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In Montpelier, A New Project Will Help Drug Offenders Get Treatment

The Montpelier Police Department will offer to drive those it apprehends for drug offenses to a nearby treatment provider. Advocates say the program will work in central Vermont, where addiction treatment is readily available.
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The Montpelier Police Department will offer to drive those it apprehends for drug offenses to a nearby treatment provider. Advocates say the program will work in central Vermont, where addiction treatment is readily available.

The Montpelier Police Department will work more closely with local agencies to get people it apprehends for drug offenses directly into treatment.

Police Chief AntonyFacossays 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. ButFacossays 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 inChittendenCounty 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 ofCentral 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.

Copyright 2016 Vermont Public Radio

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.

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