One on One withÖ
the Salt Lake City Meth and Drug Initiative

The Salt Lake City Meth and Drug Initiative recently celebrated 10 years of fostering successful partnerships by expanding from focusing solely on methamphetamine to examining the problem of prescription drug abuse in Utah. Dispatch Managing Editor Esteban Hernandez sat down with the Initiativeís Marjean Searcy and Krista Dunn to discuss past successes and upcoming initiatives.

CP Dispatch: The Salt Lake City Meth and Drug Initiative (formerly the Salt Lake City COPS Methamphetamine Initiative) was initiated more than 10 years ago and in that time has received nationwide accolades as a best practice program for fighting meth use. What do you see as the biggest accomplishments and successes during the past 10 years?

Ms. Searcy: Our biggest accomplishment is definitely the partnerships among all agencies involved in helping users. Now there is good collaboration between the police and treatment providers.

A great example of how this collaboration works is that a 7-month pregnant woman was kicked out of the drug diversion program because she said she hadnít used in the past 5 days. I was able to call and get her into treatment the next day. Treatment has decided to send a van out that can go to drug raids and assist with intake. The police have learned to coordinate with them and make the process of providing treatment smoother.

Ms. Dunn: Another big accomplishment was the End Meth Now campaign ( Former drug users came forward to say that meth is bad. Featuring survivor stories and family portraits, the campaign was humanistic, not criminalizing, and provided hope to current users.

Ms. Searcy: The open-air drug market in Pioneer Park had been around for more than 30 years. Having a food bank, homeless shelter, and medical and other social services located in one place led to problems in the neighborhood, with residents and businesses complaining but no real solutions. The Meth and Drug initiative started looking at the area, using the Open-Air Drug Market POP Guide for ideas, and built a strategy according to the SARA model. The solutions including making police officers more visible by having them wear reflective yellow vests, installing video surveillance, and looking at new prosecution strategies including deportation and treatment.

In the 3 months after cameras were installed, there have been no arrests in Pioneer Park and families have been using the park for picnics. Local businesses and residents are happy to have their park back.

CP Dispatch: What major initiatives do you have planned for the next 10 years?

Ms. Searcy: Our biggest new initiative is the Utah Pharmaceutical Drug Crime Program. This is modeled after the Meth and Drug Initiative and came about using the same comprehensive problem-solving approach.

Utah is always one of the states with the highest rates of prescription drug abuse. Because of the dominance of the Mormon religion, there are many large families, which leads to stress among primary caregivers. In the Mormon religion, drinking is taboo but prescription painkillers are acceptable. Valium has replaced alcohol and/or caffeine for many Utah women. In 2007 there were 317 deaths from painkiller overdosesómore than the amount of deaths from car accidents.

Given the scope of this problem, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, and the National Methamphetamine Chemical Initiative started taking a closer look at prescription drug abuse. The Meth and Drug Initiative was a natural partner for their efforts because of our successes in creating comprehensive strategies for dealing with drug issues. The Pharmaceutical Drug Crime Program is integrating not just enforcement but also prevention, education, environmental impact assessment, and treatment options.

Working with physicians and the pharmaceutical boards is an essential strategy for the success of this program. Many people start prescription drug abuse for legitimate pain and many doctors arenít set up to deal with the abuse that could follow, even though they are the best person suited to help those people, perhaps by recommending them to a methadone program. The important thing is that many agencies are working together to solve this problem.

Ms. Dunn: The Meth and Drug Initiative was initially conceived with the mindset that having a collaborative program was so important that it needed to keep functioning when the initial funding ran out. Because they strategically planned that way, the funding has kept coming.

Utah only had two meth labs last year. Ten years ago, labs were the primary focus. The program has to keep evolving or it becomes pointless. It has now evolved and grown to react to changing needs. For example, we hope to create a way to protect elderly people under the care of meth-addicted relatives, and expand Adult Protective Services.

CP Dispatch: The project works with stakeholders with different priorities and needs. What are the benefits and challenges of such an approach?

Ms. Dunn: Itís hard! Initially we were working with more than 30 stakeholders, agencies which werenít used to working together. We had to negotiate politics. The hardest part was the initial set-up. Now agencies and individuals trust us.

Ms. Searcy: In the beginning we had to convince people to work with us, to work together. Now people entering those positions know that this collaboration is something expected of them. The people who we initially worked with are now supervisors and are supportive of their successors and underlings working on this coordination. We now have partners all over the city. The culture is there now where it wasnít before.

Ms. Dunn: If you take the money away, but leave the people in place, it would still work, although you wouldnít be able to attack new problems as much. The agencies have invested staff time and money and have seen the benefit they get from the partnerships. In the beginning, they came for the money. Now they come for the program benefits to their individual agency missions.

CP Dispatch: As nonsworn civilian police employees, you can offer a different perspective on community policing. What do you think your role and that of other civilian employees of police departments should be in terms of implementing community policing?

Ms. Searcy: Civilians have a great place in police departments, and Chief Burbank agrees. Budget cuts affect civilians first, but they are essential to developing long-term strategies and a sense of community. Police officers can be overworked, so itís good to have civilians take on policy roles.

Ms. Dunn: We want our officers out on the street; we donít want them back doing all of the things a civilian can do. As an added bonus, civilians tend to be less expensive.

Ms. Searcy: Integrating civilians with police helps change their focus. We help them identify community needs, concerns, and problems, which helps them be more successful.

Ms. Dunn: Sometimes a sworn officer isnít the best person to talk to a community member. Some people are intimidated by uniforms and badges. Having a civilian available to conduct interviews can be invaluable.

CP Dispatch: What advice would you give someone who wanted to replicate the Salt Lake City model in their own community?

Ms. Searcy: Be patient. Problems and frustrations will arise, but they shouldnít stop overall progress. Work through the underlying issues, step back, and be open to hearing about the problem and possible solutions.

Ms. Dunn: Working collaboratively is always difficult, but in the end itís easier than doing it alone.


Krista Dunn has been the grants manager for the Salt Lake City Police Department for the past 10 years. During that time, she has been responsible for acquiring and managing more than $35 million in grant funding for Salt Lake City. She has worked extensively with federal, state, and foundation grants, and has assisted other local communities and school districts in attaining funding for worthy projects.

Krista has a background in drug and alcohol prevention and intervention and as a teacher and administrator of programs for at-risk children and families in Salt Lake area public schools. She has been a city council member for the past 10 years for Murray City, a suburb of Salt Lake.

Marjean Searcy became the project coordinator for the Salt Lake City COPS Methamphetamine Initiative in February 1999. As the coordinator of this multiagency partnership, she and her colleagues have accomplished system-wide change in Utah.

The Salt Lake City COPS Methamphetamine Initiative has received national recognition as an effective response to the methamphetamine epidemic. The project combines comprehensive problem-oriented policing strategies in the areas of law enforcement, prosecution, judicial, child protection, substance abuse treatment, medical, and public awareness. Highlights of Salt Lakeís accomplishments include a nationally recognized drug endangered children program, regulations for the clean-up of chemically contaminated properties, increased law enforcement and prosecution efforts, and substance-abuse treatment services.

In 2001, Ms. Searcy and her colleagues received the Salt Lake Police Department Distinguished Unit Citation for the Meth Initiative. She also received the Salt Lake Chiefís Civilian of the Year award in 2004. The Salt Lake City COPS Meth Initiative has been featured in various national and local conferences in the United States.

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