When detectives are going door to door, most would think they’re conducting an investigation. But in recent weeks, the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office took to the streets of Camden not to get information, but to spread the word about Operation Helping Hand.
Lt. Carlos Plaza said it’s a program that connects people dealing with substance abuse disorder with recovery specialists.
“We’ve seen through the New Jersey State Police through their DMI reporting, what we’ve had an increase in overdoses,” said Plaza, who serves as the Lieutenant on the Narcotics Unit. “Part of that was specifically here in Camden city, so the decision was let’s figure out ways to create an outreach of some sort to get our hotline number to everyone who may need this assistance.”
With social distancing still in effect, Plaza and his team, had to get creative. Their solution? Door hangers, because everyone steps outside at least once a day, even if they don’t go somewhere.
Detective Andy McNeil volunteered to help and said the outreach is critical.
“I think many in law enforcement have said it before: when it comes to substance abuse, we can’t arrest our way out of it,” said McNeil. “A big part of that is going to be connecting with the community and making sure that folks out there know that there are resources out there to help their loved ones if they’re battling addiction.”
Operation Helping Hand was expanded to Camden County In 2018, after the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office and NJ Cares announced funding for all 21 counties through the Department of Health that’s continued each year since. Policing has evolved, according to Plaza, and the program has already shown to be successful in helping the community.
“Law enforcement’s involvement in providing these services, I think it was something that was needed,” said Plaza. “I pray every day that we continue to cause those effects of success for them.”
Plaza understands some may be hesitant to accept help from police or call the hotline, but he said the ultimate goal is to decrease overdoses and make the county safer.
“It’s an experience that I think none of us want to go through, but what I want people to understand, particularly family members and those who are suffering from substance abuse, is that we’re here by all means not only to enforce laws, but we’re also here to be compassionate and serve them as best we can,” he said.
You can reach the Operation Helping Hand Hotline by dialing 877-266-8222.