OPERATION ANGEL STORY CHARLES DOWDY PHOTOS SARAH COTTRELL
“The war on drugs is over. We lost.” Covington Chief of Police Tim Lentz was driving his pickup east on I-12 when he said those words. A long-time law enforcement officer, Lentz has made his share of drug arrests. Then a 911 call to his station in 2015 caught him off guard. His voice dropped as he continued to talk about it. “When you listen to that call… it was on Jefferson Street. Downtown Covington. A guy about twenty-six years old. He was overdosing on heroin.” Chief Lentz and I were on our way to the Giving Hope Retreat in Lacombe, which is part of the New Orleans Mission. He was explaining his change of heart when it came to law enforcement’s open war against drug abusers. “This guy had stopped breathing. They transferred the 911 call to Acadian Ambulance and you can hear them giving his wife CPR instructions. But what hit me hard was that they had two little babies. You could hear them crying in the background.” The authorities arrived and they used a drug called Narcan to bring the victim back. He was transported to a local hospital, treated and released. Lentz continued the story.
EDGE April | May 2017
“Well, our police officers were waiting to arrest him. Then they go back to the house and arrest the wife. They call DCFS [Department of Children & Family Services] and have the kids taken away. And I’m sitting there wondering, what did we just accomplish? We’ve broken up a family. As a law enforcement officer, I have come to realize that we can’t arrest ourselves out of a problem. This is more of a disease than a crime. We put two people suffering from this disease in jail and took their kids away. At the end of the day, what did we accomplish?” Lentz decided law enforcement needed a new tactic. He wondered if the answer was to keep drug users out of the criminal justice system, finding a way to help them before they did anything that got them arrested. Then Lentz stumbled on a program from Massachusetts called Operation Angel. A police chief there decided to offer help instead of handcuffs. He started the program that Lentz and the rest of St Tammany’s police chiefs have since adopted. Basically, if someone is willing to walk into a police station, surrender their drugs and ask for help, then no questions will be asked, and police will facilitate getting that person on the road to recovery. This was a daunting offer considering many of the drug users were indigent, without
EDGE of the Lake gives a fresh edgy look at the parishes north of the lake and the unique mix of people that make up our community. Expect t...