Beyond the Stigma: Dover, Farmington jump into actionBy SHAWNE K. WICKHAM
New Hampshire Union Leader
May 29. 2018 11:45PM
What if, instead of arresting people who use drugs, police officers helped connect them to treatment, housing, mental health services and other resources?
That’s the idea behind LEAD, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion. And it’s coming to New Hampshire this fall.
Dover and Farmington police departments, in collaboration with community leaders, hope to launch a pilot program in October. SOS Recovery Community Organization just got a $75,000, two-year grant, which will pay for officer training and technical assistance from the national LEAD program.
Farmington Police Chief John Drury plans to train all 17 of his officers in how LEAD works. “I think it’ll give them all the option that, when they come across somebody that fits into the program and fits into the policy, they can do it,” he said.
“We’re just trying to think outside the box here,” Drury said. “If there’s something where we could get somebody some immediate help, I think that gives us a completely new avenue to explore.”
Brendan Cox recently retired as police chief in Albany, N.Y. He’s now director of policing strategies for the national LEAD program; he’ll be helping Dover and Farmington set up their programs.
This is not the L.E.A.D. program that some New Hampshire communities are adopting instead of DARE; that one, Law Enforcement Against Drugs, promotes healthy behaviors within schools.
This LEAD gives a police officer the discretion, instead of arresting someone, to refer him or her to a case manager, who can connect them with treatment and other resources, such as housing or work support.
When Cox became a police officer in 1994, he recalled, “We were at the height of the war on drugs.”
“When I came on, I thought that by arresting somebody, I was going to help them,” he said. “But in the end, I realized it didn’t help them. It actually created more turmoil not only for them, but for their family and for their community.”
And over time, he said, “We realized maybe there was a different way to do our jobs.”
LEAD works because it’s a collaboration among police, prosecutors, city leaders, civil rights groups and other community organizations, Cox said.
The only requirement for participants is to meet with a case manager and go through an assessment, he said. “It’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card, but it’s ... a very low barrier to get over.”
Not everyone can be diverted, Cox said. It’s up to the local leadership group to decide which offenses qualify for the program, such as drug possession and prostitution.
What drives his passion about this?
“I’ve seen too many of them pass away,” he replied.
It’s the same in Dover.
Dover Police Capt. David Terlemezian says adding LEAD is in keeping with his department’s innovative approach to dealing with the drug epidemic. “This is just an additional solution that we can try ... to help folks make some sort of progress,” he said.
In 2013, Dover had one fatal drug overdose; the next year, it climbed to six. Then in 2015, there were 13; in 2016, 12; and last year, 13.
For a population just over 30,000, Terlemezian said, “That is alarming, and this is a crisis that calls for as many innovative solutions as we can find.”
Terlemezian said he expects getting community buy-in won’t be a problem.
“I think one of the reasons Strafford County is rich in recovery resources is that the community has, unfortunately, been educated as to the gravity of the problem,” he said.
John Burns, director of SOS, said his organization will provide in-kind services, including case managers, for the pilot program.
The eventual goal is to expand the program throughout Strafford County, Burns said.
Drury said Farmington has done a lot of work to educate the community since the opioid epidemic began. They’ve held roundtables and town hall meetings, even a pancake breakfast that drew 80 people. “We fed them breakfast and then they were able to be trained on Narcan,” he said.
And it’s making a difference in his community of about 7,000 residents, he said. In 2015, 12 people died from drug overdoses in town; the next year saw four fatal overdoses. Last year, there were two.
Cox said Seattle, where LEAD began, has seen a 58 percent reduction in recidivism among those who participated in the program. And there are cost benefits as well, he said.
In Albany, where Medicaid expansion funds have been used to provide some services, Cox said, it costs about $500 a month for each LEAD participant — far less than the $75,000 it would cost to incarcerate them for a year. They’ve also seen savings in health care costs.
“The up-front spending will absolutely save you in the long run,” he said.
Beyond the Stigma, sponsored by the New Hampshire Solutions Journalism Lab at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications, is funded by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, NAMI New Hampshire, and private individuals. Contact reporter Shawne K. Wickham at email@example.com.