SEMINARY, MS (WDAM) - The Seminary Police Department is rolling out a new project that is geared toward helping addicts and keeping them out of jail.
In 2015, the department made 360 narcotics-related arrests, and the numbers in 2016 look to be increasing, according to police officials.
"That's almost on average an arrest a day, that's too many for a community our size, it's too many for any community," Seminary Police Chief Michael Kelly said.
With those numbers, and five felony arrests last week, the department is kicking off The Mercy Project.
"Any addict who walks into the Seminary Police Department with the remainder of their drug equipment, needles, pipes, paraphernalia in general, or drugs, no matter the quantity or type and asks for help, will not be charged," Kelly said.
Once an addict or drug user asks for help, the person will be assigned a Seminary police officer and will help him or her begin a journey to recovery.
"Jail is not for everyone, but if that's what it takes, that's what we are willing to do, but we want to start with outreach and recovery to do everything we can to help the addict and help their family through the process," Kelly said.
James Moore, a grieving Pine Belt father who lost his son to addiction, is also backing the project.
"A year ago my son Jeff died of a heroin overdose, Jeff was courageous and compassionate just like this program is courageous and compassionate," Moore said. "Addiction is a disease, it takes medical help, it takes a lot of work on the part of the addict, and it takes a lot of support and love and care from the community to get through that disease."
This project is geared to anyone that needs help and is willing to look for a method to recover.
"When people say addicts, they forget they are someone's daughter, someone's sister, someone's mother, and someone's friend, and a lot of times because they are caught up in this lifestyle they don't know a way out," said Susan Brogan, director of Ministry Programs at Jacob's Well Ministries.
The project is directly supervised by the Seminary Police Chaplain Justin Corley, who is the senior Pastor of the Lebanon Baptist Church.
"This is not a trick, this is not a scam, and this is not an attempt to entrap anyone, if you have drug paraphernalia we will dispose it for you, you will not be arrested, you will not be charged with a crime," Kelly said. "We have to do something; we have to intervene somehow in people's lives and the lives of families."
Aside from folks at Jacobs Well Ministries, the project will also have volunteers, known as Care Team members.
"These will be trained volunteers who make first contact with the addict after they reach out to the department for help," Kelly said. "These members are required to attend a basic counseling class and are instrumental in moving the addict to the next step in the Mercy Project."
The second step of the Mercy Project is to provide an opportunity for those who have overdosed either accidentally or intentionally a second chance at life, according to Kelly.
Officers will be trained to detect signs of overdose on a call and will be taught to administer the antidote drug, Narcan, which is an antidote for an opiate overdose.
"To my knowledge, the Seminary Police Department will be the first department in the state to be carrying Narcan," Moore said.
The final phase of the project is a family support group for those who have a family member or friends who are suffering from addiction.
"We are partnering with a wonderful ministry here in Seminary called the Mercy House of Seminary Baptist Church," Kelly said.
The official start date of the program is Aug. 1, but the department is currently looking for volunteers to help with the project.
If you are interested contact the Seminary Police Department at 601-722-3991 or Seminary Municipal Court at 601-722-9426.