Governor honors Esky Angel Program

ESCANABA — Escanaba received a special tribute from the Governor’s office and Upper Peninsula legislators congratulating the city on the one-year anniversary of its Angel Program during a ceremony at city hall Monday.

Escanaba Public Safety’s Angel Program — a support program for addicts to seek rehabilitation — marked its first anniversary in March as the first of its kind in Michigan.

The local program is modeled after a Massachusetts police department’s successful efforts to address drug addiction in an effort to reduce crime often associated with drug abuse.

“Our area finally realizes that drug abuse is a problem that needs to be fixed,” said Escanaba Public Safety Director Rob LaMarche. “This is a community problem that needs a community solution.”

To date, 14 individuals from Delta County have enrolled in intensive drug treatment programs arranged by the police department. Volunteer “angels” provide participants support and transportation to rehabilitation facilities.

So far, nine individuals have completed short-term or long-term drug treatment through Escanaba Public Safety’s Angel Program. Some have been offered jobs at local businesses when they return home.

LaMarche said the program is doing very good especially considering police — who are normally involved in arresting addicts — are asking addicts to voluntarily come to the station to turn in their drugs and enroll in a recovery program without fear of being arrested.

“Instead of putting them in jail, we try to help them,” said LaMarche, noting that no charges can be pending against someone seeking to participate in the Angel Program.

The police chief said the process has been a “big eye-opener” for him because officers are doing something extremely positive for someone rather than having a negative encounter with an addict.

“We really do want to help these people to make our community stronger,” said LaMarche, thanking those involved in the Angel Program.

LaMarche praised City Manager Jim O’Toole for bringing the national program to the attention of the police department. He expressed gratitude to O’Toole and the city council for backing the local program.

LaMarche thanked former Public Safety Director Ken Vanderlinden for allowing him to get the Angel Program started in Escanaba last year. Delta County Prosecutor Philip Strom was also instrumental in getting the program off the ground, LaMarche added.

Public Safety Officer Lt. John Gudwer and Administrative Assistant Jennifer Spriks were also thanked for assisting addicts enrolling in the program, as well as arranging for volunteer angels to drive participants to rehab facilities.

LaMarche expressed gratitude for the 24 angel volunteers currently involved in the county-wide program, including a few who attended Monday’s ceremony.

Other supporters during the past year include the Community Foundation of Delta County which contributed $10,000 in start-up funds. An additional $10,000 has been collected through community donations, said LaMarche, thanking everyone for the financial support.

Michigan legislators attending Monday’s ceremony included Sen. Tom Casperson, Rep. John Kivela, and Rep. Beau LaFave.

Casperson said he is encouraged by the results of the program, which has proven to show forgiveness and compassion. He hopes the program reaches out to others because there is a real need to address drug abuse in the region.

Kivela noted Angel Program efforts have already spread, citing the Michigan State Police and Marquette County Sheriff’s Department which are working together on a similar program.

“It’s less about being a criminal and more about being an addict,” said Kivela.

LaFave, also noting there is a drug problem, praised the Angel Program and the accomplishments of the nine individuals completing drug rehabilitation.

According to the special tribute signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Casperson, Kivela, LaFave, and Rep. Scott Dianda, “The program not only has provided invaluable service to those struggling with addiction, but has also brought awareness to the battle with drug and alcohol addiction in our communities.”

Delta County residents seeking treatment to kick their drug habit can go to Escanaba Public Safety at 1900 3rd Ave. N., turn over any drugs, and sign up for the program.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143,