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State Rep. McKenna: Police Ride-Along an Eye-Opening Experience

Saturday, March 07, 2015

 

Recently, I joined Webster Police for a citizen ride along. This was an eye opening experience, which I felt was necessary for me to make intelligent and educated decisions surrounding law enforcement in our communities.

I am often asked for my opinion on issues ranging from funding for street repairs to how we should approach the growing drug addiction issue in MA. I believe that it would be irresponsible to make decisions or to issue statements related to law enforcement without a full understanding of the issues that our officers on the street face.

The main reason that I was motivated to take part in this ride along is our State’s growing opiate addiction problem. Sure enough, around 11:00pm, two individuals who were high on heroin were arrested for outstanding warrants.  These two individuals, who were 20 and 23 respectively, were very willing to talk with me and the officers. It was a very open and honest discussion about their addictions and the struggle with sobriety.  In this conversation I learned more than I had over the previous six months of meetings.  To me, the saddest aspect of this conversation was the 20 year-old’s complete lack of hope to get clean and the power of the addiction.  Despite having known several individuals who fatally overdosed on heroin, she confidently stated that if she was given a choice for guaranteed sobriety or a bag of heroin, she would choose the drugs. This same individual began her use of opiates by abusing painkillers at 14 years old.

Another aspect of this conversation that I found enlightening was the plea from both individuals to not punish the addict for the dealer’s crimes. They pointed out that charging the addicted individuals, and sentencing them to jail time, actually worsens their situation by rendering them nearly unemployable and incapable of getting their lives back on track.  A criminal record, the lack of a driver’s license, and expulsion from schools are some of the obstacles that drug addicts often face that make their future seem hopeless and simply compound the cycle of drug abuse and addiction.  Instead, we must change the approach to help addiction rather than punish.

While this interaction didn’t present any silver bullet solutions, it made the problem of addiction in our community so much more human for me. It is impossible to ignore the problem or sweep it under the rug when you’ve had the chance to talk with a bright and intelligent young person whose future is in peril from the grips of addiction.

Another major thing that was reinforced in my mind through this experience was that police officers are regular people; with families and pets and hobbies like you and me. They do this job not for the power that a badge and set of flashing lights give, but to make our communities safer. At the same time, these otherwise regular people put themselves into incredibly dangerous situations on a daily basis without a second thought.  While that sounds cliché, it is absolutely true. One simple example occurred on our ride-along. We were dispatched, for the third time in one night, to a home where a domestic altercation was in progress. Without hesitation, the Sergeant I was with went into the home, up a narrow and dark flight of stairs, and encountered a couple that was both very intoxicated and very aggravated. Fortunately, this night these interactions never escalated, however, I was struck by how completely vulnerable police officers are when entering into an unknown situation beyond their control.

This is something we should all try to remember the next time we see a cruiser drive by. Instead of assuming that it’s an officer out looking to get someone in trouble, we should wish them safety and reflect on how many times during an average day at our jobs our lives are potentially in danger.

Joseph McKenna (R) is a State Representative who represents the 18th Worcester District. Representative McKenna can be reached at [email protected] or (508) 499-8339.

 

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