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“A Way Out” Program Earns First Place Honors at Annual Law Enforcement Innovation Awards

The “A Way Out” program, an initiative to help people break free of opioid addiction, recently took first place, as a law enforcement assisted pre-arrest diversion program at the Lake County Municipal League’s annual Law Enforcement Innovation Award ceremony.

“The Innovation Award was extremely competitive this year,” stated Mandi Florip, Executive Director of the Lake County Municipal League. “We had eight agencies apply and each submission was top-notch.”

The eight applicants included: “A Way Out” Program, Bannockburn Police Department, Buffalo Grove Police Department, Deerfield Police Department, Fox Lake Police Department, Hawthorn Woods Police Department, Lake Zurich Police Department and Waukegan Police Department.

A remarkable group of Lake County leaders gathered for the event including representation from seventeen municipalities and police departments, Lake County State’s Attorney, Michael Nerheim, and legislative representation from the office of State US Congressman Brad Schneider.

The “A Way Out” program seeks to help people who are struggling with addiction to access treatment once they have determined they are ready. The idea is to help get people into treatment before they are arrested committing drug-related crimes in order to feed their addiction.

Mundelein Police Chief Eric Guenther conceived the idea to launch the “A Way Out” program and received enthusiastic support from the Lake County Opioid Initiative (LCOI) to create additional treatment access points, reduce crime, reduce substance-related harms, re-frame the role law enforcement plays in community safety, and unite the community. Chief Guenther created, spearheaded, and implemented the program.

At the time of the award application, the police departments of Mundelein, Libertyville, Round Lake Park, Gurnee, Lake Forest, Grayslake, and Round Lake Beach were all entry points into the “A Way Out” program. Since application, additional police departments have joined this program.

"We are in the midst of an epidemic, here and across the nation. Far too many lives have been lost and far too many families have been devastated. This program seeks to help people get the treatment that they seek, without entering the criminal justice system," said Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim. "I am confident that it will save lives, reduce crime, and make our community safer. Beyond that, it is simply the right thing to do."

“We are very proud of Mundelein Police Chief Eric Guenther’s instrumental role in helping to launch this new program. The program has great potential to help those who sincerely want to find a way out from the cycle of drug dependency and addiction,” said Mayor Steve Lentz.

The mission of the Lake County Opioid Initiative is to develop, implement, evaluate and sustain a multi-strategy county-wide effort to prevent opioid abuse, addiction, overdose and death. The vision is for Lake County to be the premier leader and example that effectively addresses all facets of the opioid epidemic to improve the health and safety of our communities.
Since the start of the program, 246 people have accessed treatment. Ninety came through the Mundelein Police Department, and of those 90, ten were Mundelein residents.

Program Overview

By taking advantage of “A Way Out,” participants and their loved ones are given the opportunity to end the destructive cycle that substance abuse, dependency or addiction has caused in their lives. Participants are given the chance to avoid the biological, psychological, and environmental harms and are set on a direct course to recovery. The only requirement of participants is their self-motivation to seek recovery.

The program is designed so that participants will NOT be criminally charged. There is no need to fear arrest or prosecution for seeking participation in this program.

You can find “A Way Out” in just a few easy steps:
A. Locate a participating police department
B. Walk in through the main doors
C. Tell an officer that you are requesting help

About Lake County Municipal League
LCML is a council of 42 cities and villages in Lake County dedicated to furthering excellence in municipal government through information sharing and networking, intergovernmental cooperation, and advocacy for the common interests of its membership.

About The Law Enforcement Innovation Awards Program
The LCML Law Enforcement Innovation Awards program is designed to recognize exceptional, innovative and extraordinary achievement in law enforcement programs or efforts and initiatives that benefit law enforcement as a profession. The awards program also facilitates an exchange of information and experiences to build capacity for municipalities and jointly celebrate successful programs that could benefit other departments and their communities.

The following comment was posted on the MPD Facebook page regarding the “A Way Out” program:
Yes thank God for that program because now my brother is clean and sober and has been for the longest time in his life because he was able to use this program and get himself the treatment he needed without fear of going to jail. Thank you Mundelein Police Department for helping our family recover from a deadly disease called addiction. You saved a man's life and you saved a family's life because you know drugs affect everyone in the family. I don't understand why this program isn’t national. It has to be the number one thing on an addict’s mind when it comes to getting sober and clean…they don't want to go to jail. A Mundelein Police Officer stated very clearly that you can't arrest your way out of a drug problem. Addicts need medical attention not jail time. Thank you again Mundelein Police Department you're awesome and it's a great thing to be a resident here.

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