The Huntington Police Department is working to combat drug-related crimes with a number of programs designed to redirect low-level offenders into treatment rather than jail or prosecution.
The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD Program is a pre-booking diversion program designed for those engaged in drug and prostitution activity to kick their habits and have a chance at legitimate employment.
According to Huntington Chief of Police Joe Ciccarelli there have been more than 60 prostitution-related arrests this year, nearly double the reported 31 offenses tallied in the 2014 Huntington Police Department Annual Report.
“The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion would allow someone to go into drug treatment, because virtually every one of the prostitutes we arrest is an addict and thus defers the criminal penalty,” Ciccarelli said.
In addition to LEAD, HPD works in association with the Women’s Empowerment and Addiction Recovery, or WEAR Program, which is directed by Judge Patricia Keller and aimed specifically at seeking treatment for women in prostitution.
Ciccarelli said drug abuse is not only closely related to prostitution, but a number of other crimes including robbery, assault and panhandling.
“Each program is designed to address the underlying drug abuse issue and mental health issues and correct the problem at the root,” Ciccarelli said. “In municipal court, we’ve sent a number of individuals into the LEAD program, whether that be prostitution-related arrest, paraphernalia arrests, or any other kind of arrests, for that matter, where there motivation is to support a drug habit.”
Ciccarelli said drug-related problems are more obvious now as addicts have moved from abusing prescription drugs to heroin, pushing the market out into the open.
“It’s a more visible type of abuse,” Ciccarelli said. “The prescription drug abuse was done under the guise of legitimacy, to some degree. Now, it’s basically an underground criminal activity and more noticeable problem.”
Ciccarelli said HPD looks at the drug problem through three angles, prevention, treatment and law enforcement. In the Mayor’s Office of Drug Enforcement, the prevention and treatment piece are ongoing as the police continue the more traditional law enforcement steps of arresting dealers and individuals involved in drug trafficking.
It’s a comprehensive enforcement effort to combat these problems,” Ciccarelli said. “We can put people in jail, but if they don’t receive treatment for their drug addiction, they’re still going to be addicted when they get out. It’s money not well spent in that regard. We want to solve the problem permanently.”
Rob Engle can be contacted at [email protected]