GALLATIN, Tenn. (WKRN) – Gallatin police have taken another proactive step to reducing drug crimes in the city thanks to a nearly $900,000 grant from the Department of Justice.
The grant, known as the Comprehensive Opioid, Stimulant, and Substance Abuse Program (COSSAP) will pay for a full time police officer, who normally works the streets, to instead work with overdose suspects trying to get them the counseling and/or mental health services they might need.
Master Patrol Officer Bill Perry, a 26-year veteran, is that officer for the Gallatin Police Department.
Perry has arrested countless people in his time, but now he gets to interact with them, perhaps at the beginning of their addiction problem to help turn their lives around.
On Tuesday, Perry went to the home of a man who recently overdosed.
He went there with another member of the team, Tim Sircy, who works with Volunteer Behavioral Health Services. Sircy is not a police officer, and he too is paid by the grant.
The two men spoke to the man, trying to understand the foundation of his addiction – when it began, what he started using and what it progressed to.
The idea is to convince the man to get counseling, treatment and even mental health services before he can get access to drugs again and go to jail, or worse.
“We are trying to stop it before it progresses and gets too bad,” Officer Perry said to the man.
The 26-year veteran told News 2 laws in Tennessee allow overdose victims one free pass to avoid legal penalty after they’ve been caught with drugs.
The idea is that the overdose victims use that chance to get help, and to not be afraid to contact authorities to do so.
Perry told News 2 this man is one of those victims, a first time offender, who they can help get clean, and if he successfully completes the programs, he can avoid a path of further arrests, jail time and brushes with death.
“We are trying to interact before you get before a judge,” Perry told the man.
In this case, the man decided to seek treatment, exactly what Perry’s job funded by the grant is designed to accomplish.
Officer Perry told News 2 before this position was created, a man like this might have fallen through the cracks because nobody would have the time to come to his home, knock on his door, sit on his couch and talk to him about his problem and how it can be corrected.
“I like this because when you are on patrol, your job is to enforce law. There are certain points where you don’t get the option to say, ‘Hey, no I don’t want to do this.’ You have to do this. In my job, I am there specifically to help someone,” Perry said. “That is my purpose. I am not there to arrest them or charge them; they’ve either done that or they’re on that path to being arrested, and I am there to interject and that allows me to give back to the community, and that is what I love about it.”
Sircy’s role as a civilian is exactly like Officer Perry’s, but his role is to go into the jails and talk to addicts there, trying to get them to change their lives.