In an escalation of the conflict between the Madison Police Department and the Dane County Department of Human Services, police officers left a drunk outside the door of the county's detox facility last Monday after the facility's workers refused to accept the person.
The details of how the person was picked up are unclear. A police report (PDF) has been heavily redacted.
But Madison police officer Kathryn Cherne placed the drunk in protective custody and then took the person to the county's medical detox facility, 2914 Industrial Dr. There, according to police reports, they were denied admittance. At the instruction of Sgt. Brian Chaney, Cherne filled out the paperwork and "slipped it under the door." The drunken person, "who was cooperative and calm at this point, was unhandcuffed and told to remain in the small holding area just outside the locked door of detox." Cherne and another officer watched from a distance to make sure the person did not wander off.
The county eventually called an ambulance and had the person transported to a hospital. MPD's Capt. Joe Balles says the city followed state law. "The statute says upon arrival at the facility, the protective custody transfers to the facility," Balles says. "At that point, it's their responsibility. It's not a privately run facility, it's not like Meriter or St. Mary's Hospital, it's a public treatment facility."
The county has reduced the capacity at its detox facility, which is operated by Tellurian, from 29 to 14 beds from Sunday through Thursday. The county reserves 10 of those beds for longer-term detox patients, though if the beds aren't being used, they are open for protective custody placements, says Lynn Green, Dane County's Human Services director. Last Monday, all the beds were either full or reserved, Green says. Tellurian rents the other four beds out to other counties or to people with insurance.
Green says that police have routinely dumped drunks at the detox center. "If someone drinks too much and pees in their pants, I'm not sure that defines incapacitated and you take them to a publicly funded medical detox facility," she says.
Green suggests that what is needed is a "social detox facility," a much less intensive environment where drunks "sleep it off in a safe setting. They're there less than a day, get some food before they go out the door. But that's not detox from a treatment standpoint."
Balles says that he hopes a different arrangement can be worked out with the county, and that officers will continue to take people incapacitated by alcohol to the detox center.
Green also says she's open to compromise, but adds that the problem is the community's, not the county government's. "I hope it's not going to escalate," she says. "I hope we're going to manage our way through this."