Come Back to Sobriety
Chief Egan recounts experience as part of department’s new Quick Response Team
Allen Park Police Department’s new Comeback Quick Response Team (QRT) is all about giving second chances to people who need them.
Recently, I went out on a call as a QRT member. I have been a police officer for over 24 years and have made many drug arrests in two different communities, as well as having family members, friends, and children of friends who have lost people to drug overdoses.
I watched as my QRT partner Terri Braden, a family coach, talked to family members of those struggling with addiction – getting many into support groups. My other partner, Rick McGuffey, is a peer recovery coach and a former user himself. Having been in these addicts’ shoes, he listened without judgment, displayed understanding and empathy, built trust and assisted people in getting treatment. Rick, being an individual who used heroin for over 18 years before he almost died, could speak to them on a different level than I ever could.
How did we get to this point?
Linda Davis, and Families Against Narcotics (FAN) trained our team of seven volunteers – Sgt. Ile Fetelea, Detective Jim Thorburn, School Resource Officer Mike Bacile, day shift Officer Shaun Harvey, night shift Officer Logan Wheeler, K9 Officer Chris Franco and me. Sgt. Fetelea, our team’s coordinator, went through the record of overdoses from last year to now. He compiled a list of names and addresses, and we started going through them in reverse chronological order.
The team went out for the first time on February 2. Sgt. Fetelea teamed up with Officer Wheeler and our coaches Rick and Terri. They pulled up in an unmarked vehicle, an officer walked up to the door, and they simply knocked.
The process was simple. The officer would explain why he was there, and if the person agreed to talk to the recovery coaches, the officer would motion for the team to approach. On their first attempt, they had two houses where the residents were not home, one who yelled at them to get off their property, two who said they could call back and four who agreed to seek treatment. If they agreed, Rick would make contact with the treatment facilities and get the people into a program.
I went out with Rick and Terri a week later. The process was the same. If someone opened the door, I introduced myself as Chris from the Allen Park Police Department. I noticed that fear came over many of their faces, so I quickly explained that they were not in trouble. I was not there to arrest them, only to check on how they were doing after their overdose. I asked if some friends of mine could speak to them for a few minutes so that they could offer them some help.
At first, I felt like a traveling salesman. I had to convince them that everything was free, and they had no obligation to let me in – but they would be glad if they did. If they did, the recovery coaches came in to do their thing.
In all the people we visited, I saw a common theme. Snow was not shoveled, most didn't have TVs in the house, they seemed generally beaten down – but all wanted the nightmare to stop.
We heard some positive feedback. One person said, "What you’re doing is incredible and it's gonna help a lot of people." Another stated, "You’re changing lives on a big scale and bringing good vibes to every house you go to."
We just want to help
We followed up on others from the previous week and two signed up for Family Support, which is a program that helps those supporting the individuals with addiction issues. We even helped two people who were dealing with the death of a father and ex-husband. They weren’t addicts but were having a very difficult time moving on. Both agreed to sign up for recovery coaches to help improve their wellbeing.
Everyone on the team, from the police to the coaches, has been affected by addiction in some way and just wants to help. What I got while helping was an education in a different language, lifestyle, and perspective. I began to understand why some people can’t just turn off the need to feed their addictions, like they’re flipping a switch, even if they desperately want to. I realized I could do much more good putting a phone in their hand and getting them into a treatment program than I could by putting their hands behind their backs and placing them in cuffs.
I've also spoken with Taylor Police Sergeant Frank Canning Jr., who runs a similar team there. Their QRT also works with FAN, and in 13 weeks their team has gone out 13 times and reached over 30 families – getting nine into treatment.
“Chief Blair encouraged us to try different approaches to make a difference in our residents’ lives, and I know what I’m doing is helping,” Frank said.
Lincoln Park Police also started a team last year that is currently headed by Sergeant Shawn Noe. Shawn said they reach out to eight to 10 families a month, and many are receptive to the information. Several have gotten into treatment.
It helps us all to start working together. For instance, if a Taylor resident has an overdose in an Allen Park hotel, I can call Frank up and have his team reach out to them – and Frank knows he could do the same with me.
From a policing and crime prevention standpoint, if those who have an addiction stop using, it goes to reason they would stop engaging in harmful and criminal behavior. That would mean less stress on the police department, and on the community as a whole.
If you or someone you know needs help, please reach out to FAN at (586) 438-8500 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also reach out to APPD Sgt. Fetelea at Ifetelea@allenparkpolice.org.