Ohio Police Leaders Call for Passage of Senate Bill 3
Newtown Police Chief Synan and Retired Miamisburg Asst. Chief Thompson Testify That Treatment, Not Incarceration, is Key to Addressing Drug Addiction
COLUMBUS – Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan and Miamisburg Ret. Asst. Police Chief Thomas N. Thompson expressed their support for Senate Bill 3, submitting testimony to the Ohio House Criminal Justice Committee that is considering the bill. Senate Bill 3 would make low-level drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony. The police leaders indicated that the bill would make Ohio communities safer by helping to end the cycle of people with addictions cycling in and out of the criminal justice system and Ohio’s overcrowded state prisons, ensuring more opportunities for treatment and successful recovery.
The police leaders, both members of Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), called upon their personal years of experience. They contend that the bill’s reclassification of minor drug possession will allow law enforcement to better distinguish between Ohioans who are addicted and those who seek to profit from people’s addictions by trafficking drugs.
“Senate Bill 3 would build on local solutions and help our state invest in recovery-based alternatives that are proven to break the cycle of addiction,” Chief Synan said. “We simply cannot afford to stay on our current course. Ohioans are dying of addiction, our prisons are crowded with low-level drug offenders and our state dollars are being wasted. Now, those prisons threaten to spread additional health challenges into our communities, in addition to worsening addiction.
“In my experience, the best way to tell the difference [between users and traffickers] and make sure we are able to identify and charge traffickers is not by relying on quantity tiers but by looking at whether the circumstances of the crime suggest they were intending to sell,” continued Synan. “Senate Bill 3 lets law enforcement use those factors to tell possessors from sellers – and charge sellers with trafficking – by creating the new possession with intent trafficking offense. This new tool, and the reclassification of low-level possession, will help law enforcement reduce the flow of drugs on the street by stopping actual ‘dealers’ and making sure people who are just addicted receive help.”
Thomas N. Thompson is the Executive Director of the Kettering Health Network Police Department, and a retired Assistant Chief with the Miamisburg Police Department:
“As a young officer I always made more arrests than our department expected, thinking that I was excelling in serving the community,” Thompson testified. “Yet, in hindsight, I cannot say that I know of even one person who conquered their addiction because they were arrested and incarcerated for a drug offense.
“If anything, the arrests we make for low-level drug possession are likely making things worse. Having a felony record negatively impacts a person’s ability to succeed in life. The stigma that accompanies a past conviction makes it harder to find a job or to rent an apartment. In Ohio, felonies also invite hundreds of statutory restrictions, including prohibitions on certain occupational licenses and fields of work.”
“Our state has more than 850 legal restrictions for people with a conviction, including 524 specifically related to a drug conviction. Yet, our state too often relies on felonies and incarceration as a response to substance use. Approximately 44,500 people are currently incarcerated in an Ohio prison. Nearly 2,600 Ohioans are currently in prison for drug possession as their most serious offense. It does not have to be this way.”
“Senate Bill 3 is the first step in that change. It would reduce the lowest level of felonies, which are mostly related to addiction, to misdemeanor offenses. This reform would save people who get over their addiction from spending the rest of their life trying to get over a felony conviction. SB 3 would also prevent technical violations of probation—like failing a single drug test—from leading to incarceration. Research shows that people addicted to drugs will almost inevitably relapse in their journey to recover. We must stop trying to solve addiction through incarceration. I also believe that SB 3 will help improve trust between police and the communities they serve.”
Read Thompson’s full testimony here.
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The Alliance for Safety and Justice is a national organization that aims to win new safety priorities in states across the country. It partners with leaders to advance state reform through networking, coalition building, research, education and advocacy. It also brings together diverse crime survivors to advance policies that help communities most harmed by crime and violence, as part of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice – its national network of over 42,000 crime survivors with thousands of members in Ohio.