The Montpelier Police Department will work more closely with local agencies to get people it apprehends for drug offenses directly into treatment.
Police Chief Antony Facos says the department still plans to enforce the law and in most cases will continue to arrest and process those it apprehends in possession of drugs. What will be different is police will also offer to drive the person to a treatment provider.
The idea, which has been dubbed Project Safe Catch, may not seem revolutionary. But Facos says it creates an important link that hasn’t existed between law enforcement and treatment providers.
“To dumb it down, with Project Safe Catch, we’re a taxi service. That’s how I see it,” he says. “I want clarity for the community to know that we are a partner in the treatment side as well.”
Facos says anyone who comes to the police station, disposes of drugs in a drop box there and asks for help will get it without being prosecuted. In some cases, that approach may extend to people who are apprehended with drugs.
“Even if they’re in possession, there could be some amnesty, potentially,” he says.
Advocates say Project Safe Catch will work in central Vermont, because addiction treatment is readily available.
“We don’t have the long waiting lists that they do in Chittenden County and some of the other treatment facilities, and so we’re working with that and saying, 'OK, we will find a place for somebody to get treatment right away,'” says Ann Gilbert, director of Central Vermont New Directions Coalition, one of the area organizations involved in the initiative.
Other Washington County law enforcement agencies are likely to follow Montpelier’s lead, according to Deborah Hopkins, operations director of Central Vermont Substance Abuse Services, which is also part of the Project Safe Catch partnership.
Hopkins says to be effective, the effort needs to be county-wide.
“We recognize there are a lot of efforts around the community, but what we really need is the linkages between those. That’s why this project is so unique,” she says.
Hopkins says Project Safe Catch will offer addiction help at a critical moment – when someone who is arrested for a drug crime might be more willing to accept the offer.
“In that moment of crisis, once they’re processed through and they post bail and they walk out the door, that will be when the police officer can say, 'Can I get you some help, do you want treatment right now?’”
There will be a community forum on Project Safe Catch Tuesday, March 8 at 6:30 at Montpelier High School.