Class was in session Thursday afternoon in a building near Southern Connecticut State University’s campus. The six students were learning critical lessons in “sit,” “stay” and “here.”
They’re expected to be the next graduates of police K9 class. And one of them, Bruce, is slated to be the newest recruit for the New Haven Police Department. He comes as a donation in memory of Joe Deane.
“I think if he would have overcome this demon, he would have been a fine officer. And beyond 34 he was a very compassionate kid and he loved dogs,” said Lisa Deane, Joe’s mom and founder of Demand Zero.
Deane told NBC Connecticut that Joe was sober for several months when he dropped off a friend in downtown New Haven. She said he was triggered, purchased drugs and later died of a fentanyl overdose.
The family turned pain their pain into a passion for giving back.
“I know my son got his drugs in New Haven and we wanted to help out. And the best thing we thought to do was partner with the New Haven Police Department,” said Deane.
The organization donated enough funds to cover two police dogs and a K-9 police cruiser. Their goal is to give people more time by helping officers fight drug trafficking. Bruce, named after Joe’s favorite superhero Batman, is set to lend his nose in the effort on patrol.
“The patrol dog is used for the tracking of missing and wanted persons, building searches, evidence searches, there are so many tools that we use these dogs for, but one portion is narcotics work,” said Renee Dominguez, Assistant Chief of Police for New Haven Police.
She says the department is looking to add more dogs, and the gift from the Deane family and Demand Zero is a dream come true.
“To get two beautiful animals, everything we need for them, to be able to vet and feed them for a year, these are what you dream of when you have a wish and we have a wish grantor,” said Dominguez.
“There are so many organizations in Connecticut that do wonderful things, for those addicted. We wanted to do something to give them more time,” said Deane.
New Haven police are also trying to give people more time with a new approach at fighting drug use and overdoses. They’re offering “harm reduction kits” with clean drug use items, and resources to get help.
They announced the kits at a news conference Thursday. Both the department and people who work in the addiction recovery field said the kits will help keep people healthy and offer a way out when they’re ready.
“I’m a proud person in long term recovery and I’m here to tell you harm reduction works,” said Joanne Montgomery, a licensed clinical social worker, and chief clinical officer for the Liberation Groups. “Harm reduction aims to reduce stigma so people like me can come out of the dark shadows and admit there’s a problem and get connected to resources needed to enhance quality of life.”
Now a social worker and clean for 25 years, Montgomery works with others battling addiction. She credits her success to harm reduction efforts like those by the New Haven police.
More than 40 officers have been trained in stigma, harm reduction, suicide and addiction. Because a large number of overdose deaths occur in people who have been through the criminal justice system, the officers will hand out the kits to people who need them as they are released from custody.
“Clean needles, sterile water, there’s some burners, there’s cotton,” explained former New Haven Police Sgt. Robert Lawler. “It’s a basic harm reduction kit.”
There’s also a pipe for drug use, condoms and sterile wipes, and important information on free recovery programs. The kits are a pilot program, and they also have a tracking stem to see how many people seek help. Officials say people engaged in harm reduction are three times more likely to enter treatment.
Officers say their role in fighting drug use is keeping people healthy and safe. The clean materials help reduce infections and the spread of disease. The kits also establish a connection and help reduce stigma creating a path to recovery.
“We’re not promoting drug use. We’re trying to help them until they’re ready, like Joanne said, when they’re ready for treatment,” said Lt. Nick Marcucio of the New Haven Police.
“Today I am proud to be here to commend the New Haven police department who becomes really the first police department to provide individuals with harm reduction kits,” said Commissioner Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
“Anybody who might be watching this today, that is still struggling with drug misuse, please know that help is possible, and you are worthy,” said Montgomery.