WATERTOWN — Police officers will establish foot patrols in high-poverty city neighborhoods to battle the area’s opioid crisis.
The efforts will be part of a $125,000 state grant that the Alliance for Better Communities received last July. The funding will allow for a three-pronged attack against the opioid epidemic — policy-making, law enforcement and getting the community more aware of the issue.
In support of the initiative, the Alliance will use $33,280 of the grant to work with the Watertown Police Department to implement foot patrols in neighborhoods with high rates of poverty.
The funding will be used to expand the reach of substance-use prevention in high-priority areas in the north east community, north east side, north side and Public Square census tracts of the city, Alliance project director Anita Seefried-Brown said.
The foot patrols will take place just a couple blocks from downtown and on the city’s east side, in Public Square and on the entire north side of the city.
Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith thinks the foot patrols will help.
“I think this is a great opportunity, especially regarding the foot patrols,” he said. “I think any personal involvement is positive.”
Police Chief Charles P. “Chip” Donoghue said the police department is still working out the details, but he envisions sending two police officers out at a time for two- to four-hour shifts.
He also stressed that the grant won’t take officers off regular patrols and won’t start until warmer weather occurs. It will be officers who are interested in working the detail and will be paid overtime, he said.
“We’ve never done this before, so I don’t know how it will work out,” he said.
The state’s Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI) came up with the neighborhoods that will be targeted by the grant. In 2017, the city received a $1 million ESPRI grant to battle poverty.
“Law enforcement is a significant third component of our work, and what we have with this particular grant is an opportunity to fund city law enforcement establishment of foot patrols in neighborhoods so that officers can build relationships with the residents living there, get a better understanding of day-to-day happenings on the ground in these neighborhoods, and ultimately further reduce stigma associated with drug problems in these neighborhoods,” Alliance Chairperson Stephen A. Jennings said.
The funding is coming from the Office of Addiction Services and Supports, the Mental Health Services Administration and Statewide Opioid Response Initiative.
As part of the state grant, graduates of the Urban Mission’s Getting Ahead in a Just Getting By World” program and the Jefferson Community College’s Center for Community Studies conducted a community survey focusing on poverty in the neighborhood census tracts.
The grant also allows for the hiring of a part-time community liaison.
In 2019, there were 19 overdose deaths in Jefferson County, with 14 of them from opioids, compared to 14 overdose deaths the year before, with 9 from opioids. In 2017, there were 18 overdoses, with 13 from opioids.