Needle Exchange: LA Cops Hassle NEP Clients -- Complaint Filed 9/30/05

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After two incidents of Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) interfering with city-authorized needle exchange programs in the last two weeks, the director of one of them has filed a formal complaint against four LAPD officers with the city Police Commission. On September 15, police searched five clients of the Clean Needles Now as they waited in line for fresh syringes, arresting one.

"This was the second event of this kind in two weeks," Clean Needles Now executive director Shoshanna Scholar told the CNS news service. LAPD Chief William Bratton had issued a memo July 8 warning officers about unwarranted interference with the exchange, she added. "We want to know why that memo was overlooked."

In the earlier incident (which involved a different program), a staffer was handcuffed while police handcuffed and searched ten clients, Scholar told DRCNet.

Scholar told CNS when she tried to report the incidents at the nearby Hollywood Station she was told the station no longer had a community liaison officer and she "wasn't offered an opportunity to file a complaint."

Police Commissioner Shelly Freeman told CNS she would bring up the matter with Chief Bratton shortly. Bratton is currently in Miami attending a police chiefs' convention.

While Scholar said she sought good relations with the LAPD, such incidents endangered the work of the program, which is designed to reduce the rate of HIV and Hepatitis C infection among intravenous drug users. It is hard to convince clients they would not be arrested. "The biggest problem is they get busted for needle possession on the way to and from the exchange," she said.

Under California law, possession of syringes without a prescription is illegal. But legislation signed by former Gov. Gray Davis (before his recall) enables cities to legalize needle exchange by issuing declarations of emergency. The law requires the declarations be renewed every two weeks, however -- falling short of language passed by the legislature in an earlier bill that Davis blocked. Nevertheless, the declarations are current in Los Angeles and Clean Needles Now is in compliance with them, Scholar told DRCNet. Two bills relating to needle exchange are pending in the California legislature.

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Issue #405 -- 9/30/05

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