Seattle police and prosecutors invited Columbia City drug dealers to a meeting Wednesday night to offer them the same deal extended last year to a group of dealers from the Central Area: Quit dealing or face prosecution.

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Seattle police and prosecutors invited Columbia City drug dealers to a meeting Wednesday night to offer them the same deal extended last year to a group of dealers from the Central Area: Quit dealing or face prosecution.

The dealers were also offered support services to help them live drug-free.

Four dealers filed into a room in a Lions Club building repurposed for the event: Covering Valentine’s Day decorations, mug shots of other dealers hung on the walls — dealers who had not been afforded the same opportunity.

The gathered dealers sat in rows of chairs that weren’t already filled with community members and faced a screen playing surveillance video of drug deals.

Lt. Chris Fowler of Seattle’s South Precinct stood by a microphone and pointed to thick, white binders displayed on a table — cases filled with evidence collected over two months. The Seattle Police Department had not yet referred the cases to prosecutors, Fowler said, but the police will do so if the dealers continue selling drugs.

One of the dealers interrupted Fowler’s explanation to ask why a photo of a man she knew was hanging on the wall. She pointed to one of the mug shots with the word “arrested” printed above in orange, capital letters.

“They’re in jail,” Fowler said. “They didn’t qualify to be sitting in the seats you’re sitting in.”

The drug dealers were given the opportunity to attend Wednesday’s meeting as part of the Drug Market Initiative, the second of its kind in the city. The South Seattle DMI project in Columbia City followed the Central Area project, which initially targeted 18 dealers.

Nine of those “candidates” were successful, Seattle Police Chief John Diaz said, meaning those dealers have not since been arrested.

The program is modeled after one successfully implemented in High Point, N.C., in 2004 by police and David Kennedy, a criminologist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

South Seattle community members, police and prosecutors identified Columbia City as the target of the program’s second year because of its overt, open-air drug market.

This year’s focus on a smaller neighborhood led to a smaller pool of candidates. Five dealers were invited. One didn’t show up.

They are considered low-level dealers, who have no convictions for violent felonies or gun charges. Higher-risk offenders are still prosecuted in the traditional manner, and low-level dealers who refuse to stop dealing will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

The process of getting the dealers to the meeting, called a “community call-in,” was nail-biting, Fowler said afterward.

“Just getting them here really involved the people who are close to them,” he said.

The entire program relied on the help of the dealers’ friends and family. Police contacted the candidates’ loved ones to ask for help persuading the dealers to accept the opportunity.

Columbia City community members spoke at the meeting, sharing personal stories of how the local drug market has affected them.

Bull Stewart, a 15-year Seattle resident and owner of Columbia City Fitness Center, said the drug deals in front of his gym affected business and worried his family. He said he eventually persuaded the dealers to operate elsewhere.

“I know all four of you,” Stewart said. “I treated you with respect. … You have an opportunity now to change your life, to change the community’s life. I’m willing to help you and employ you in my fitness center.”

Kay Godefroy, the executive director of the Seattle Neighborhood Group, reiterated that the community will be there to help the dealers find treatment and recover.

“We’re determined that we’re going to close the drug market in this neighborhood,” Godefroy said. “We’re here for you today. …

We’ll be there tomorrow — as long as it takes, if you all decide today is the day to change.”

Information from The Seattle Times archives was included in this report.

Olivia Bobrowsky: 206-464-3195 or obobrowsky@seattletimes.com