New partnership gets drug and alcohol addicts help faster, avoid jail and court time

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In front of the Fresno Rescue Mission Wednesday, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer described a scene familiar for many drivers in the city: people staggering in the street because they’re high on drugs or drunk on alcohol.

To get those people the help they need faster, Dyer announced police are now partnering up with the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office and Fresno Rescue Mission. Officers will now bring anyone found with a controlled substance or under the influence to the Fresno Rescue Mission’s Sobering Center, as opposed to jail.

This applies to offenders who would warrant a misdemeanor charge.

The partnership was prompted by the rising number of vehicle vs. pedestrian accidents in the city. In 2018, 30 pedestrians and bicyclists died in such accidents, according to Dyer. He adds 19 of those victims were found to be high on drugs or drunk at the time of the accident.

“I will say, in order for this program to work, there has to be two things: opportunity for change and desire to change,” said Dyer. “We cannot create a desire in an individual to change their life and to stop drug addiction.”

Once taken to the Sobering Center, Fresno Rescue Mission’s chief operating officer Pastor Rob Cravy said staff would inform offenders of a variety of programs available either at the Fresno Rescue Mission or at other agencies.

Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp said the vehicle vs. pedestrian problem is a result of fallout from Proposition 47. Passed by voters in 2014, it decriminalized many felonies — like drug possession — to a misdemeanor.

Smittcamp and Dyer believe because of that decriminalization, many addicts get arrested over and over. It results in either the offender getting delayed treatment, or no help at all.

“We’ve seen a lot of increase in homelessness. We’ve seen a lot of increase in mental health issues, which we all know are exacerbated by drug addiction,” Smittcamp said. “We ahve more people on the street now than we ever had in Fresno.”

Officers will still create police reports to document these individuals. If they choose to get help, the report stays with police. But, if they choose to not get help, then the report is sent to the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office and the offender will go through the legal process as normal.

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