Even as a 23-year-old rookie with the Sarasota Police Department getting a street-level view of the burgeoning crack cocaine epidemic, at least one thing became immediately obvious to Tom Knight: locking up the buyers wasn’t going to solve anything.
“You’re not going to arrest your way out of addiction; you’re just filling up our jails with people who may have done nothing more wrong in life than getting addicted,” recalled Sarasota County’s top law enforcement official.
“Maybe they don’t have the right parents or loved ones around to get them help. Maybe they don’t have the money or the influence. But when they do get out, they’ll go right back and do it again.”
Thirty-three years later, the observational lessons Knight applied to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office after getting elected in 2008 have resulted in dramatically fewer arrests, a commensurate reduction in crime, and a proliferation of inmate social-services options that have depressed recidivism rates. As a consequence, Sarasota County’s largest nonprofit behavioral health care agency is making a bold leadership move.