From Covington Police regarding today’s press conference:
Today, Chief Tim Lentz was joined by his partners in law enforcement to include, Mandeville Police, Pearl River Police, Madisonville Police, Folsom Police, Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney Warren Montgomery, Parish President Pat Brister, Coroner Dr. Charles Preston, Mayor Mike Cooper, Covington City Council Members, Public Defender John Linder, Judges of the 22nd JDC, St. Tammany Schools Supt. Trey Folse, church leaders, members of the bar, and friends for a very special announcement.
Today, we stood together to announce a change in law enforcement practices in St. Tammany Parish. Today we announce the beginning of Operation Angel. Throughout my career I have watched the devastation that occurs when individuals become addicted to drugs. This addiction has ranged from cocaine to alcohol. Our profession seemed to address those suffering from addiction by arresting them and placing them in jail. We believe it is time to change the way we do business. We think we should give those suffering from addiction the help they need instead of handcuffs. It is time to treat addiction as a disease and not a crime. It is time to rid addiction of the stigma that keeps people from seeking treatment.
I have had many conversations with Jan Robert of President Brister’s Behavioral Health Task Force about this problem in our community. With her help, I learned about a program started out of the Gloucester MA Police Department called Operation Angel. Chief Campanello has taken the bold initiative to provide addicts with the help they need without the fear of being arrested. An individual suffering from and addiction simply appears at their police department and ask for help. The addict surrenders any drugs or paraphernalia they have without the fear of being arrested. An “Angel” will walk them through the recovery process. As Chief Campanello has said, “We are committed to the idea of attacking the demand rather than attacking the supply”. His program started less than a year ago and has spread to 23 different states with at least 100 agencies participating. I am thrilled to announce that we are the first law enforcement agencies in Louisiana to participate in Operation Angel according to the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative.
So, with this idea of providing help for these individuals, where can we secure help for them? Again, in steps John Robert. She was able to put me in touch with the New Orleans Mission. A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet with Matt Mayes and Johnny Lonardo from the Mission. During this meeting I learned that they now operate a facility on the grounds of the old K Bar B ranch in Lacombe called Giving Hope Retreat. This organization provides help for addicts ranging from alcohol to heroin, 24 hours a day 7 days a week. I have personally visited the grounds and was amazed by what they have put together on the grounds. The only requirements they have is that the individual wants help and wants to change their life. It is as simple as that.
Today we all stood together, with the support of our District Attorney Warren Montgomery, to encourage those in the community suffering from addiction to go to your police department or Sheriff’s Office and ask for help. We encourage you to seek help. You will not be charged with a crime, we will not ask where you got the drugs from. We will connect you with programs that will give you the help you need. We would rather you spend six months in a treatment program than spend six months in jail. We want to keep you out of the criminal justice system.
To those suffering in our community from addiction, there is recovery and a new life that can be yours. You deserve it. As the Chief in Gloucester said so appropriately, “Your life is more meaningful than your death. Don’t be ashamed of your illness. We are not ashamed of you. It’s time…come and get help…and if you are discouraged because you’ve tried before, know that relapse is part of the disease and we will be there again, and again, and again until you make it. And you can make it. We don’t want to lose you. When you are ready, we will be there.”
And we just received this in a separate email from Chief Lentz:
First, thank you for your coverage this morning of Operation Angel. Within the last hour, we had a 38 year old appear at the police department asking for help. He has been addicted to heroin for the last 10 years and heard the news reports about Operation Angel. He appeared with him mon and girlfriend. Within 20 minutes he was in a police car headed to Lacombe to start his road to recovery.