The drug problem is everywhere, tearing families apart and contributing to crime.
It hasn’t escaped the notice of officials from the Columbia Police Department, who have planned a town hall meeting titled Addiction, Hope and Recovery for 6 p.m. on Aug. 6 at the Marion County Development Partnership’s Community Room in downtown Columbia.
“It used to be the you could walk into a room and ask people is someone in their family or close circle of friends struggled with addiction and nobody would raise their hand because it just wasn’t that big a deal,” Chief Michael Kelly said. “Sadly, now it’s like cancer, when you go in and ask people how many people’s lives have been affected and just about everyone there has someone in their life that is dealing with cancer. It’s sad, but nowadays we have the same thing when it comes to addiction.”
Kelly said it was up to the police and the community to be proactive.
“The Columbia Police Department is putting three things in place to try and curtail this epidemic,” Kelly said. “The first thing is an aggressive, proactive enforcement of narcotics. A lot of times when I use the word aggressive, it causes people to get nervous and people think that the police are just out there to harass them. We get feedback on social media when we have checkpoints and things. The purpose of a checkpoint or of a proactive criminal patrol is not to target or cause good law abiding citizens to have a headache. But we’re really going after those people who would go into your community and your neighborhood and commit crimes – that’s what we’re trying to curtail.”
Kelly said the checkpoints are used to curtail drunk driving and use of illegal narcotics.
“The second thing we’re going to do is to be intentional about education,” Kelly said. “We’re going to start at the elementary level and middle school level and work to reach young people. We will be teaching them the dangers of drugs and the dangers of being involved in gangs. We’re looking forward to being able to reach these kids while they are moldable so we can influence them and keep them from falling into that lifestyle. What we’re seeing is that it is a generational thing for these kids. Their father, older siblings, their uncle, whoever, is involved in gangs and narcotics. Whatever we can do to break that cycle, we want to get involved and intervene to break that cycle.”
Kelly said he is looking forward to rolling out the third element of the program to help with the drug problem in the area.
“We want to provide a place of hope and recovery to those people who are struggling with addiction,” he said. “When we look at our statistics and we study our crime in our neighborhoods, not just property crimes, but crimes against persons, when you go back to the root of that, 90 percent of the time, when you go back to the genesis of that criminal activity, you find some sort of addiction.”
Kelly said that by helping people break the chain of addiction, he believes the crime rate will be lower.
“Here’s what we see happen,” he said. “We see someone who goes and breaks into somebody’s house or garage, or steals a weed-eater or chainsaw off the front porch and we are able to interdict them and make an arrest. We put them in jail. They committed a crime because they are trying to feed their habit. We put them in jail and we pay for meals, medical care and we pay for police officers to take them to appointments and take care of them. The government, the citizens and the taxpayers put a lot of money into them. After a few weeks they get out and they feel good about themselves because they’ve been able to dry out. But they go right back to the same people and right back to the same lifestyle and a month later we are arresting the same person for the same crime because they are feeding their addiction and we put them right back into the system. What I’ve seen is just a vicious cycle. We’ve got to figure out a way to break that cycle. It’s going to save lives and it’s going to save us money.”
Kelly said he hopes to place people in a recovery program and not let them go back the same lifestyle.
“We’re going to be rolling out a program called the Mercy Project,” Kelly said. “We’re bringing the community together on Aug. 6 and we’re going to specifically talk about the addiction problem we’re seeing in Columbia and Marion County and we’re going to talk about some ideas of how we can be proactive and intentional in the community and try to help some of these people.”
Kelly said he hopes the community gets involved with the project and that many government entities will be involved in the meeting.
“We’re going to present ideas to help fix the problem,” he said, “We’ve talked about it until we can’t talk about it anymore. Now it’s time to put some action into our talk. We want Columbia to lead the way. That’s how we’re going to combat this issue.”
Kelly said the location may change, depending on the size of the crowd anticipated, but any changes will be announced ahead of the event.
Pictured Above: Columbia Police Chief Michael Kelly speaks about the drug and addiction problem in Marion County. | Photo by Mark Rogers