“Every jurisdiction in America is struggling with how to cope with and deal with our ever increasing drug problem. We do not need to reinvent the wheel; we simply need to mirror those jurisdictions that have had success in dealing with this problem”, said Tom Hejl, Calvert County Commissioner. “In our locale we need look no further than Prince William County, Manassas City and Manassas Park, Virginia as is evidenced by an article in the Washington Post.”
A new program, that Commissioner Hejl is talking about and that seems to be working in other places, is offering drug treatment to drug users and dealers at the time of the arrest. A detective or other officer sits down with the suspects and makes this offer: “We have a chaplain available right now to take you to a drug treatment center, where counselors are ready and waiting-right now- to get you into the treatment you need.”
The concept of police directly offering treatment to drug users and dealers is just emerging in law enforcement as police departments look for new ways to approach the drug problem. In Seattle and Santa Fe, police take drug users and low-level drug dealers to treatment before their arrests. In Collier County, Florida, police take people to treatment that they come across during drug raids but don’t arrest.
Treating suspects while they are facing prosecution is a slightly different approach. It is cutting edge. While embracing the opportunity for treatment doesn’t get defendants a special deal with prosecutors, defense attorneys may later seek to show that their clients are sincere about overcoming addiction.
The concept of offering drug treatment on the spot came about as members of the Prince William, Virginia watched heroin expand its presence on Northern Virginia streets. They were creating a cycle of arrest, release, addiction, arrest and it was the same offenders over and over. So they decided to address the addiction side.
The Community Services Board was asked if they could handle a sudden influx of serious addicts after several raids. The pitch was “we are not going to arrest our way out of this problem.” The counselor was told that the officers would make the offer immediately after the arrest and that was why the plan would work.
The officers were briefed on how to broach the subject with the suspects, giving them brochures to hand out, and arranged for police chaplains to be at the booking centers. The chaplains made it a neutral, caring person who took them in to the center. The officer made sure there was transportation available to the treatment center. The chaplains walked in with the suspects, while encouraging them.
Options were made available for drug addicts that included outpatient therapy, detoxification, residential treatment and more. Many had no idea any of these programs were available. Police departments nationwide are looking at options other incarcerating juveniles and non-violent offenders that create a much higher prospect of recidivism.
It is imperative that law enforcement and health care providers work together to raise awareness and increase treatment options for those who are addicted. This program is working in Virginia and can work for Calvert County. Commissioner Tom Hejl would like to see it instituted with the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office, health department, and CAASA.
Margit Miller / Calvert Beacon