Smith planning second phase of Mercy Project

By JENNIFER COHRON, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 8/11/17

Seven individuals battling addiction are currently in substance abuse recovery programs through the Cordova Police Department’s Mercy Project, which was launched in February.

Now Cordova Police Chief Nick Smith is interested in implementing a …

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Smith planning second phase of Mercy Project

Posted

Seven individuals battling addiction are currently in substance abuse recovery programs through the Cordova Police Department’s Mercy Project, which was launched in February.

Now Cordova Police Chief Nick Smith is interested in implementing a second phase to benefit inmates who have extended stays at the Cordova Jail.

Smith is seeking volunteers who would be willing to coach inmates serving three months or longer on life skills such as writing resumes, dressing properly for a job interview or preparing for a GED test.

“We see the potential that people have. They make progress while they’re in jail, but when they get out, we’ve failed them because they don’t have the tools they need and they go back to what they know,” Smith said. “If you spend a significant amount of time in our jail, I want people to see a change when you leave.”

The Mercy Project is modeled after a similar program developed in 2016 by the Seminary Police Department in Mississippi.

Individuals who are ready to seek treatment for an addiction are encouraged to come to the Cordova Police Department, where a member of the Mercy Project Care Team takes the necessary steps to secure a spot in a treatment center.

As part of the program, those seeking help can bring their remaining drugs and paraphernalia to the department to have it destroyed.

Smith said participants are not interrogated, charged or used as informants.

Twelve people have expressed interest in the program since February.

Several quit the program following the initial interview or left rehab before completing the program.

Seven — five women and two men — are currently in various phases of recovery at facilities throughout the northern part of the state.

Smith said the numbers have exceeded his expectations.

“I didn’t know people would be so open to help that they would be willing to contact a police officer or come through our door,” he said.

Scholarships funded by area churches and individuals are available to cover the entry fee required by most treatment programs.

Smith said he was initially unprepared for the cost of detox, which is a requirement of most facilities. However, that hurdle has now been overcome by fostering relationships with organizations who provide detox or are willing to accept individuals who have not completed detox.

The Mercy Project has several restrictions. For example, those with an outstanding arrest warrant or three or more drug-related convictions on their criminal record are ineligible.

The program also does not allow family members to seek help on behalf of loved ones.

“At first, we were bombarded with a lot of messages from people wanting to sign up a family member. It just can’t work that way. If you force them to come down, it isn’t going to work,” Smith said.

Though the program is restrictive, it is not confined to one jurisdiction. Two of the seven participants who are currently in treatment are from Jefferson County.

Though the Mercy Project is designed to get individuals help before they are arrested, the department has also helped several people get into a treatment facility after they have been arrested and posted bond.

“We don’t just put people in jail, charge them with a lot of fines and forget about them. If they express a desire for help, we will help,” Smith said.

Smith recently encountered one man who was assigned to a faith-based rehab after being arrested on a traffic stop. He is still in treatment and doing well.

“I didn’t recognize him. He didn’t even look like the same person. That’s what gives me motivation to keep programs like this. If we can help just one or two along the way, it’s well worth it,” Smith said.