Editorial: Drug busts and the public’s role

The story of Bristol police busting a sizable drug operation last Friday offers several teachable moments to the general community.
First, it costs money to be vigilant 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Support the police to the level that is appropriate within your community.
Second, help them by paying attention to the coming-and-goings of your neighborhood. As Bristol Police Chief Kevin Gibbs said in today’s story (see Page 1A), the pattern is for out-of-state drug dealers to move into a town, stay a few nights with local residents (often in exchange for drugs) and sell their wares, and then skip town. Sometimes the drug dealers stay with two or three residents in the same town to avoid suspicion.
Signs to note are a sudden uptick in the number of people going in and out of a neighborhood house, particularly if the people do not appear to be local or known in the neighborhood. Look for suspicious activity; alert police for tips that are well-documented. Be vigilant, not alarmist. Don’t waste the officers’ time with false leads and take care to know if you neighbors are having friends or families over. There is obviously a fine line between being suspicious of unusual activity and interfering with a neighbor’s normal socializing with friends and family — be it watching a football game or enjoying a game of poker with the gang.
Third, if absentee landlords own property in your neighborhood and you see things that are suspicious, get to know the landlord and be able to converse with them. Chances are they don’t want to play host to drug activity and would welcome the input. (All town clerks have property owners’ names and a way to contact them on the town grand list, which is public information.)
If police don’t respond to requests to pursue drug activity, complain to the selectboard with specific instances of what you have seen and how you have informed the police to no avail.
Speaking of which, kudos go out to police in Vergennes and Bristol, who have been relatively successful in making significant drug busts in the past year or so. No significant drug busts, however, have been made in Middlebury in that same time period. Could be that Middlebury’s community policing policy is working well, as Police Chief Tom Hanley has said in the past, ridding the town of any significant drug problem. Or, perhaps, it’s going on and local police are not pressing the issue in ways that lead to apprehension of the criminals involved.
What’s odd, however, is the lack of conversation about the issue in Middlebury. After all, it is a matter of allocating resources and how vigilant a town chooses to be in policing the sale of drugs like heroin and cocaine. Before the next budget cycle, the committee overseeing the town police budget might want to solicit public opinion on the matter and provide applicable information on which residents can base an informed opinion.
Angelo S. Lynn

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