Arrest & Diversions Can Replace The ‘War on Drugs’

Drug enforcement thinking can evolve from the approach taken in the ‘War on Drugs’ to how to use an array of arrest and diversions strategies for rescue.


Last month for, Lt. Dan Marcou, an author and a police trainer with 33 years experience and numerous awards, wrote about why the term “War on Drugs” needs to be abandoned and strategies for arrest and arrest diversions are better suited for the opioid crisis the country finds itself immersed in.

You’ve seen the stories of whales dying after beaching themselves. There are even cases of beached whales who have been assisted back out to sea by rescuers only to die after beaching themselves once again,” he wrote as a comparison to people with an illicit drug addiction and their arresting officers.

Here is his advice on evolving drug enforcement.

Arrest as a Drug-Life Rescue Attempt

Because of many programs, like drug court referrals to treatment and pre-arrest diversions, currently in place in many jurisdictions, a drug arrest is actually an intervention that has the potential to become a life-changing event for the addict. The arrest or rescue attempt may serve to:

  1. Sound the alarm to the user and their family that a problem exists.
  2. Lead to an assessment that may enlighten the user to the realization that they are in need of treatment.
  3. Remove the user temporarily from the drug life.
  4. Give the user an opportunity to alter the path they are on.
  5. Make treatment available to the user.
  6. Identify and rescue their imperiled children.

Post-Arrest Diversions, Drug Court

Deputy District Attorney Jessica Skemp, a 21-year career prosecutor in La Crosse County, Wisc., observed that there is good that can come out of an arrest. Skemp says an arrest can be “horrific, but it can also shock them into action.”

She added that when that arrest is made by a “caring officer, (the arrest) can have great impact and change lives.”

The special La Crosse “drug court” offers many options for the user, besides jail. The arrest is the first step toward assisting the illicit drug user on the path toward drug and alcohol detox, assessment, monitoring, ongoing testing and treatment. These post-arrest diversions are options many users never would have considered if not for their arrest.

Pre-Arrest Diversions, Treatment Partners

The Gloucester, Mass., Police Department ANGEL program was called a “pre-arrest diversion,” when it was developed by Chief Leonard Campanello in 2015.

“Gloucester used to be called the fishing village with a heroin problem and now it’s called the fishing village with a heroin solution, because of the ANGEL Program,” John Rosenthal, co-founder/chair of Police Assist Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI), said.

Current Gloucester Police Chief John McCarthy explains, “ANGEL is a tool to rescue addicts from their drug-life before there is a necessity to arrest.”

The term “ANGEL” comes from the name the department gave to the team of volunteers, who respond to the police department to sit with the addict, while a trained Gloucester police officer facilitates the placement of these users in treatment.

McCarthy says that since its inception the police department has placed over 500 addicts into treatment and these efforts have brought successes.

Gloucester PD has established professional relationships with treatment centers all over the country. All a drug user, who wants help, need do is walk into the police department and ask for it. If they can’t walk they can just call.

What the program has done has changed the conversation in the police world,” McCarthy said.

Rosenthal says this approach is making a difference. “We are experiencing a public health epidemic, which now kills more Americans every year than car crashes,” Rosenthal said.

PAARI is helping other police agencies adopt their own ANGEL pre-arrest diversion programs. The approach has been adopted by 256 police agencies in 38 states. Three hundred treatment centers across the country are available for agencies to place addicts in, who ask for treatment.

“We still have a zero tolerance enforcement approach for illegal drugs.” McCarthy said. He emphatically added, “We still arrest drug dealers.”

(Editor’s Note: PAARI also trains groups to administer naloxone.)

Drug Dealer Arrests as Effective Tools

Arrest and incarceration of drug dealers are the most effective tools for police officers to rescue their communities from these insidious profiteers. Treatment certainly can be offered to dealers while they are serving lengthy punitive prison sentences.

Drug dealers spread misery, addiction and death. Death comes from not only the products they sell, but also from the violent gun battles dealers wage against their clients, their competition, police and bystanders caught in the cross-fire.

Let the Rescues Continue

The making of a drug-life rescue attempt is not only a noble endeavor, but also a necessary one.

If the drug dealer goes unchecked he will continue to sell his poison to the hapless, the hopeless and the helpless. If the drug user goes unchecked they will continue down the destructive path of addiction, which too often ends in the same inevitable conclusion as that whale swimming toward the beach.

Street officers possess a powerful rescue tool – the ability to initiate the ultimate intervention by caring enough to say (when probable cause to arrest exists), “You sir/ma’am are under arrest.”

After the suspect is handcuffed and searched, consider laying a hand on their shoulder, while sincerely adding, “I want you to know that this is more than just another arrest to me. This is a drug-life rescue attempt.”

About the Author

Lt. Dan Marcou is an internationally-recognized, police trainer, who was a highly-decorated police officer with 33 years of full time law enforcement experience. Marcou’s awards include Police Officer of the Year, SWAT Officer of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year, and Domestic Violence Officer of the Year. Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. His Novels, “The Calling, the Making of a Veteran Cop,” “SWAT, Blue Knights in Black Armor,” “Nobody’s Heroes,” and Destiny of Heroes,” as well as his latest Non-Fiction Offering, “Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History,” are all highly acclaimed and available at Amazon. is the #1 resource for law enforcement online.

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