Desperate or Dealer: Officers Tasked With the Vetting Process

Should we be asking cops to determine who's dealing and who needs treatment?

Katrina was arrested in 2006 in South Florida for selling a small amount of heroin. Recently kicked out of a rehab for fraternizing with men, she was living between the couches of different “friends,” most of whom were on drugs or associated with the drug trade. She was selling drugs and sex for money to get by; she was also selling to use.

A non-violent offender, but one with a history of arrests for drug possession, Katrina was sent to prison for a year. Deeply anxious and depressed to begin with, she emerged from behind bars much worse. Nothing but heroin seemed to take the edge off her pain.

At the young age of 29,Katrina overdosed and died.

Who Takes the Lead?

It’s this kind of sad story that some police departments are trying to prevent. Recently the Christopher D. Smithers Foundation published a full-page ad in the New York Times calling for police to have the ability to force drug addicted individuals into treatment.

Programs such as the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program in Seattle, Washington work to provide social services to drug users who are dealing to support their habit. And while LEAD doesn’t force them into treatment, many of these individuals do eventually accept treatment and succeed.

These programs clearly have positive intent, but they raise important questions: Are police qualified to determine who has a substance use problem and who is dealing for other reasons? And should we really be asking them to take on such a complex vetting process?

Some argue that clinical personnel, not law enforcement, should make the call, especially when a decision between charging someone with a crime or compelling them to undergo psychiatric treatment is on the line.

It Needs to Be a Team Effort

The Rutgers Center for Alcohol Studies in New Jersey offers training for police officers in how to help people with drug problems. While such training programs represent a clear step toward treating people who use drugs with compassion instead of simply treating them as criminals, it’s clear that police can’t solve the problem alone.

“Cops are trained to get criminals off the street,” says Julie, a former heroin and crack user who had many run-ins with law enforcement before she quit using. “They aren’t doctors or therapists. It’s great if they can offer people a chance to stay out of jail, but I’d want to be sure that mental health professionals made the final decision in who gets into treatment.”

What do you think about these programs? Sound off in the comments section below.

 

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