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Buckhannon Police Department implements innovative recovery support program

BUCKHANNON — The Buckhannon Police Department, in partnership with First Choice Services, has launched a unique grant-funded initiative to provide support to individuals struggling with addiction and related issues.

This program, which began in April, brings Erica Bennett, a peer recovery support specialist, into the police department to help bridge the gap between law enforcement and community support services.

Erica Bennett, who has worked in recovery for nearly four years, shared her enthusiasm for the collaboration.

“I’ve been in recovery myself, so I understand the challenges,” Bennett said. “My role is to connect people with the resources they need, whether it’s addiction treatment, mental health support, or addressing homelessness and food insecurity. Instead of the cycle of incarceration, we focus on getting people the help they need.”

The program, funded through a grant awarded by First Choice Services, aims to address complex societal issues with a multifaceted approach. Buckhannon Police Chief Matt Gregory emphasized the importance of this collaboration.

“Substance abuse, homelessness, and other community issues are very complex,” Gregory said. “They require solutions that go beyond a singular mindset. This partnership allows us to combine law enforcement with the extensive resources and networks of First Choice Services.

The initiative was fully endorsed by the Buckhannon City Council, and the program has already shown promising results.

“In the few months since we started, we’ve seen some success stories. The flexibility of the program allows us to adapt to the specific needs of our community, which is crucial for its effectiveness,” Gregory added.

Bennett’s role is dynamic and community-focused. She does not attend every call with officers but is actively involved in the community, offering resources and support.

“I make sure to be approachable because when I was struggling, the last thing I wanted was to approach someone in uniform,” Bennett noted. “My goal is to be a safe place for people to seek help.”

The program’s success is measured not only by the number of individuals Bennett has assisted but also by the ongoing trust and rapport she builds with the community.

“Sometimes people come back to me if a particular treatment facility didn’t work for them, which is a significant step forward. It shows they trust me and are still seeking help,” Bennett said.

Gregory highlighted the broader impact of the program, saying, “The best possible solution to these issues involves a comprehensive approach. Having Erica embedded with us puts her closer to the problems we encounter, enabling quicker and more effective support for those in need.”

The initiative, which also includes regular coordination with similar programs in Wheeling, WV, sets a high standard for other police departments.

“We hope to see other communities adopt similar models,” Bennett said. “The success we’re seeing here can serve as a blueprint for addressing these complex issues more effectively.”

This innovative partnership between the Buckhannon Police Department and First Choice Services exemplifies a progressive approach to community policing and support, aiming to provide hope and tangible help to those who need it most.

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