Webinar presenters Wendy Stiver and Cory Nelson answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Contemporary Police Responses to Addiction: Lessons from NIJ’s LEADS Program. Here are just a few of their responses.
Audience Question: Wendy you shared an acronym that several in the audience didn’t quite understand. What does ICS stand for?
Wendy Stiver: That’s the Incident Command System. That’s basically the National Incident Management System term for I don’t know how to best describe that. It’s the national standardized system for emergency management and a lot of fire departments are using it much better. Police departments are starting to embrace it more. It ensures that when you have an emergency in a city, are or jurisdictions that everybody who shows up to participate is using the same language and the same command structure
Audience Question: What advice do you have for other agencies who are looking to build programs like this? In other words, what do you know now, now being able to look back in time? What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started addressing these challenges in your community?
Cory Nelson: For me, it was all new information. I really didn’t know anything about addiction, about treatment, treatment maps. It was all new. I wish I came in with a little more knowledge. It took a long time to get that learning curve up. A lot of interviews with people. I suggest you pretend that you are a sponge and talk to as many people in the field as you can to understand terms, terminology, types of treatment, in-patient, outpatient, medication assistance treatment, Vivitrol, suboxone. A lot of stuff that I didn’t know that I know now.
Wendy Stiver: The biggest thing was any kind of collaborative response is people tend to get protective of their turf. We work in these silos. The most important thing is there’s really no such thing as staying in your lane in some ways on problems like this. We need to think differently about everything that we do. The key is collaboration. It starts by asking other agencies what they are doing. The first thing that we tend to find out in any collaborative project like this is that somebody is already doing something that we just didn’t know about.
Cory Nelson: I was going to add in just be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking like I said the whole treating this thing as an addiction is a kind of new to us. It’s still something that the officers don’t completely all agree on. Just be open to new ideas and listening to experts in the field.
Audience Question: You talked about the need to help the officers change the attitudes about addiction. How long did that take to get those attitudes to kind of change?
Cory Nelson: We’re still working on it, to be honest with you. I think that the panel we had was a huge step in the right direction. It’s a two-hour panel where officers are able to sit down informally, ask questions and it was a small scale like a classroom of 25 to 30 officers at a time. It wasn’t big groups. I think they learned a ton from that. I’m glad we did that (indiscernible 1:08:20) we know struggle with today because officers flat out told us that we think the best thing is to just arrest these people. Well, maybe it’s not the best thing. Maybe we need to try another idea.
Wendy Stiver: I love the idea, that panel. It’s great
Audience Question: Wendy I’m going to pick on you now. You talked about having to help police officers how to visibly demonstrate that they care. How long did that take? How did you help those officers learn how to share their caring?
Wendy Stiver: I got to tell you I think it’s an ongoing challenge. I think really the biggest impact when it came to opioid addiction was opening up and telling your own personal stories and getting some of our folks to understand that this could be you. This could be your family. I think that as we went through this and more and more of our folks are affected by it personally I think that helped to really change some of their perspectives. I think another big thing is this multidisciplinary team. Taking cops out of traditional cop environments and traditional cop work and putting them in a problem-solving team definitely has a huge impact on how they do their work and has a little bit of a civilizing effect as well. We’re less likely to keep ourselves at arms’ length from the people that we work with and to see not only our community partners but the folks in the community as more human in a way.
Audience Question: What was the community’s general response to the program? Did anyone accuse the PD of being soft on these offenses?
Cory Nelson: We’ve not had that feedback yet. The community response has been overwhelmingly supportive. They were taking in a new angle looking at this. We are changing the paradigm of our thinking and encouraging others to do so as well. We’ve had – I’m not aware of really any negative feedback we’ve had at all. It’s been a very good thing.
Wendy Stiver: There are some voices in and around our community that criticize the widespread use of Naloxone to save lives. It still boggles my mind that anybody would be resistant to saving lives. Kind of the response to that is if somebody is a diabetic and they eat poorly, we don’t deny them treatment. Somebody has a heart condition and their diet and exercise regime actually makes it worse. We’re not just going to ignore them if they have a heart condition. It’s really the same thing getting people to see it that way has been a challenge. As somebody who has lost a family member, a very close family member, it breaks my heart to hear anyone say that we shouldn’t be doing this. We shouldn’t be changing our focus the way that we have. We’re a public safety agency. We’re here to protect people and to protect lives. That should be the very core of what we do and how we approach everything that we do. Yes, we’re here to hold people accountable but if we allow these addictions to continue destroying our communities and destroying lives, we’re just going to make it worse. We’re just going to see more crime and we’re not going to have any chance of reducing the negative impacts of that through the crimes that come with it. We talked about getting to the roots of our problems. This is really it. I think we have known for a long time that a pretty significant amount of crime in our community has been committed by people driven by addiction. Instead of trying to fix the crime problem, if we can get down to the root of what’s causing it, we have a better chance of reducing the crimes.
Audience Question: Are both of your programs only for opioid or is it for all drugs? Certainly, there are other drug addictions that are out there. Is it solely focused on the opioid epidemic?
Cory Nelson: At Madison, primarily we focused on opioid because that is where the focus is, public scrutiny is at. We do our best to get anybody in the treatment to come to us looking for help. We point them in the right direction, if it’s weed, if it’s alcohol. We don’t see a lot of meth here. Primarily yes our focus is on opioids. Again it’s all about, one of our jobs is prevention, crime prevention. The more people we get to treatment, the more times we can ultimately prevent.
Wendy Stiver: I would ditto that. With the increase in meth that we are seeing I think that there’s a conversation happening about what resources are a better fit for that drug problem. Naloxone is a very opiate specific response. We absolute anyone who is interested in getting help is going to get help. We have a similar, actually, we have a mobile crisis response team with a mental health officer. I think we actually have 2 or 3 mental officers that work full time on that project. They kind of work hand in hand with the opiate response team. They are able to communicate back and forth and help connect people to resources regardless of what their addiction or mental health condition really is because a lot of those are just hand in hand. A lot of folks out there with addiction issues also have mental health issues.
Cory Nelson: Just going to mention that we have the same thing. We have a full-time mental health officer in every district here and our mental health officers do a lot of focusing on people with issues and getting them help.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Contemporary Police Responses to Addiction: Lessons from NIJ’s LEADS Program.