Bogalusa, parish set to adopt ‘Operation Angel’

Published 10:05 am Monday, September 5, 2016

Sometime in the coming days, Bogalusa and Washington Parish law enforcement will begin offering free access to a drug treatment program.

The program is free, and it is provided by the New Orleans Mission, a faith-based organization that has treatment facilities in New Orleans and Lacombe. The facility is called Giving Hope Retreat, and it is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The model is known as Operation Angel, and Washington Parish’s program is an identical copy of a program unveiled in May by Covington Police Chief Tim Lentz. At that time, Lentz’s Operation Angel program was the first in the state, though 23 other states have similar programs.

Several days ago, local citizen, Tori Waldre, approached state Rep. Malinda White about starting a similar program in Washington Parish, and White and Waldre then approached local law enforcement and criminal justice leaders. District Attorney Warren Montgomery looked into the St. Tammany Operation Angel program and found the same retreat, Giving Hope Retreat, would take Washington Parish residents.

The program encourages users and addicts who would like help to come clean, drop off their drugs and voluntarily submit to treatment without fear of arrest.

Waldre praised Sheriff Randy Seal, who attended a meeting Thursday with White, Montgomery and Mayor Wendy Perrette, among others.

“From day one, I have commended our sheriff. He has the heart to get the drugs out of Washington Parish,” she said. “What I want to see happen is, let’s get the addicts treatment. Punish the drug dealers and help the addicts.”

Montgomery said the goal of the program is not just to help addicts find recovery, but to cut down on other crimes associated with addiction.

“Drug addition is a symptom and a cause of a lot of social ills,” Montgomery said. “Broken families, a robbery, a burglary, DWI, you can be intoxicated on other things besides alcohol. So if we can help people break their drug addiction then we’re going to solve a lot of problems in our community.”

The sheriff made it very clear he still intends to go after drug distributors and dealers.

“In my opinion, if you’re a drug distributor, you’re an enslaver of other people and slave traders belong in jail,” he said. “You’re the enemy of a free society.”

In addition, anyone arrested of a crime and found with drugs may still face drug charges. The Operation Angel program is not intended as a substitute for jail after an arrest, but as a personal choice an addict makes prior to being arrested.

However, Montgomery said his office is not opposed to getting addicts into treatment and out of the criminal justice system if their only crime is a drug offense.

“Let’s get the addict into treatment,” he said.

Though the program is still new in St. Tammany Parish, Montgomery said it’s proven popular and the Covington police chief said about 50 people across the whole of the parish have volunteered to get treatment in July. “That’s fantastic,” said Montgomery. “I mentioned to the sheriff … let’s assume we could get 10 people out of Bogalusa then that’s 10 people off the streets.”

Montgomery pointed out his office has a diversion program specifically for people accused of non-violence drug offenses and there is also drug court, both of which require sobriety in order to avoid a jail sentence.

Montgomery also pointed out that the Operation Angel program requires very little of law enforcement, other than time to take people to Giving Hope Retreat and the cost of the gas.

“It’s an investment of your time and hopefully you got some drugs off the street,” he said. “The positive side, that I see it from law enforcement is, now we’re no longer looked at as someone who’s trying to imprison the child or the spouse or whatever.”

Both the Bogalusa Police Department and the sheriff’s office need to draft some program participant intake forms, though Montgomery brought the Covington Police Department forms and said all the questions could basically be copied from those. Those local forms will be created in the coming days.

White praised the idea, though she said she hopes Washington Parish can one day offer its own drug treatment center.

“This is a great first step,” she said. “In the future I would like to see us maybe bring in our own ministry here, and have that same type setup in this parish … that’s visionary and it may be happening here already, but it’s something I would like to put out there.”