Corporal Stephen Gentle has been a member of the C.L.E.A.R. program since 2019
"My name is Stephen Gentle, and I'm a Police Officer with the Vernon Police Department. I've been in law enforcement for over 14 years and nearly 11 of these years with Vernon Township. I'm originally from Montclair, N.J., where I lived until joining the United States Marine Corps.
Having spent most of my time with Vernon Township working narcotics investigations in various positions, in 2019, I was asked to assist with outreach to people I have come in contact with that have substance use issues. I was told that members of law enforcement were going to team up with recovery coaches to outreach to help people get help with their substance use. If I'm being candid, I thought this was a complete waste of time. I mean, countless times over the years, I have seen addicts given chances for recovery by their families, the courts, and not-for-profit organizations. "Now the Police are supposed to go door to door like salesmen?" Please don't take this to mean I didn't care… it's just that I felt law enforcement would be the last people someone with addiction would want to hear from. I figured half of them would run out the back door thinking they had a warrant. Over the last 11 years since coming to Vernon, the focus of the narcotics cases I worked on shifted from predominantly marijuana and hallucinogens to opioids….especially heroin. Sadly, I've seen many people make this transition as well. One of the many unfortunate side effects of this epidemic is a building of cynicism and hopelessness regarding drug addiction. This can undoubtedly be evidenced by the attitude I had when hearing about CLEAR. Nonetheless, I figured, at the very least, this would allow me to check on the many people I've interacted with over the years and to see how they were doing.
On my first day of outreach, I visited people I hadn't seen in quite some time - some were active in recovery, and others were still working on trying to get there - nearly all of them were happy to see me. This didn't entirely surprise me, as I do my best to treat people with kindness and respect whenever I can. What surprised me most was how happy I felt to see some of them, especially those who were well and making real changes in their lives. Even those who weren't quite there yet seemed genuinely touched by our presence. It isn't often in my profession that someone calls us to a happy affair. More often than not, we show up when a tragedy has occurred…and heroin has drastically added to the number of these types of incidents. But there I was, sitting in someone's living room, not because of an overdose, and not because someone had stolen their family's valuables, but rather to sit and have a conversation about how they are doing and to see if is anything we can do to help. At that moment, I realized not only had I been wrong about how they would react, but that I had completely underestimated the importance of allowing law enforcement to be a part of something positive…especially when it comes to substance abuse! CLEAR enables us to see that there is still hope…and while we can't save everyone…we can hopefully take comfort in the individual examples of success we would otherwise so seldom get to see as Police Officers.
I also realized this hope is equally important for the Law Enforcement Officers as it is for the people we are trying to help. I have great respect and admiration for the people involved in the CLEAR Program and look forward to continuing to be a part of this collaborative effort."