By Chris Parker
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By John Baichtal
By Olivia LaVecchia
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MINNESOTA'S NEW $18.3 million Crime Prevention Bill includes a lot of publicized juvenile programs, but one of the less noted provisions involves a program aimed at adult offenders. The proposed pilot effort couples Minneapolis cops with drug counselors and sends them out on the streets together, ostensibly to find and offer treatment to suspected users and dealers. But while proponents call it a more sensible treatment-based alternative to the arrest mill, there are those who think it mainly amounts to a craftier way to involve social service providers in police work.
The program, commonly known as "Knock and Talk" or "Walk and Talk," is the brainchild of the Association of Block Clubs (ABC). The group used NRP monies to purchase cop time, and ran tests in the Chicago-Franklin area. Theoretically, it's about taking drug counselors to the people who are least likely to seek them out; in practice, though, any information obtained by counselors in interviewing suspected addicts can become part of a police investigative file.
On the nights tests were conducted, the cop/counselor teams approached residences that were the subject of neighbors' suspicious complaints and walked beats on which they approached individuals suspected to be users. According to both cops and counselors, the prospects for the unorthodox venture are questionable.
"There were different people with different agencies, and they all had different expectations," says Kevin Tucker, a drug counselor for Turning Point treatment center who participated in the patrols. "I wanted to take an informal peer approach, but some of the cops had their sirens on," he says. While he was able to talk to a few individuals, Tucker maintains that most kept their distance due to the fully uniformed cops. "I had guys ask for my card and say they would call, but weren't going to talk with the cops around."
Program cosponsor Senator Linda Berglin (DFL-Mpls.) maintains police participation is a vital component of the project. "The police are there as the situation could be dangerous," she says. "The idea was not to arrest for possession, [or to do so] only in extreme situations. We want to get people into treatment without arrests."
"I don't know about the legalities, but this is bad public policy," counters Hennepin County Public Defender Jim Kamin. "It's a stupid thing to do if you want people with drug problems to talk to counselors. It steps on the privileges between professionals and patients," he says. Kamin is similarly skeptical about the police acting as bodyguards for the counselors. "I recognize this is a safety judgement call, but the counselors know their way around the streets." Kamin further criticizes the program as "a horrific waste of cop resources," and feels that efforts to reach users would be better served by hanging up signs in drug-plagued neighborhoods. "You can augment treatment outreach programs without screwing them up with law enforcement," he says.
While the pilot program is slated for start-up next month, the administrative and regulative guidelines still lack shape. "Because this is a pilot, we expect some flexibility," says Berglin.