DIXON – As far as local law enforcement leaders are concerned, drug addicts can’t afford to wait for the state budget battle to end. On Wednesday, they’ll send that message straight to the people who can help end the stalemate in Springfield.
Dozens of police chiefs from throughout the state plan to advocate for the Safe Passage Initiative when they meet with legislators. About 60 members of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police will speak with lawmakers during their annual lobby day, and association Executive Director Ed Wojcicki said the Safe Passage program will serve as one of their discussion topics.
The program, launched in Dixon and Lee County on Sept. 1 and in Whiteside County on March 1, allows addicts to go to police, surrender their drugs without being arrested or charged, and be immediately placed into treatment.
“From the perspective of law enforcement, we want to make communities and citizens safer, and the heroin problem is growing very fast everywhere,” Wojcicki said. “We want to help save lives, and this program can help us do that.”
So far, 53 people have been placed into treatment through Safe Passage. Other police agencies – Bureau and Putnam counties and Freeport – soon will be signing on, Dixon Police Chief Danny Langloss said in a news release Monday.
Part of the lobbying effort will be to stress the importance of providing funding to drug treatment centers across Illinois that are struggling in the midst of the state budget crisis.
“It is going to be a priority to mention to legislators how important this program is,” Wojcicki said. “By treatment centers not getting funding, it could jeopardize this program.”
Langloss will make a presentation about Safe Passage to the association members Wednesday prior to their visits with legislators.
“Our treatment partners are being devastated by the state budget crisis,” Langloss said in the release. “Some will be forced to close their doors by the end of June if money is not released by the state.”
One agency that has experienced financial strain from the budget impasse is Lutheran Social Services of Illinois. It announced major cuts in January to 30 of its programs that led to laying off 750 employees and closing centers that served about 4,700 people.
Different groups and agencies that rely on state funding are being negatively affected by the budget impasse every day, and action needs to be taken, Wojcicki said.
“A bad budget is better than no budget,” he said.
Rock Falls Police Chief Tammy Nelson said in the release that Illinois is being hit hard by the national heroin epidemic, and treatment centers are critical in combatting that problem.
“We need more beds in treatment centers, not fewer,” Nelson said. “We all recognize there is a cost to treatment, but the cost is far less than jail, prison or emergency rooms.”
Lee County Sheriff John Simonton said addiction and mental illness issues are leading to overcrowding in the area’s jails, and Safe Passage was implemented to address that issue.
“We cannot afford to have more substance abuse and mental health facilities close,” Simonton said in the release. “It is devastating our entire system.”
TO GET HELP
To become a Safe Passage guide, or to learn more about the program, contact Dixon Police Chief Danny Langloss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-288-4411.
To reach Lee County Sheriff John Simonton for help or information, call 815-284-6631.
Heroin or other opiate drug users looking for treatment can call Whiteside County Sheriff Kelly Wilhelmi at 815-772-4044, Rock Falls Police Chief Tammy Nelson at 815-622-1140, Sterling Police Chief Ron Potthoff at 815-632-6640, or any county police agency.