TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — If someone’s using drugs and Tucson Police show up at their door, they might assume they’re headed for jail--- but there’s a good chance police will steer them to treatment instead.
There’s been an addiction epidemic and a surge of drugs like fentanyl---so powerful it can easily overdose and kill. Tucson Police have come to regard people who are using, but not selling drugs not as criminals, but as people with an illness that needs treatment not jail.
Sergeant Ericka Stropka says it’s a policy called deflection.
“And what deflection is it gives officers the discretion, and the ability to connect an individual who they contact who's in the possession of methamphetamine, cocaine, opioids, illegal prescription pills, they can connect that individual to treatment. We've been doing that since 2018.
Tucson Police have a special unit devoted to steering drug users to treatment. Officers in the Substance Use Resource Team work closely with special TPD teams that work to help people who are homeless or who have mental health problems.
Sergeant Stropka says, “We go down into the tunnels. We go into the washes. We take calls for service that come out as an unwanted or trespassing call sometimes or panhandling calls. We have found that oftentimes individuals are trying to just get a little bit of money together so that way they can go out and support that addiction that they have.”
When the Tucson Fire Department treats a non-fatal drug overdose, firefighters share contact information with the TPD Substance Use Unit.
“So we are going out, we're knocking doors and making contact with individuals. They aren't necessarily expecting a police officer to show up at their door saying, ‘Hey, we'd like to offer you some information related to treatment, we'd like to give you Naloxone.”
Naloxone or Narcan is a drug able to reverse many opioid overdoses before they turn fatal.
Working to keep drug users alive is part of how officers earn the trust of drug users and help them escape their addictions. Sergeant Stropka says she had to evolve her own attitudes about people who abuse drugs.
“I really came to understand that, there were many people that I've arrested in my career that I knew, I knew if I just had some other alternative than taking them to jail, I could forever change the course of what their life would be like, because they were ready for that change.”