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Recovery advocates, elected officials, and Providence residents push back against ‘Operation Bussed Out’



An open letter is seeking signatures to demand changes to Providence’s policies that criminalize rather than assist people in recovery. You can sign onto the letter here.

“Dear Mayor Elorza and Providence Police Department,

“As advocates, elected officials, and Providence residents, we are incredibly troubled about the implementation and effects of “Operation Bussed Out,” a Providence Police sting that took place in the Fall of 2019.”

See: Undercover Providence Police Faked Withdrawal Symptoms and Solicited Suboxone

“Our concerns are:

  • The operation arrested people who were medical patients for transacting small amounts, often a single dose, of their medication: this was most commonly buprenorphine (Suboxone) a life-saving medication used to treat opioid use disorder. These are not the large scale dealers that were touted in a press conference with the Mayor and Providence Police.
  • The operation used coercive and predatory tactics, including undercover police officers who pretended to be experiencing opioid withdrawal symptoms to purchase medications from people who were empathetic to those withdrawal symptoms.
  • This operation, which reportedly required four months of Providence Police’s time, netted $427 worth of controlled substances: this is a counterproductive use of city resources.
  • Many of the people targeted by these tactics were people who are poor, people of color, and people experiencing homelessness.
  • The language and tactics used are stigmatizing for people with substance use disorder. Furthermore, during an overdose crisis, it is counterproductive to arrest people for transacting medications that are effective at preventing overdoses and are a much safer alternative than opioids such as fentanyl and heroin.

“The effects of “Operation Bussed Out” have had real implications on real people. One news report highlighted the personal effect on Sammy Walker, one of the people arrested and prosecuted in “Operation Bussed Out”: “Walker, who had been sober for nearly two years before the arrest, lost his room in the sober house where he had been living for 18 months… ‘These are real people’s lives,’ Walker said of “Operation Bussed Out”. ‘We are just trying to do the right thing, living right.’ ”

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“In response to this counterproductive tactic, we ask that:

  • The City of Providence work in conjunction with the Attorney General’s office to drop or amend the charges for the people who were caught in “Operation Bussed Out.”
  • The City of Providence and Providence Police Department publicly apologize for the use of coercive and stigmatizing tactics and language.
  • The City of Providence and Providence Police Department publicly agree to stop using predatory drug sting tactics to criminalize patients, people with substance use disorder, and people experiencing homelessness.
  • The City of Providence create a commission to study narcotics diversion and supporting people who use drugs, including people who congregate in Kennedy Plaza.

“Providence is receiving negative national attention because of these actions by Providence Police. We know that Providence can do better and the city has the opportunity to be a national leader in this important area. We ask that the City of Providence right these actions.”