Newburgh police latest to join Hope Not Handcuffs program

CITY OF NEWBURG – When she overdosed nearly 31 years ago and her house burned down, Susan Brisbois decided that it was. It was time to get help.

“You can’t get much worse than that,” Brisbois said recently.

Those incidents marked a turning point with her addictions to cocaine, heroin and alcohol. She nearly lost everything. The day after the fire, April 25, 1991, she quit drugs and alcohol cold turkey, sought treatment and never looked back.

“I was sick and tired of being sick and tired,” she said after the conclusion of a news conference recently at the city of Newburgh police department.

A small group of community stakeholders and volunteers, like Brisbois, gathered at the department on March 28 to announce the police’s participation in Hope Not Handcuffs. It joined 20 other Orange County police agencies that have become involved in the program over the past three years.

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Hope Not Handcuffs was started in 2017 by the Michigan-based Families Against Narcotics organization that seeks to help people battling addictions. In 2018, the town of Wallkill’s police department became the first police agency outside Michigan to participate. It established its Hope Not Handcuffs program by working with the nonprofit Tri-County Community Partnership.

At the requests of police departments, TCCP has helped jumpstart Hope Not Handcuffs at about 60 law enforcement agencies in Orange, Sullivan, Dutchess, Putnam, Westchester and Rockland counties.

Hope Not Handcuffs volunteer Ashley Nelson talks with other volunteers after the news conference Monday, March 28, 2022, in Newburgh.

Brisbois is one of about 20 volunteers, referred to as “angels,” who will answer calls for help in Newburgh.

All a person has to do is walk into the City of Newburgh Police Department and ask for help or call the program’s hotline: 833-428-4673 (HOPE).

A call would go out to an “angel” volunteer on standby, who would arrive within 20 to 30 minutes to help find nearby addiction treatment facilities. The trained volunteers assist with paperwork and a brief intake process. Transportation to treatment can be arranged, if needed.

City of Newburgh police Sgt.  Jessica Brooks shows a business card with information about the Hope Not Handcuffs program.  The program aims to help people battling addiction.

While that is being sorted out, police provide care packages that include a change of clothes, food, water and other resources.

Police officers will also carry business cards with information about the program that they can hand out while they are working.

A key part of the program is treating people who need help with compassion and respect. But a person may be inligible for the program if they have a felony or domestic violence warrant, pose a danger to others or have a medical condition that may need hospitalization.

The placement process can take minutes or hours to complete. It all depends on what is available, said Annette Kahrs, TCCP’s executive director.

Volunteers Ashley Nelson, Susan Brisbois, Christine Gegenheimer and Deborah Meissner talk after a news conference on Monday, March 28, 2022. The program aims to help people battling addictions, and it is also looking for volunteers.

But they’ve never turned away someone who qualifies, she said.

In the Hudson Valley, the program has helped more than 500 people in the area, including 250 so far this year, Kahrs said.

Within the past few weeks, police have seen people walking in and asking for help through Hope Not Handcuffs programs in Wappingers, the town of Newburgh and Liberty, Kahrs said.

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