Program seeks to ‘redirect’ drug users away from prison

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published September 29, 2023

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STERLING HEIGHTS — A recently formed program called REDIRECT is offering a second chance to people with substance use disorders whom local police have apprehended.

That’s what a partnership of law enforcement experts concluded during a presentation before the Sterling Heights City Council Sept. 5.

According to officials, the REDIRECT program is an addiction-related diversion program with a mission to help and rehabilitate certain people who have committed a minor, nonviolent offense instead of prosecuting and imprisoning them. It is a project jointly developed by the Sterling Heights Police Department, the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office, and Families Against Narcotics.

During the presentation, Sterling Chief Dale Dwojakowski said Lt. Mario Bastianelli also is involved with facilitating the program.

According to organizers, the REDIRECT program started in October 2022, and the program offers its enrollees support for as long as 18 months. The chief said 37 people have been enrolled in the program, of which 26 are still involved. So far, the program has a 70% success rate, he said, adding that only one of its enrollees has since reoffended.

In the meantime, other local police departments are trying to set up their own versions of the program, including Clinton Township, Center Line and the Macomb County Sheriff’s Department, he said.

The chief added that this program has been used for offenders involved in shoplifting or minor drug possession cases and not cases that deal with drug distribution. He described what happens to new REDIRECT participants.

“We give them a card. We tell them they have to make contact within a week,” Dwojakowski said. “They have to work within the program guidelines. They cannot reoffend. They have to stay sober. They have to meet the monthly meetings.

“And if they successfully do what they said they were going to do, it’s a win for a society. It’s a win for Sterling Heights. It’s a win for the Prosecutor’s Office, Families Against Narcotics – because you have someone that no longer uses narcotics. They’re not offending and committing crimes, and the charge will actually be dismissed by the Prosecutor’s Office.”

Macomb County Prosecutor Peter Lucido and retired Judge Linda Davis, from Families Against Narcotics, also attended the presentation. Lucido credited Dwojakowski’s leadership in getting the Sterling department on board.

“Not too many people want to step up and be the first in the pool, because you don’t know how deep it is or how far you’re going to go down,” Lucido said. “But in this case here, it’s a success, and I’m very proud of the fact that the chief stood up, as well as Linda getting the grant funding.”

Davis praised the city of Sterling Heights for being open-minded.

“We hope you will keep us in mind when you are deciding how to spend your opiate dollars and that we can extend this program even further to do great things in the city of Sterling Heights,” she said, referring to the money the city got from an opioid settlement made in 2021. The 2023-24 budget expects $125,000 in opioid settlement funds for that fiscal year. The budget says the city expects around $2.6 million over an 18-year period.

When it was the City Council’s turn to speak, Councilwoman Barbara Ziarko welcomed the program as an example that “life is full of second chances.” Councilman Michael Radtke said the program helps the public view police as a “helping hand.”

“You’ve taken on a social justice mission where you’re trying to help people instead of putting them in jail, and I think that that should be commended,” Radtke said.

Mayor Michael Taylor praised the REDIRECT program idea and said the partnership  defies typical expectations, adding that one might normally think that the police, a prosecutor and a former judge would take a tough-on-crime “lock ’em up” approach to an issue like this.

“We should not expect the three of you to be coming here creating a program like this, which I think speaks incredibly (voluminously) about your character and about your willingness to try something different,” Taylor said.

Learn more about the Sterling Heights Police Department by visiting or by calling (586) 446-2800.