Richmond police looking at new drug-fighting program

By Rachel DePompa - bio | email

Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Richmond police are considering a new program that's raising eyebrows around the country. It's called the High Point Initiative, and it hinges on an unusual partnership with police, residents and a select group of drug dealers.

The goal really is to pick a neighborhood with an open air drug market and clean it up. A group of Richmond officers recently visited police in Providence, Rhode Island to see this unique program in action.

Two years ago Rhode Island police gathered seven street level drug dealers in a room, promising not to arrest them. The chief showed undercover video of them dealing and even had arrest warrants ready to go. But these dealers became part of a partnership with a community to get rid of the open air drug market.

Richmond police now say this could be the next step in its own drug crackdown.

"We went to Providence looking, you know, is this potentially the next tool that could help us here in Richmond," said Richmond Police Major John Venuti.

Venuti and three others with the RPD were initially skeptical, but they couldn't believe the results they saw in Rhode Island.

"It's completely changed. The drug market's been eliminated. Not displaced. Eliminated. And the neighborhood is a lot more quiet a lot more peaceful," said Venuti.

Through the program, police pick a neighborhood, get to know the residents and identify drug dealers. The dealers are then offered training, education, even jobs.

"They are carefully selected. They're all non violent offenders, they all potentially could be arrested on the very day they are approached by law enforcement, and they are basically given a second change," said Venuti.

The Department of Justice calls it the policing of the future. Richmond police say with a little modification it could work here.

"I think this is one more tool in the arsenal that we will consider and certainly has potential for success," said Richmond Police Operations Manager Brian Cummings.

The trip did not cost Richmond police any money, it was paid for by a federal grant. The department is now deciding whether a model of the High Point Initiative could work here in the River City.

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