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RPD sets Tuesday forum on public intoxication in city

May 27, 2012 - By Emily Etheredge, Staff Writer

My goal for the discussion is to get a dialogue started... In five years I hope we aren't still doing the same thing, because we need a change in the system.

- Mike Broadhead, Riverton chief of police, hosting a public intoxication forum Tuesday art City Hall

Public Intoxication.

Is it a public health issue or a crime problem?

Riverton police chief Mike Broadhead wants to address the topic with the public at an open forum Tuesday, May 29, beginning at 9:30 a.m. at Riverton City Hall.

Prior to the alcohol crisis center being established, Riverton had a number of issues in town that were related to intoxicated persons sleeping on sidewalks and in doorways -- with no solution.

Broadhead said this had a negative effect on quality of life for the citizens of the community, so the RPD took responsibility for dealing with everything. Intoxicated individuals were taken to jail to sleep.

Lawsuits were filed against the city when intoxicated inmates were injured. Because of these lawsuits, the Fremont County Alcohol Crisis Center came to fruition.

Detox system

The current routine of a police officer is to contact an intoxicated person and help find a place where the person will be safe. The individuals are transported to the detox center and held.

But there are a number of people who are belligerent toward the detox staff and can be refused entry to the detox center.

That raises another problem. Someone refused entry to the detox center must "be detoxed at the county jail, at a cost of $65 per person, per date at the jail," Broadhead said.

"So, if a drunk is taken to the jail at 7 p.m. and released the next morning, at 8 a.m., the cost to the Riverton taxpayer is $130 per person, per stay."

Time for a change

Broadhead would like a change in the system and hopes the forum will be an opportunity for people to have a dialogue about new ways to address the issue.

"My goal for the discussion is to get a dialogue started so that we can find new ways to address the issue going forward," Broadhead said. "In five years I hope we aren't still doing the same thing because we need a change in the system."

Health issue

Broadhead strongly believes public intoxication is a public health issue more than a crime issue. He said police officers are the tool used to deal with intoxicated subjects because there are no other tools to use.

"The only reason the police are used is because they are convenient, not because they are the proper tool to deal with the problem," Broadhead said. "If we continue using this tool, we will still be using it in five years, and in 10 years, and this is not the right tool."

Broadhead believes part of the solution is to view chronic alcoholism as a medical problem and not a crime or police problem.

"People have told me that we as a community are too soft on drunks and we need to make it so uncomfortable for them to choose to be drunk every day that they make other choices," Broadhead said. "These guys might have made some bad choices years ago, but the guys we are dealing with have no choice.

"They are suffering from a medical problem. Physical addiction is not a choice."

Fremont counseling prevention specialist Tauna GroomSmith will have her staff at the forum to provide input on addressing public intoxication as a medical problem.

Broadhead hopes the public will start thinking about ways to address the issue of alcoholism rather than addressing symptoms of alcoholism.

"I want the public to think about treating public intoxication rather than punishing public intoxication," Broadhead said.

"I want this community to be a better place to raise kids, a better quality of life, and public intoxication is an issue that affects every one of us in some way so we all need to get together and find a new solution."

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