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Local and Community News

California: Needle Exchangers Say Deputies Harassed Them

March 12, 2003

Needle exchange organizers report that Contra Costa, Calif., sheriff's deputies harassed intravenous drug users entering and leaving the free program in Bay Point on Monday night. Program volunteer Chris Catchpool said deputies patrolled the area more intensely than usual. Between 6-8 p.m., several people were pulled over and at least one participant was cited for possessing a syringe without a prescription, he said. "It galls me that people can't access the service without interference from law enforcement," Catchpool said.

Sheriff's deputies deny obstructing the program in any way. Deputies at the site "noticed something going on," but left when they learned the activity was a sanctioned needle exchange, said Cmdr. Obie Anderson. Anderson said the department had no record of any citation being issued Monday night near the exchange having to do with illegal possession of a syringe.

"In general, the police in Contra Costa have left us alone," said program Executive Director Bobby Bowens. He added that the program's success is predicated upon drug users being able to access it without fear of arrest.

The deputies' alleged action comes as county supervisors are considering the extent to which they want to continue funding the struggling program. Community Health Empowerment/Exchange Works provides more than 35,000 needles each month to IDUs in Richmond, North Richmond, Pittsburg and Bay Point. The program gets most of its money from foundations and grants, with Contra Costa providing $25,000 annually for syringes.

Last month, needle exchange officials told the Board of Supervisors they had run out of money and were in danger of closing unless the county significantly upped its financial commitment. Supervisors responded with a $10,000 infusion, while health officials search for ways to support the program. Supervisor Federal Glover said he is still gathering information from program and sheriff's officials. So far, it looks like the officers were just doing their jobs, he said.

Back to other CDC news for March 12, 2003

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
Contra Costa Times
03.12.03; Peter Felsenfeld

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
Ask Our Expert, David Fawcett, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., About Substance Use and HIV
Needle Exchange & HIV/AIDS: California