My Turn, PJ Smith: United Way campaign helps community, Salisbury Police Department

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 10, 2021

By P.J. Smith

The Salisbury Police Department would like to say thank you to the United Way for what is an exciting partnership, working together to reach community quality of life goals.

The United Way helps Rowan County through several different programs and partnerships. The joint effort between SPD and United Way focuses on the opioid crisis in Rowan County. This partnership has opened doors, achieving positive crime reduction efforts by identifying opioid users, street-level dealers and frequented areas. As we started to gain traction in early 2020, we faced a pandemic that is now considered worse than the 1918 flu. When everything shut down, many resources previously offered that helped control opioid use became limited in access, and we experienced a significant increase in cases as a result.      

Across our nation, overdoses have increased because of opioid addiction. With the onset of COVID, the rate of overdoses has reached an alarming rate.  Based on Overdose Detection Mapping Application Data (ODMAP), the national average for suspected overdose deaths was three for every 10,000 people in the past year. The city of Salisbury averaged two suspected overdose deaths per 10,000 people based on the data. 

While Salisbury is below the national average, SPD would like to see the numbers lower for our community as the trend starts to level off, according to the research provided by ODMAP. Proactive measures implemented by SPD come from community partnerships like those with the United Way. 

In 2019, grant funds awarded to the SPD by the United Way helped with our camera rollout project. 

Camera placement was selected using analytics to identify locations where opioid cases were most prevalent. Using our camera system, we can follow up on tips from the community and calls for service concerning drug-related offenses. Investigators can research frequented areas and investigate incidents involving opioid sales and users more accurately.

As a result of this research, more efficient investigations develop, and it assists the police department in combating opioid use in our community. 

While looking at maps identifying opioid locations for camera placement considerations, analysts determined these areas presented other crimes occurring. Property and a certain percentage of violent crimes also get quicker attention due to camera availability. Those cameras also allow the Salisbury Police Department to develop more efficient investigations, identifying offenders and taking proactive approaches to deter or prevent issues when possible. 

The goal is not always to apprehend opioid-addicted persons to make arrests. Identifying individuals subject to the opioid crisis allows SPD to provide resources that may help them overcome their addiction.

Giving to the United Way is a great way to give back to the community.  Officer and civilian employees of the SPD support the United Way every year to contribute to our community outside of our policing practices.

Communities benefit by working together to identify the needs, resources and long-term solutions, paving the way for future generations to achieve a healthier community.

The SPD is excited about the upcoming campaign allowing our employees the opportunity to surpass our goal of giving that will further support innovative programs.    

The Rowan County United Way Board of Directors is dedicated to its mission, and its efforts do not go unnoticed. The Salisbury Police Department would like to thank it for what it does for our community. We hope this year’s contributions are beyond expectations. 

When our community can come together and inspire people to give their time, money and talents to meet local needs, resources ultimately flow to our neighbors and create a thriving community for everyone.

P.J. Smith is a lieutenant in the Salisbury Police Department.