American politicians are not ones for nuance. Want to stop violence and end drug trafficking? Send the offenders to jail, and build more expensive prisons if necessary. These days, though, health and law enforcement officials across the U.S. are seeking another approach.
Recent news reports from Kansas City, Missouri; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Kane County, Illinois, among other places, show that local authorities want to handle violence and drugs as a public health emergency.
“A lot of the public is unaware of how much (heroin) is out there,” Kane County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Pat Gengler explained to the Aurora Beacon-News. “This is a public health crisis. We’re not going to arrest our way out of this.”
Gengler works in Kane County, Illinois. Located near interstate highways that lead to Chicago, about 50 miles to the east, the area’s urban centers have turned into drug-trafficking hubs. Throwing more people into jail isn’t fixing the problem.
In March, the Kane County Sheriff’s Department switched gears. It declared heroin a public health crisis and invited community groups and social service agencies to a public forum to start the process of creating a new, street-level approach.
In Kansas City, the local health commission founded the Violence Free KC Committee. Since 2014, health and police department officials, along with nonprofits, have been meeting to come up with anti-violence strategies. In March, committee members insisted that violence is a public health crisis in their city.
“If you live in a home or you live in an area where you’re constantly witnessing violence, that violence, you take that in, and then you spread it from person to person to person,” said Denesha Snell, Public Information Officer for the Kansas City Health Department, according to KHSB News.
Kansas City Police Department Major Dan Haley added, “We believe that family and youth violence is such a serious problem in the city and the nation. It’s really an epidemic and that’s where we go back to the idea of it being a public health issue.”
In Charlotte, North Carolina, Dr. David Jacobs, a medical director and trauma surgeon at Carolinas Medical Center, recently made news by calling on city officials to address violence as a public health crisis.
“It passes from generation to generation,” Jacobs told Fox 46 News, “it passes from individual to individual, we know what causes it, we know what prevents it so it makes all the sense in the world to treat it like a disease.”
But will state and federal politicians, who hold the purse strings, listen and act? Will advocacy groups take up the cause and apply pressure on the politicians? If not, why not? According to officials in Illinois, Kansas City, and Charlotte, their cities are facing an epidemic.