Hope Not Handcuffs grows across Oakland County

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published June 12, 2018

 Participating members of law enforcement joined advocates from Families Against Narcotics’ Hope Not Handcuffs program June 5 for a press conference on the progress of the initiative, which has been adopted by 15 Oakland County police departments.

Participating members of law enforcement joined advocates from Families Against Narcotics’ Hope Not Handcuffs program June 5 for a press conference on the progress of the initiative, which has been adopted by 15 Oakland County police departments.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki

OAKLAND COUNTY — It was a sight that would’ve been unthinkable just a couple of years ago.

A line of law enforcement leaders from across Oakland County, standing shoulder to shoulder in Farmington Hills City Hall June 5, telling the public that when it comes to drugs, they don’t want to arrest — they want to help.

The press conference was an update on how many local police departments have adopted the Hope Not Handcuffs initiative, which aims to provide people with substance abuse problems with recovery assistance if they go to a participating police station and ask for help.

Katie Donovan, a co-founder of the program that was launched by Families Against Narcotics, said it’s astounding how many departments have been willing to look past the stigma of criminality with drug users in order to find residents the resources they need to heal.

“There was definitely some hesitation by law enforcement at first, because they thought they just didn’t have the resources for this. We’ve really seen a change in the mindset, and to see these (officers) look past all that speaks volumes about the problem we’re facing,” Donovan said to the crowd at the press conference that day. “This isn’t somebody else’s problem. This is our problem. This is not a moral failing.”

So far, 15 agencies in Oakland County have adopted the program, which costs departments nothing and runs entirely on volunteer efforts. Briefly explained, Donovan said, officers need not do anything besides call a Hope Not Handcuffs volunteer, called “angels,” when someone comes into a police station to seek addiction help. A trained angel will come to the station and stay with that person, assisting with phone calls and paperwork to find a bed in a rehabilitation facility.

The detox process lasts about a week, followed usually by residential treatment for the better part of a month. After people’s rehab stay, FAN helps them find housing and assists with job searches so recovering addicts can stay clean into the future.

Donovan noted that Hope Not Handcuffs is hardly a “get-out-of-jail-free card,” and if someone comes into the station with a violent criminal record or no interest in actually seeking recovery, officers can exercise their right to take a subject into custody. But those instances are pretty rare, she said.

“We’ve had one arrest out of 1,300 people, and that was due to a severe felony (on their record),” she said. “Usually, a person who walks into a police station looking for help is receptive and dedicated. These officers see them in their worst moments, and they want to save those lives.”

Clawson Police Chief Harry Anderson said that even small towns like Clawson are impacted by the ongoing opioid epidemic, and he said that with some tweaks to protocol, the program could really be a great partnership with measurable results.

“We see (the epidemic) when it comes to overdoses or people we’ve arrested, so by the time we see them, they’re really suffering,” Anderson said. “From what I’ve heard from participating agencies, it takes a bit of a learning curve to get used to this, but then you get to enjoy the benefits of the program, and officers like that it gives them the opportunity to get someone those resources.”

Bloomfield Township Police Chief Scott McCanham said the old method of locking up addicts across the board just isn’t working to combat the crisis.

“Law enforcement is not going to solve the opioid crisis with multiple arrests and that sort of thing. We’ve got to partner with the community and private organizations such as this,” he said.

As much as officers need to change their way of thinking, so do members of the public, said Farmington Hills Assistant Police Chief Dan Rodriguez.

“We’re here to help people. That’s what we do for a living. We want to save these lives, and unfortunately, there’s not a week that goes by (that) we don’t see these types of things going on,” Rodriguez said. “We want people to know they can come to us with this problem.”

Jennifer Dishner-Ladd, an angel with Hope Not Handcuffs, said she’s impressed with how open-minded officers and participants have been.

“When someone reaches that point and they see this window of opportunity there, they’re really receptive. When (participants) see that we’re there to help them and not to judge, they’re really empowered,” she said.

For more on the Hope Not Handcuffs program, including a list of participating communities and information on how to become an angel, visit FamiliesAgainstNarcotics.org/HopeNotHandcuffs.