursuit of an ordinance against people using drugs in public / Noisy Waters Northwest

Click the graphic to access 2016-2020 Whatcom County Drug Court data on the Whatcom County website

April 3, 2023 Dena Jensen

In the email and graphic in this post there is a little more info related to Bellingham elected officials moving forward an ordinance to make public drug use illegal and considering related services. I sent the email to make sure elected officials had this information and to address some items from a response that one official had sent to a previous email about the ordinance which I had sent.

The graphic in this post provides some data related to Whatcom County’s Drug Court that include, among other figures, how many individuals are actually accepted into Drug Court each month and year for 2016-2020, and how many actually have made it through the process.

I also found a Whatcom County brochure on Drug Courts ( ) that states, “Successful completion of the program results in dismissal of the charges for which you were accepted into Drug Court.” From this I would infer that unsuccessful completion – i.e. withdrawals and terminations – would result in the County pursuing charges against such individuals.

Below is the email I sent Bellingham City Council Members and Mayor Seth Fleetwood:

Sent: Monday, April 3, 2023, 04:45:41 PM PDT

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

Dear Bellingham City Council and Mayor Fleetwood:

I wanted to start out by letting you know I was able to find some 2016-2020 Whatcom County Drug Court data (–2020?bidId= ) on the County website. It seems that some important figures about which to be alert are the number of people screened by the prosecutor, the number out of that amount who are actually approved for Drug Court by the prosecutor, the number of those who had been approved who went on to graduate, and the number who withdrew or were terminated and may have experienced legal or lethal (in one case someone died) consequences from that.

Meanwhile, I received an email today from one elected official that was in response to the attached email I sent out on March 31, 2023 addressed to you all and copied to other addresses as well. There seemed to be some misunderstandings that official had in regard to my email which I wanted to clear up, should anyone else to whom I had addressed my email also have them.

First, I addressed my March 31, 2023 email to the Bellingham City Council and Mayor Fleetwood, not because I personally was seeking more information about the LEAD, Drug Court, and MCOT programs from you. I sent it to City Council Members and Mayor Fleetwood because I was providing you with information of which I was aware in case it might be helpful during the process of your asking questions and discussing services available to community members who potentially will 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.

Second, in my email, I did not characterize the ordinance as likely to increase criminal records and incarceration in Whatcom County. I had used the word “potential” and not “likely” in my paragraph which read, in full, “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.”

Third, I did not allege that it is the intent or goal of officials to increase incarceration and add to the criminal records of more people. I imagine it is not a revelation, especially to anyone at least casually following the activities of Whatcom County’s Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force, that increasing incarceration and individuals’ criminal records does not have to be intentionally pursued to occur. It is the opposite: preventing and reducing incarceration has to be an intent and goal which is intensely and effectively pursued and executed.

Fourth, I continue to find it misleading and objectionable for myself and others to hear elected officials imply or assert that not making the public use of controlled substances illegal equates with turning a blind eye to drug overdoses. It was objectionable during the last Bellingham City Council Committee of the Whole meeting, and it is especially so in response to my March 31, 2023 email to you in which I was calling on you to promptly be encouraging, advancing, and providing diverse services and ways to help community members use them without creating additional ways to criminalize their behaviors. City legislators and the executive office are empowered to take action to increase and improve outreach, engagement, and services to promote the general welfare and have them carried out by a wide variety of agencies and community partners without the necessity of increasing legal penalties and negative impacts from our flawed justice system.


Dena Jensen

Birch Bay, WA