Norton's proactive anti-crime unit battles opioid crisis

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Just over a year ago, the Norton Police Department unveiled its Anti-Crime Team, a “problem-oriented policing” unit aimed at developing solutions to ongoing issues such as the opioid addiction crisis.
According to town and police officials, the team has made a significant impact.
Town Manager Michael Yunits said the team of Detective Jesse Winters and patrolman Nicholas Precourt put together by Police Chief Brian Clark has impressed the selectmen and the town.
“They’re not dressed in uniform, so it’s a little less intimidating I think to some of the young people,” Yunits said. “They identify some of the problems before they develop, and develop a confidence with the younger people in town, trying to head off some things before they happen.”
In 2014, Norton ranked 26th in the state in per capita heroin overdose-related deaths, according to Clark.
“Even though it’s per capita, it’s quite eye-opening,” he said. “One thing we needed to do was more follow up, and doing a better job of trying to help people find treatment locations. They’re coming to our attention, so we have to do something. Mental health, it’s one other thing put on our doorstep that we have to deal with.”
During its first year, the Anti-Crime Team contacted more than 50 individuals struggling with addiction, helping some seek voluntary treatment through addiction specialists provided by the police department and having others undergo mandatory treatment with the help of the district court.
“If we have an overdose, they’re there to follow up with the people and get them the services they need,” Clark said.
He added that Winters and Precourt also work with families to provide information and support.
“But we can take someone only about 85 percent of the way,” he said. “They need to come the other 15 percent.”
Clark said the team has coordinated Narcan training in town for parents and loved ones whose children or friends might be suffering from an opioid addiction.
Winters and Precourt have also developed relationships with substance abuse counselors and counseling centers, have taken individuals as far as Tewksbury and Quincy for treatment, and have helped people going out of state for treatment, as far as Florida.
The Anti-Crime Team also works with housing complexes in town, helping to support people suffering from mental health issues that may result in repeat calls for service.
“We certainly see a lot of people who have dual diagnoses, who have both a mental health issue and drug addition,” Clark said. “It’s even more difficult to deal with to find placement.”