Top cop's anti-drug plan emphasizes treatment

By Scott North
Everett Herald Writer


Snohomish County, WA - Pat Slack rarely minces words. But the commander of the Snohomish Regional Drug Task Force is as blunt as a lead pipe to the skull about how detectives are faring against methamphetamine and other illegal drugs.

"We aren't in a war on drugs," he said. "We are in a maintenance program."

Get Slack talking about the county's growing meth problem and he can easily fill an hour with stories about drug-related murders, neighborhoods blighted by drug houses and plaintive phone calls from parents "whose 16- to 50-year-old child is involved with the drug culture, whose life is falling apart."

Now in his 33rd year as a law officer in Snohomish County, he's been quietly pushing an idea to radically reshape the way crime is fought here.

Slack envisions a coordinated approach that would make fighting drugs, particularly meth, the primary mission. In a key break with the past, drug treatment and drug abuse prevention would receive as much emphasis as chasing around drug dealers.

Under Slack's plan, for roughly $13.5 million in startup costs and about $9.5 million a year, the drug task force would grow to the size of a mid-sized police department. More prosecutors would be hired to file charges, but more defendants would be headed to expanded drug courts, where they would be ordered into strictly supervised treatment programs instead of jails.

The additional money also would also pay for more drug counselors working in the schools.

The drug task force would continue vigorously investigating top-level dealers. But the plan also would field dozens of detectives whose primary targets would be traffickers lower down the distribution pyramid. It's those dealers who are making their neighbors' lives little hells of around-the-clock traffic, screams in the dark, strangers running through yards and increased street crime, Slack said.

Catching people before they are absorbed into the drug lifestyle would be a key goal. Schools must be scoured for young people at risk and more needs to be done to make sure they get the skills they need to earn a good living, Slack said. Too many of the people he's arrested have told him they turned to drugs out of depression, or the recognition that they don't have the skills to earn a decent living legally.

Related material:

Click here to visit the home page for this 5-part series, featuring online resources, interactive graphics and links to past Herald coverage of the local meth epidemic.

After kicking drugs, girl's life forever changed

"They don't know how to spell resume, let alone write one," Slack said. "Who is going to hire them?"

Slack's idea has emerged at the same time debate has reached a fever pitch over making sure enough deputies are available to answer 911 calls. Under some scenarios being discussed, voters may be asked to approve new taxes for more deputies. If Slack's idea went before voters countywide, preliminary estimates are that it would add about $60 in property taxes a year on a $200,000 home.

Slack thinks the county could easily reduce the crime rate by 25 percent within about four years if it got a better handle on drug problems.

"Your burglaries, your mail theft, identity theft, car prowls, all are drug-related crimes," Slack said. People may not realize it, but they already fork out money for crime-related problems through insurance rates and increased costs for goods and services

Getting help

The Alcohol/Drug 24-hour HelpLine, a confidential service that provides assistance and guidance, toll-free 800-562-1240.
TeenLine provides peer counseling for young adults experiencing personal crises or drug abuse issues, 206-722-3700 or 800-562-1240.

For a complete list of inpatient and outpatient drug treatment centers, call 800-662-HELP.

Sheriff Rick Bart supports Slack's concept. Indeed, he's already planning to shift some resources in his department in 2002 so more deputies are free to work street-level drug problems.

"Pat's idea is a great idea," he said. "The key is to get buyoff from the cities and the mayors. This involves a lot of money."

Susan Neely is an executive director for Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel and regarded by some as an expert analyst on the dollars and sense of the local crime problem. She's met with Slack and thinks he's onto something, although questions remain.

The county is most plagued by property crime, a problem that is intimately connected to drugs, Neely said.

"He could take a real bite out of the whole crime problem in this county, " Neely said. But she added more analysis is needed.

"Even if they have the bodies, I'm not sure law enforcement has all the tools to go after this stuff," she said.

Pat Slack, commander of the Snohomish Regional Drug Task Force, would like to hear from the public regarding his concept for attacking the local drug problem. He can be reached via e-mail at: Pat.Slack@Co.Snohomish.Wa.US

You can call Herald Writer Scott North at 425-339-3431 or send e-mail to


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