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culture | 01.01.2022

This police chief will no longer participate in the War on Drugs

Instead, Chatham Police Chief Peter Volkmann will take a more compassionate approach to dealing with addiction.

In Chatham, New York, Police Chief Peter Volkmann thinks the criminal system and the health insurance system have failed those struggling with addiction. Since the beginning of the war on drugs, law enforcement has responded to people struggling with their demons not with a helping hand, but often with a sentence. Volkmann thinks compassion will go a much further distance than incarceration at solving the problem. He and his officers are no longer arresting people for possession.

“People who are caught with addictions have a medical addiction,” says Volkmann in a short documentary. “It’s not a moral failing. We can’t arrest our way out of this. It’s just impossible.”

Columbia County, New York, has had a 227% increase in opioid-related deaths over the last decade. With only 60,000 people in the county, 4,000 in Chatham, it’d be hard to live there without knowing someone coping. Volkmann, a recovering alcoholic himself, started Chatham Cares 4 U in 2016, an outreach program between his officers and addicts of any kind. If someone struggling with drugs comes to his police station, they can expect a safe haven. They will be offered resources to rehab professionals and beds to sleep in. Volkmann believes it’s a less costly and less tragic method of getting dangerous drugs off the streets and says they have never turned anyone away.

Volkmann says they work on a case by case basis, and since the introduction of the CC4U program, they have helped more than 170 people make their way through the recovery process. In the doc, one young person, Riley, got hooked on heroin in high school. She says she could have never imagined approaching the police with her problems, given the state of drug incarceration most everywhere else in the country.

“It is our responsibility as police to integrate with our community,” said Volkmann, “it is not the community’s responsibility to integrate with us. We do not judge anybody. And I’ve trained my officers for that. They are trained to be guardians of our community. They are not warriors.”

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