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Offering a hand up instead of handcuffs

The police department has declared a truce with those seeking addiction recovery. At Thursday’s Ashland Rotary Club meeting, Deputy Chief Warren Hensman said Ashland police will not arrest or charge anyone who asks for help in addiction recovery, even if they have illegal drugs on their person.

“If someone walks into the Ashland Police Department today with drugs in their pocket and tells a police officer that they have drugs in their pocket, but they’re ready to seek treatment and help for their addiction, we will not charge them for the possession of that drug,” Hensman said. “We’ll impound it, we’ll take it away from them. We won’t let them keep it, and then we’ll seek out recovery options with the Addictions Recovery Center in Medford.”

All police officers are given priority assessment vouchers which they may distribute to anyone seeking assistance or anyone in obvious need of assistance. These vouchers allow the individual to go to the front of the line at the facility. Hensman said people stand in line all day and sometimes don’t get assessed because the line is too long.

“A person that walks into a facility and leaves without being assessed has a significantly increased likelihood of going right back to drugs or alcohol,” Hensman said.

APD implemented the program in October 2017. Medford Police adopted it in February. Since then, APD has had 14 confirmed people who have checked into the facility using a voucher and MPD has had a confirmed six.

“It’s as simple as law enforcement realizing that some people need a little push in their lives, and I don’t mean that literally,” Hensman said.

He called this new police mentality a necessary culture shift for law enforcement.

“We all know what’s happening in our community — the United States, Oregon, even the Rogue Valley — and we need to get better with our police/citizen relationship,” Hensman said.

As an official on an educational video played by Hensman at the meeting put it, “We are not going to arrest away addiction.”

“Working in conjunction with the medical community and science-based recovery programs, the Ashland Police Department can make a difference in the Rogue Valley by saving lives from drug overdoses, reducing the number of drug addicts and opioid drug demand, thereby devaluing a seemingly endless drug supply,” according to an APD statement about the Gateway Program. “We want to remove the stigma associated with drug addiction, turning the conversation toward the disease of addiction rather than the crime of addiction.”

Gateway is modeled after the Gloucester, Massachusetts, Angel Program created by the then-Police Chief Leonard Campanello. Campanello also helped found a nonprofit organization called the Police Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative or P.A.R.I. to help promote the model throughout the country.

Hensman said that not only will this program help those suffering from addiction, it will in turn lessen the amount of drug-related crime in the community.

According to a Boston Globe article, fatal overdoses and drug related arrests declined significantly the first year the program was in place.

“Although the chief could not make a direct connection between that decline and the Angel Program, a study by Boston University and Boston Medical Center found startling results in its first year.

“In 417 cases where a person who visited the Gloucester police station was eligible for treatment, police data showed that 94.5 percent were offered direct placement and 89.7 percent enrolled in detox or other recovery services, according to Dr. Davida Schiff, a BMC pediatrician who was lead researcher in the study,” the article stated.

“The solution, I think, is partnerships, tenacity, people need to be involved, we need to work together,” Hensman said. “Part of the solution is to not be afraid to sit down and have a difficult conversation on what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong,”

Hensman stressed during his presentation that all police officers will be professional, compassionate and understanding during contact with anyone requesting help.

“Gateway is a way to make our community better than it was yesterday,” Hensman said.

Contact Daily Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

Andy Atkinson / Daily TidingsAshland Police Deputy Chief Warren Hensman describes the contents of an overdose kit carried by each officer in town.
Andy Atkinson / Daily TidingsAshland Police Deputy Chief Warren Hensman goes through an overdose kit carried by each officer in town.