As a Police Officer, I Know Issue 1 Will Prevent Crime
The opioid crisis is ripping communities apart all across this country, including here in Ohio. Every year, thousands of our friends, neighbors, and loved ones lose their lives to overdose because of inadequate treatment and because of policies designed to punish instead of to break the cycle of addiction. Locking up people addicted to drugs doesn’t address their addiction or their underlying mental and physical health problems, homelessness, or unemployment.
But the Safe & Healthy Ohio Amendment, Issue One on November’s ballot, will begin a new approach — reducing unnecessary incarceration for addiction or minor parole or probation violations, and investing over $70 million in savings into rehabilitation and treatment programs. Having served many years as a police lieutenant and deputy sheriff in southern and central Ohio, I know this approach will improve public safety for all of us.
Shifting the focus from incarceration to treatment keeps communities safer because it will allow police officers to spend their time solving more serious crimes. Departments across Ohio have already begun combatting the opioid crisis using methods such as quick response teams and diversion programs to keep low-level drug offenders out of jail. For example, the SAAFE program, developed by the Lima Police Department, diverts people with addictions into treatment instead of jail. In Lucas County, the Sheriff’s Drug Abuse Response Team (D.A.R.T.) has a 74% success rate of getting people into detox and treatment programs, and Colerain Township in Summit County has had an 80% success rate of placing people into drug treatment and a 30% reduction in opioid-related overdoses.
By investing more than $70 million in programs like these, Issue One will help police reduce addiction and overdoses. These programs also make police more effective by building trust with the communities they serve. When citizens are more comfortable calling 911 and providing helpful information about crimes in their neighborhoods, police can prevent crime and solve more cases.
The amendment will ensure that while drug traffickers remain behind bars, a non-violent college student caught possessing a small amount of drugs will have a second chance to get on a better path instead of being immediately sent away to jail, for instance.
When offenders return home, their probation or parole officer’s primary job should be to help them stay out of prison. Instead, right now, offenders are sent back to prison for minor technical violations such as leaving the area, using Facebook without permission, or accepting the wrong kind of job. Issue One addresses this by creating a system for local probation departments to use simpler and less costly accountability measures before sending someone back to prison, such as more frequent meetings with an officer, electronic monitoring, or a night in jail. This leaves more room for offenders who pose little danger to society to succeed before the system spends our tax dollars warehousing them in prison.
The amendment would also reduce prison sentences for those who are truly working toward their rehabilitation. Issue One will yield $100 million in savings from the state prison budget and use that savings to help people into treatment and support crime survivors.
If passed, Issue One will have a profound impact on the opioid crisis. This amendment would bring us up to par with other states that have similarly reformed drug sentencing policies, helping us create communities that are healthier, safer, and better equipped to deal with addiction.
Lt. Carlis McDerment (Fmr.) served as a police officer and deputy sheriff in central and southern Ohio for 15 years. He is a speaker for the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), a nonprofit group of police, judges, and prosecutors who support criminal justice solutions that will improve public safety.