SHERIFF FITZSIMONS | Summit County, CO
“As law enforcement officials, our job is to protect life. Isn’t offering life-saving treatment an extension of that sacred duty?”
I am Sheriff Fitzsimons .I’ve been in law enforcement for over 32 years. In the beginning of my career I spent some time on an undercover narcotics team, and that’s where I first recognized how ineffective our approach was. Arresting and prosecuting people struggling with substance use disorders wasn’t helping those individuals, their families, the communities they lived in or the overall drug epidemic. Today, I serve as the Sheriff of Summit County, where I use what I’ve learned to improve the lives of people with a substance use disorder rather than punish them.
Rather than criminalizing addiction, we need a multi-pronged approach. We still need to address the flow of illegal substances into communities. But we also need to practice harm reduction by offering medication, counseling and naloxone.
As an elected official, I’ve introduced some programs I believe have made a big difference in my community and in people’s lives. As a county, we’ve given Deputies naloxone, allowing them to save lives in overdose situations. We have a program in our jail that provides medications and therapy to treat addiction, giving people a chance to fight their addictions and become whole. We also have a robust co-responder program: an initiative to pair Deputies with mental health professionals for certain calls, bringing safety and mental health expertise to the field. This program has been successful in stabilizing people in the community and getting individuals the help and treatment they need.
If you are a law enforcement leader, getting community buy-in for these programs is essential. Working with community leaders and experts in the treatment, mental and public health fields will make your programs more effective and inclusive.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. Just like we have established in mental health, there should be no wrong door for people struggling with substance use disorders to get what they need. Having a range of options betters your chances of getting people the help they need.
As law enforcement officials, our job is to protect life. Isn’t offering life-saving treatment an extension of that sacred duty?