Yakima drug arrests down by a third in 2013

Yakima drug arrests down by a third in 2013 »Play Video
YAKIMA, Wash. -- Drug arrests are down in a big way here in Yakima. The KIMA Crime Tracker found they dropped by a third last year. The new pot law is a big reason.

On their face, the numbers are startling. 184 fewer narcotics arrests just last year.

But, dig deeper and the main reason is clear. Pot busts were down by 62% in 2013.

A narcotics supervisor with the Yakima Police Department says the confusion over the state's pot law, and how to enforce it, is partly to blame. The law legalizes recreation marijuana in small amounts. But, the drug is still illegal under federal law. The undercover officer asked us to protect his identity.

"With I-502 and the problems that it's created at the narcotics level, it obviously decreased the amount of arrests, misdemeanors and possession of marijuana areas at the PD as well."

He also speculated on other reasons for the drop in arrests. Recent legal changes, for instance, require warrants for vehicle searches in almost all circumstances, complicating the search for drugs.

"It's the complexity of those types of cases. To get a search warrant, you have to have probable cause, of course. So, to get that far in the investigation is much more difficult just at a traffic stop."

And, police officers can no longer tow cars for low-level license violations. While YPD has been working with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency since 2012, the department says it could still use more hands.

"I don't think we've ever had a time here within the city that we can say that we had an adequate number of staffing."

Despite the drop, this officer says the workload following illegal drugs feels the same.

Yakima's Planning Commission holds a public hearing next week on marijuana. There's a proposal to outlaw sales and production of recreational pot within city limits.