SANTA FE – One statistic speaks volumes: 99 percent of burglaries or burglary suspects that Santa Fe police come in contact with have a drug addiction connection, according to two veteran detectives. The drug of choice: heroin.
A new program to help addicts and to help prevent burglaries is in the works to tackle the city’s drug problem.
“We literally have not encountered anybody that I can recall that is not a drug addict,” said Capt. Jerome Sanchez, head of investigations.
Sanchez and Detective Casey Salazar know the program can’t entirely stop drug-related burglaries, but it has been successful in Seattle. The two officers hope the program can help addicts get past a “cycle of arrests” and set those who burglarize to fund their habit “on a better path.”
A Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD, program was established in Seattle in 2011 and one could be operating in Santa Fe by mid-2014. The two cities differ in that Seattle has an open-air, street dealing problem, said Salazar. In Santa Fe, he said, “our problem is more heroin and it’s more related to property crimes. You have people you know have no violent history but you know they need help.”
The two officers, along with Detective Roberto Rodriguez, District Attorney Angela “Spence” Pacheco, Assistant District Attorney Jason Lidyard and Monica Ault with the Drug Policy Alliance, recently spent four days in Seattle to learn how the program could be launched in Santa Fe.
When officers encounter someone with an addiction, but who does not have a violent crime history and is not a major drug dealer, they can bring in a non-police case manager to decide on treatment options for that person.
LEAD is not an abstinence program, but it’s meant “to reduce the harm of opiate addiction,” Sanchez said. “It’s a harm reduction philosophy.
“This not a get-out-of-jail-free card,” he added. “It’s an innovative program – in the unit, we care what happens in the community.”
Sanchez hopes the LEAD program will free up officers to deal with other crimes, including violent ones.
Sanchez said the program works as a pre-booking diversion for persons involved in certain crimes. When a patrol officer or a detective comes in contact with and interviews that person, they determine whether there is a drug addiction issue and call in a LEAD officer, Sanchez said. Then, using strict criteria, that officer will determine whether the person is eligible for LEAD.
Criteria include a determination that the alleged crime not be violent, that the person does not have a violent history and that, in the case of heroin possession, the amount is not more than three grams.
For example, Sanchez said, a woman arrested last week was caught by a homeowner as she fled out of a bedroom window with stuff scooped up from the home. She told officers she was supporting a drug habit. She could “be someone we might look at to get into LEAD,” Sanchez said.
A social worker/case manager then might arrange immediate medically assisted detoxification, often with a drug called suboxone that reduces the need for heroin and the effects of withdrawal.
“That’s ultimately what people are running from, the withdrawal symptoms,” Sanchez said.
Other treatment could include intensive outpatient, in-patient or individualized therapy. Sometimes the addict might need immediate shelter. “A couple of nights’ stay to get them out of the elements or the situation they are in,” Sanchez said.
The Seattle program had a social contact provision, said Detective Salazar, meaning officers pro-actively sought out addicts before they were arrested for committing burglaries. “That might be good for our newer addicts,” he said.
Treatment instead of jail helps addicts, cuts down on burglaries and reduces the costs of jailing people, which is borne by taxpayers, both officers said. A cost-benefit analysis of the problem done by the Santa Fe Community Foundation found that the opiate-related arrests of 100 people in Santa Fe between 2010 and 2012 cost taxpayers between $1.8 and $2.5 million, said Sanchez, excluding medical, social service and criminal justice system costs.
The Santa Fe City Council committed $300,000 over the current and next fiscal years to fund the program but, according to a city police department news release, the LEAD task force is looking for other governmental and private sources to help pay for continued costs.