Thursday, August 25, 2005

Baltimore police commissioner brings a new view to drug policy

Nicole Sesker is a junkie. She turns cheap tricks to get her fix. She calls her herself a survivor. Baltimore's newest police commissioner, Leonard D. Hamm, calls her his step-daughter. He tried to help her but she wasn't ready to be helped. Hamm promises to bring a new perspective to his position.
In his first interview about his stepdaughter, Mr. Hamm, 56, said he decided to speak to dramatize the depth of the drug problem in Baltimore and to underscore the need for new strategies.

This spring, he initiated a program he calls "Get Out of the Game," assigning a unit of community affairs officers to patrol some of Baltimore's toughest streets in search of addicts and low-level dealers - not to arrest them, but to help them find treatment, job training, counseling and other social services.

...But it represents a shift for the department, which for much of the past decade has focused on locking up large numbers of nonviolent drug offenders. Though that strategy has helped reduce violent crime, it may have also reached the limits of its effectiveness, Mr. Hamm said.

"The piece that we need now is the healing part," he said. "We can do all the enforcement we want, but if we don't help people find work, find affordable housing, get treatment, we'll just keep doing what we're doing, locking the same people up."
Nicole says she wants to get straight but doesn't know how, however it's not clear that she is really ready. I'm not one that endorses the tough love thing but with heroin, it's pretty grey. I've seen what it can do to people so I'm not making judgements on either side. The only thing I'm certain of is that there are not enough treatment programs available to addicts who are serious about kicking the habit.

In any event, it's an interesting story and it holds some other pertinent facts.
Peter Beilenson, who resigned in June as city health commissioner to run for Congress, estimated that Baltimore had more than 40,000 drug addicts. Mr. Beilenson said that 85 percent of all crimes in the city were drug-related, but that the vast majority of the crimes committed by drug addicts were nonviolent.
The mayor of the city is not on board but I have a feeling this Commissioner is going to have a positive effect on drug policy in Baltimore anyway.

[hat tip to Tim Meehan]


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