The Alliance Police Department is adding another method to help combat drug abuse and associated crime in that community by becoming the first department in Nebraska to join the nationwide effort known as PAARI.
Alliance Chief Phil Lukens tells KNEB News one of the goals of the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative is to hit a root cause of the local drug trade, the demand that draws the supply. “If they (drug addicts) are no longer demanding that drug, there’s no longer going to be the supply coming into the city of Alliance to provide that drug to them, and that’s what we want to do,” says Lukens. “We’re not looking out to put everybody in jail. Our goal is to make our community healthier and safer, and we want to do that by providing resources to help them overcome that chemical addiction.”
Recognizing that law enforcement has a front row seat to the opioid epidemic and are in a unique position to prevent overdose deaths, in June 2015 the Gloucester Police Department launched the Angel Program, which created a simple, stigma-free entry point to treatment on demand and reframed addiction as a disease, not a crime. PAARI was founded as a nonprofit alongside the Angel Program to help law enforcement agencies create non-arrest programs that prevent and reduce overdose deaths and expand access to treatment and recovery.
In the results of a citizen survey released in February, drug abuse was cited as the top concern of Alliance residents, being cited among the top three concerns by more than 70% of respondents. Lukens says the use of the PAARI program is meant help that situation by being an attractive option because it’s non-punitive, “so if they come to the Police Department and they bring in their heroin, or whatever stuff they’re using, we give them ‘amnesty’, we dispose of it properly so it doesn’t end up in the hands of someone else, and they get resources to help and overcome the addiction.”
According to the PAARI website, the nationwide network now includes nearly 600 police departments in 34 states, primarily supporting non-arrest, or early diversion, program models that reach people before they enter the criminal justice system. Programs are customized based on the community and can utilize multiple law enforcement entry points to treatment, including self-referrals to the station and risk or incident-based outreach.
However, Lukens says joining the program does not mean local law enforcement will stop going after criminals supplying the drugs. “We recognize that there are some people who are making a choice, they want a criminal lifestyle, and those people have to be held accountable,” says Lukens, “We have to keep our community safe, and with a lot of drug activity comes other criminal activity, and we need to sure we’re getting Alliance safer and safer as we go on. That’s our ultimate goal.”
He says in addition to helping end drug addiction, the program should also help reduce the burden on the court system by cutting the number of cases involving drug possession in smaller quantities.