About 140 people have been arrested in a gang takedown on the West Side, but six others avoided jail when they agreed to enter the Chicago Police Department’s new drug treatment pilot program.
Of the six entering treatment, most have 20 to 30 years of heroin addiction, said Ruth Coffman, executive director of the University of Chicago Health Lab, which is evaluating the program. “They are older people who are not public safety risks,” Coffman said.
CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson announced at a Friday press conference that eight of the 140 people arrested were offered assistance in the CPD’s diversion program, which offers addiction services and counseling as an alternative to arrest and incarceration.
“This will allow them to get the help they need to get on the right track instead of having their non-violent offenses escalate to more offenses down the road,” Johnson said.
Two women refused offers to enter a treatment program to avoid being arrested in the roundup on Thursday and Friday.
One of the women said she was afraid of losing her job. But she asked about what she could do to obtain treatment in the future and a caseworker will follow up with her later, officials said.
The program was launched in April after another large gang roundup on the West Side. Two people were admitted into treatment after that drug bust.
Haymarket Center, which provides drug rehabilitation services, is providing the in-patient treatment, and Heartland Health Outreach is doing outpatient treatment and mental health evaluations.
“I am so thrilled with how this program is going,” Coffman said. “Obviously we want the numbers to go even higher. But this is a really strong answer to the heroin epidemic.”
Nick Roti, director of a federal anti-drug grant program in Chicago and the former head of the Chicago Police Organized Crime Bureau, envisioned the program as an alternative to locking up addicts.
The Chicago Police will continue to lock up gang members involved in drug dealing because they generate much of the violence that is propelling Chicago’s rise in murders this year.
But directing non-violent drug users into treatment is seen as a way to reduce the number of heroin overdoses in Chicago, which number about 200 a year, officials said.
The latest West Side gang roundup resulted in the arrests of 140 people, including 95 documented gang members, and the seizure of drugs, $7,000 in cash and 23 guns, officials said.
News of Friday’s mass round-up of gang members was first reported by Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed.
Contributing: Jacob Wittich