It’s amazing how the past week presented examples of both the most effective and the least effective possible law enforcement responses to individuals living with addiction challenges. As a proud Philadelphian, I very much wish that I could go on in this post to boast of how my beloved home was the source of the most effective response. It is with sadness, disappointment and shame that I instead found my city’s response to be of the worst kind in terms of a viable, sustainable and respectful solution to combating addiction challenges in our communities.
First, for the best kind of response. One of the most wonderful human beings I know, Mary Morwald, took the time to share an article to my Facebook wall about a law enforcement initiative taking place in Gloucester, Massachusetts. According to the article in the Boston Globe, individuals with addiction challenges in Glocester can enter a police station and “be paired immediately with on-call volunteers — called “angels” — who will take them to an emergency room, if necessary, and help find detox, treatment, and other services afterward.” The article goes on to state that those who seek help will not face any charges for any illicit substances or paraphernalia they have on them. As of July 17th, while the Gloucester PD looks to expand the services it will provide even further to include Outreach Coordinators, 55 individuals have taken the Gloucester PD up on their offer and entered into some kind of service for their addiction challenges.
What that means is 55 individuals received a unique opportunity to initiate recovery.
This translates to 55 less individuals in jail, 55 more families with an opportunity to experience their loved one in a new way and 55 people who have a chance to actualize their community enhancing potential.
Now, for the worst kind of response. On July 20th, the Philadelphia Police Department took to social media to post the pictures of 68 individuals who were arrested as part of a two day “narcotics initiative” in areas of the city that are well known to be open-air drug markets. As if the pictures weren’t enough, the Philly PD would later go on to add the full names of each individual along with their picture. In addition to the names and pictures of those arrested, the Philly PD provided details on the outcomes of the sting. These publicly released details make it crystal clear that the overwhelming majority of those caught in the sting, and subsequently plastered on social media, were in fact arrested for having small amounts of illicit substances. This alludes to the fact that the overwhelming majority of those arrested were arrested for possession rather than intent to deliver charges, which in turn means that it is extremely likely they were substance users as opposed to dealers. To that end, the Philly PD essentially littered social media with the names and pictures of citizens who are struggling with addiction.
While the Gloucester Police Department has committed to being of help and support to the citizens they serve, the Philadelphia Police Department has taken to publicly shaming citizens who are quite possibly living with the illness of substance use disorder. This should be seen as an unacceptable response to any illness, particularly one that now kills more Pennsylvanians than car accidents.
Please understand, I am most grateful and appreciative of the difficult work that the Philly PD does in our city. I cannot fathom, nor would I pretend to begin to understand what it must be like to serve our city in this capacity. While I respect our PD tremendously, I do not respect the poor taste and ineffectiveness of its response to combating addiction in this instance. I genuinely attribute the Philly PD’s poor judgment around posting the names and faces of citizens living with addiction challenges to a lack of awareness and education. I imagine that if the Philly PD were to realize the micro and macro level harm it causes by spreading this information in a shaming, insensitive, cruel and ineffective manner, it would be quick to start looking toward strategies that the Gloucester PD has found to be much more effective.
I hope that you will join me in finding ways to educate and support the Philadelphia Police Department around employing strategies that are effective and of support to our citizens and communities who are struggling with addiction challenges. I hope that we can begin policing for recovery.