By Christian Avard | Staff Writer
SPRINGFIELD — Springfield town and state officials are doubling their efforts to prevent drug-related crimes in their local community.
Local, state, and law enforcement officials and residents met on Monday to discuss the growing concern of drug abuse, trafficking, gang recruitment and downtown shootings. The meeting was organized by State Rep. Alice Emmons of Springfield.
Community leaders are looking for solutions to make Springfield safe. Understanding how law enforcement handles drug related cases was a first step.
Judge Amy Davenport, chief administrative judge for Vermont’s trial courts, presented an overview on how judges make decisions. Rep. Emmons asked why aren’t individuals arrested for drug offenses supervised when they are released on bail?
Judge Davenport said unlike other states, Vermont does not offer pre-trial services to monitor individuals out on parole. Some examples of pre-trial services are substance abuse-related, such as the Sparrow Project, but resources are lacking and the courts can only do so much.
“We can impose 24-hour curfews. But we don’t have investigators that go and find out whether a person is where they are living during this period,” Davenport said. “What we hear at the court is what the police and the state attorney tells us and we make decisions based on the information we have.”
Landlords can play a role in informing local and state authorities and the State Attorney’s office. Although they are not available yet, Davenport said pre-trial services are being still considered in the Vermont court system.
Drug-related sentencing was also discussed. According to Davenport, judges look at the proportionality of the crime and whether it will deter future crimes from occurring.
She said people commit drug offenses for a variety of reasons and all factors are taken into consideration. But Springfield Select Board member Michael Knoras questioned the judge how people arrested in a major drug raid can be released back into the community and not be charged?
Knoras was referring to an Oct. 2 drug raid in Chester where 10 individuals (four from Vermont and six from New Jersey) were arrested. Police confiscated $30,000 in drugs, including 665 bags of heroin worth $20,000, 62.2 grams of crack cocaine, one gram of cocaine worth $6,200, 133 OxyContin pills worth $4,000, and $18,000 in cash.
Five out of the 10 suspects were released and felony trafficking charges were dropped, to Knoras’ surprise.
“They were known drug dealers. They have records 10 miles long in New Jersey,” Knoras said.
“The reasons why prosecutors decide to dismiss charges deal with how good the evidence is,” Davenport responded.
Keith Flynn, Department of Public Safety Commissioner, said there is no magic bullet stopping the supply and demand of drugs. Flynn, a former county prosecutor, said communities could approach the problem by education awareness, targeted drug investigations, treatment programs, and community coalition building.
Another key element is having a community that’s engaged and dedicated to fighting the problem over the long haul. According to Davenport and Flynn, Springfield is a town that’s committed to the fight.
“Just having this conversation is important. There are so many towns that don’t have these and take the initiative to understand the system,” Davenport said.
“The reality is we cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem,” Flynn said. “Supply will continue because the drug dealers are business people. They’re coming here because they have identified a market. There’s a demand and they can meet it.”
Additional meetings will be scheduled for developing drug prevention strategies. No dates have been determined.
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