Seattle’s “9 ½ Blocks Strategy” is a promising approach to an open-air drug market downtown. The next few months will be the test.

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THE City of Seattle is finally cracking down on the brazen criminal activity that has proliferated in the downtown area between Pike Place Market and the retail core.

This was long overdue, as most anyone who lives in the area, works there or has visited recently can attest.

For years, the combination of vague leadership, lax policing and finger-pointing by city officials and prosecutors has let the situation get out of control and become a threat to the area’s safety, livability and economic vitality.

The roughest stretch of Third Avenue saw 180 violent crimes reported over the last year, among more than 10,000 calls for police as thefts, assaults and other mischief occurred in an area known as an open-air drug market. On April 23, police announced they had arrested nearly 200 people suspected of drug dealing and drug-related thefts.

Now the question is whether the city’s “9 ½ Blocks Strategy” for addressing this problem area is just another showy sweep of downtown, as mayors often do at some point.

Or does this mark the start of the deep and positive change that Mayor Ed Murray and Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole have promised?

The next few months will be the test. They must demonstrate sooner rather than later that their new approach will benefit more than just these blocks of the city. They must do more than just push the problem to another part of town.

There are several reasons to be hopeful.

Murray and O’Toole say they have built a coalition to support more enforcement and provide more clarity to officers on the street. O’Toole said this included taking a long walk through the problem area with prosecutors, followed by many meetings.

Such progress is especially welcome as police in Seattle, Baltimore and other cities across the country are under scrutiny for excessive force and discriminatory practices. All are looking for a new way forward.

Seattle is not reverting to heavy-handed policing. It’s not becoming Singapore (unless you make a wrong turn into a woonerf street). Murray is adjusting the dial, resetting expectations of how much will be tolerated.

The strategy also applies the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, which gives police the flexibility to divert nonviolent, low-risk drug offenders to social services rather than cycling them through jail.

LEAD started as an experiment in 2011 and has been a success in Belltown, where it significantly reduced the likelihood of reoffending. LEAD also brought police, prosecutors and public defenders together to work on a creative response to a complex problem.

Recent city initiatives to assist the homeless with a new shelter and housing services also buttress the new strategy.

Some aspects of the 9 ½ Blocks Strategy need more discussion, such as the city’s abrupt decision to bar the public from alleys in the area. Violators face fines of up to $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail.

Temporary closures to address a crisis are justifiable, but the city should not blithely close off valuable rights of way, especially without a giving the public a chance to discuss what to do with its property.

The people will also have something to say if Seattle’s leadership is truly providing clearer direction to police and clarifying that rampant, public drug activity and street crime will no longer be tolerated.

They will say: “Thank you.”