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How One Small Town Ended Its Drug War

In tiny Chatham, New York, police chief Peter Volkmann turned the town’s cops into drug treatment counselors.
Police chief Peter Volkmann of Chatham, New York, where a sharp rise in opioid deaths spurred a unique approach to community policing.
Police chief Peter Volkmann of Chatham, New York, where a sharp rise in opioid deaths spurred a unique approach to community policing. Danny Beard, Fusion Media Group

Peter Volkmann, the police chief of the small upstate New York town of Chatham, has a radical strategy for policing the American opioid epidemic: He doesn’t.

Instead, he invites addicts to come to his office, turn over their drugs, and ask for help. He then makes sure they get the medical assistance they need to detox, and enroll in rehab programs so they can eventually stop using all together. “We’re not going to arrest you for possession—we’re going to help you,” Volkmann says in a new video about the program, produced by Fusion. “Treatment is [the] best option for recovery. We’re going to help one person at a time, one day at a time. That’s our strategic plan.”