Suspects won't be charged if they complete treatment

By Christopher Kersey,

Middletown police have started an “angel program” where people with a drug addiction who are taken into custody for misdemeanor offenses won’t be charged if they complete a treatment program.

“We realize with the epidemic we have here now, especially the heroin, we’re not going to solve the problem with arrests only,” said Police Chief Daniel Yeager.

The department’s new program, which started Wednesday, is modeled after the “angel program” at the Gloucester Police Department in Massachusetts, where people with substance abuse problems can come to the police station and bring their drugs and paraphernalia. They are not arrested, charged or jailed by Gloucester police, but, instead, police take them to the hospital where they are paired with a volunteer or “angel” who guides them through the process of getting into a treatment program.

The Middletown police’s program goes a step farther.

Lt. William Texter and Sgt. Scott Saunders did some research with the Gloucester police program, worked with the Delaware Attorney General’s Office, and modified the program to apply in Middletown.

With the Middletown police program, “people [who commit] victimless crimes could also potentially go into this program in lieu of an arrest,” Texter said.

For example, a victimless crime would be simple drug possession, he said. So, somebody who had a couple bags of heroin – a misdemeanor – could voluntarily enter into a treatment program as long as they meet conditions such as not having active warrants for other crimes, he said.

“And if they successfully completed the program in lieu of being arrested, there would be no charges,” he said.

The program is for victimless crimes, he said. The program doesn’t apply to people arrested for felonies or driving under the influence.

Also, “participants who don’t complete the [treatment] program will be charged with the offense they committed prior to entering the program,” Texter said.

The program is an “opportunity for somebody who needs help, who may not have on their own sought it out, but maybe under another set of circumstances get some help,” he said.

When the police officer brings the person with the drug addiction to the police station, a representative from Connections Community Support Programs comes to the station and assesses the individual, said Douglas Spruill, site director of the Harrington Withdrawal Management Center.

The person is taken to the Harrington Center for inpatient care for three to seven days. Then, he or she enters into an intensive outpatient program for 90 days and counseling afterwards.

After six months of treatment, the criminal charge will be dropped, Spruill said.

People suffering from addiction can also come to the Middletown police department, bring their drugs and paraphernalia and ask for help like the Massachusetts program. They will undergo the same program.

“That’s always an option. What we are doing is extending it further…[If it’s] a simple possession charge and they ask for help, we are going to give them help and hold off on the charges,” Yeager said.

Middletown police decided to start the program because they are trying to give assistance to people addicted to substances, Yeager said.

“A lot of our misdemeanor property crimes like thefts from yards and shoplifting is all to supply a drug habit. Not all of them, but a majority of it is to supply a drug habit,” he said.

“So, if we can stop you from using drugs, then you’re not going to be stealing. So it’s going to increase the quality of life for everybody. That’s our main goal,” he said.

The angel program isn’t new to the First State. The Dover Police Department became the first in the state to establish the program where, like in Massachusetts, people with substance abuse issues can seek help at the Dover police station without getting charged.

Master Cpl. Mark Hoffman, Dover police spokesman, said it’s “possible” for the officers on patrol to get someone into the program.

The New Castle County Police – in collaboration with state Department of Justice and the state Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health--has a program called “hero help,” which provides addiction treatment to qualifying adults who contact police and ask for help.

The program is voluntary for adults who are addicted to heroin, opiates, illegal drugs or alcohol. Individuals interested in the program must be willing to be admitted to a drug rehabilitation center and agree to a review of their criminal history and to all program requirements.

Medical insurance isn’t required.

For more information, contact the Hero Help administrator at 302-395-8050.

Other resources and phone numbers for those with substance abuse issues include the Heroin Alert Program at (302) 395-8062; Connections at 1-866-477-5345; Brandywine Counseling at (302) 656-2348; Gaudenzia Fresh Start at (302) 737-4100; Open Door at (302) 798-9555; and Kirkwood Recovery Center at (302) 691-0140.