Every night they’re out on the road together, Lt. Kevin Head and Sgt. Kerry Alexander are keeping recovering addicts on their toes.
Friday night, when a 36-year-old participant in Hall County’s DUI court saw the two sheriff’s deputies pulling into his driveway in an unmarked truck, he thought little of it.
“That’s just part of it,” the man said later, after breathing into a handheld sensor that detects alcohol use and signing a form stating he was clean of drugs and alcohol. “I guess if I hadn’t gone out and got into trouble, I wouldn’t have to do this.”
As community police officers for Hall County Treatment Courts, Head and Alexander are part of an eight-member “home visit” team, working extra duty at nights to check in on the more than 300 participants in drug court, DUI court, family treatment court and mental health court.
They show up with no advance notice, knock on doors and chat casually with participants before asking for a signature and a breath test. Sometimes they conduct random searches of person and home, looking for alcohol, firearms or illegal drugs.
Just as importantly, they get a picture of the home environments the judges, counselors, attorneys and prosecutors in treatment court usually don’t get to see. Head said they do their best to stay friendly and nonconfrontational, and as a result, they seldom get any problems.
“We rarely take anyone to jail,” Head said. “We’re just there to find the facts.”
Not that arrestable offenses go overlooked; if illegal drugs are found, the handcuffs come out. But suspicious behavior just as often may prompt a note in the records and an order to undergo screening.
“If they look like they may be under the influence of something, we’ll tell them they need to go ahead and take a drug test the next morning,” Head said.
After each night’s round of visits, a report is e-mailed to other treatment court officials, detailing any concerns or suspicions.
In turn, the officers are asked to keep special tabs on some participants, especially those new to the program.
In five-phase programs, the relapses usually occur early on.
“As they get further along, they may make a mistake, but usually it’s right out of the box,” Head said.
The homes they visit range from rundown trailers to upscale houses in gated communities, Head said.
Some participants find obstacles to sobriety in their living situations, Alexander said.
“You get a lot of people who want to change their lives, but they’re living in a place that may not be conducive to it,” Alexander said. “There may be other people there with their own issues who don’t want to change.”
Community police try to keep up with who is in the household, and make sure bad influences stay away. Participants aren’t allowed to associate with felons, and some of their old partying friends can create problems.
Most of the visits come after curfew, which varies according to the court. The knock at the door may come late at night. Sometimes officers will stop by the same house twice.
On occasion, all eight community officers will work the same night in a large-scale operation. The last major sweep started on a Saturday night at 6 and didn’t finish until 2:30 a.m., when 43 homes were checked. There were five violations.
In the network of drug court participants, word of the big sweeps spreads fast and seems to have a chilling effect on bad behavior.
“There weren’t many problems for a few weeks after that,” Head said.
Though community police are friendly with the folks they visit, they also don’t cut them any slack.
“Drug court isn’t very touchy-feely,” Alexander said.
Adds Head, “The state’s making it tough — you have to work for it.”
Alexander likes seeing how people’s lives change and their home environments visibly improve as they progress through the phases of the court.
“Some of the guys and ladies will tell you, ‘I haven’t been sober this long for years.’ They’re walking around feeling better, and it’s an incentive to stay that way.”
“A lot of these people are really good people,” Head says. “They’ve just made bad decisions.”