Glitch blamed for rise in pot-possession reports
A glitch in the Seattle police computer system last year routed nearly three times as many pot-possession reports to City Attorney Pete Holmes as the year before.
The jump wasn't a matter of a changed focus by the department, said Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, a spokesman for the Seattle Police Department (SPD). Police are continuing to make pot their lowest priority, Whitcomb said.
Holmes campaigned for city attorney on the promise of not prosecuting marijuana-possession cases. Of the nearly 300 reports Holmes' office received in 2010, the office filed only one case, which "accidentally got through," according to the office's annual report, presented to the City Council Public Safety Committee on Wednesday.
The Police Department's old paper system relied on officer discretion, Whitcomb said, while the new one passes all the reports along, resulting in a stack-up of marijuana-possession reports. SPD is trying to fix the computer system, he said.
Fewer than 130 reports made it to the City Attorney's Office in both 2008 and 2009, with more than 70 cases filed each of those years by Holmes' predecessor, Tom Carr.
"It's almost an artificial jump, as far as there's no SPD drive to look for marijuana cases. We have plenty of things to keep us busy," Whitcomb said.
Holmes said his office had been working with police to reconcile the data, but had been unable to agree on numbers before the city attorney's annual report was published. He said he doesn't think the police are arresting three times as many people for marijuana possession, but some officers may not agree with the city attorney's position not to prosecute marijuana-possession cases.
"There may be some push-back from individual officers, but that doesn't explain all the numbers," Holmes said.
Seattle voters in 2003 passed Initiative 75, which made marijuana intended for adult personal use the city's lowest law-enforcement priority.
"[Marijuana possession] is not something we look for, but when we find it, it is still technically a law violation," Whitcomb said.
Holmes also emphasized that although he has declined to prosecute marijuana-possession cases, it remains a state and federal crime.
"We don't want a banner across the city saying 'marijuana is legal here,' because it isn't," Holmes said. "We don't want people blowing smoke in officers' faces."
There were 75 reports of marijuana possession to the city attorney in the first half of this year, Holmes said. That puts police on track for a drop in reported cases from 2010. And the department says its officers made no arrests in the first three months of this year in which misdemeanor marijuana possession was the only charge
. By Jessie Van Berkel
Seattle Times staff reporter
Staff reporter Lynn Thompson contributed to this report.
Originally published August 3, 2011 at 7:51 PM | Page modified August 4, 2011 at 7:23 PM
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