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Bristol studies drug crime in Five Town area

BRISTOL — The general feeling among the 45 or so Bristol community members at a forum in Bristol last week was that efforts to address the apparent increase in drug-related crimes should also include residents from the neighboring towns of Lincoln, Starksboro, Monkton and New Haven, in addition to Bristol.
“The general consensus going forward is to try to focus on a Five Town approach to the issue,” said Bristol police Chief Kevin Gibbs. “There have been people from the other four towns who were interested in coming to the forums who were told that it was a Bristol thing.”
The gathering last Wednesday evening at Mount Abraham Union High School, which included Bristol police and the steering committee on crime, marked the fourth community forum on drug crimes since August; it also had the lowest turnout.
After an initial briefing from Bristol police on the results of a survey conducted on Election Day to gauge public interest in the expansion of the police department (see story in last Thursday’s Addison Independent), and an update from Vermont State Police on an ongoing investigation of drug-related burglaries from Salisbury to Burlington that has led to three arrests, attendees split into two smaller breakout groups.
“Tonight is not about debating the best idea,” said facilitator Kate McGowan. “Tonight is about all the ideas on the table. Tonight is about brainstorming.”
The groups discussed topics such as the ideal community conditions they would work toward building; indicators of success; what the current situation looked like; and what strategies might help the community as it moved toward its aforementioned ideals.
After hour-long conversations, the small groups reconvened and presented summaries of their thoughts.
The groups said some primary themes that had emerged during their conversations included the desire to actively invite all five towns to participate in the next forum; to have improved drug prevention and treatment options; to support broad community education on crime, drugs and safety; and to back both cultural and legislative change.
Their remaining questions included:
•  What are effective education prevention curricula?
•  How big is the substance abuse and crime issue and how can it be fully assessed?
•  What are other communities doing?
•  Where would the money come from to create solutions?
•  Who will continue to lead and sustain this effort?
•  What is the root of the substance abuse problem?
•  What are the differences between a healthy and unhealthy community?
Finally, the community put forth several potential solutions. Many recognized the need to develop a specific strategic plan that could be presented and vetted by community members at future meetings. Some favored a youth-based approach, including developing mentoring programs in area schools and researching and implementing an anti-substance abuse program for grades K-12. On the law-enforcement side, some advocated resisting drug legalization on a legislative level (on Election Day, a non-binding referendum in support of legalizing marijuana passed in Burlington with 70 percent of the vote.) One group put on the table the idea of getting a treatment center in Addison County.
 Translating any of those ideas into reality will take hard work and dedication. But McGowan expressed confidence that the community would come together and find solutions.
“I think the folks who attended … were engaged, curious, open to ideas and discussion, and clearly interested in including others and continuing their involvement,” she said. “That’s pretty wonderful.”

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