BENNINGTON -- Bennington officials said Wednesday that the unprecedented roundup of suspected local drug dealers will have both short- and long-term positive impacts on the community, but is just one step in ridding the area of drugs.
"I think it’s a very positive step on all of our parts, all of the participants, because it wasn’t just the Bennington area," Bennington Town Manager Stuart A. Hurd said. "I think that the message is that if you’re here we’ll find you and we’ll arrest you and and we’ll prosecute you. That’s the message that we want to send to people who insist on making their living this way."
Wednesday’s operation, which involved local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, was the result of a six-month investigation undertaken by a multi-agency task force dedicated to eradicating drugs and gangs in Vermont. The sweep across Bennington County Wednesday was the largest in state history. And it’s just the beginning.
Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette said his department and other local agencies will continue to make arrests in the coming days and weeks.
"People need to understand that quite honestly, we’re not going to tolerate drug trafficking in Bennington," he said. "We want the message to be clear and hope that will help alleviate our drug issues."
Meanwhile, Doucette said he will work with additional partners to ensure that treatment is available to combat the multifaceted drug issue.
"Simply just arresting everyone with force isn’t going to solve the issue. People need to get treatment and get help," he said. "I’m not all about simply showing force and arresting people. We know that people need help. We also know that there is a demand and that’s why people are selling drugs."
The Bennington Select Board has been seeking evidence of a crackdown on drug activity. Vice Chairwoman Sharyn Brush said Wednesday’s operation is proof that the town is working aggressively.
"I know they’ve been working on this for a long time. Things like that, they have to keep them quiet until the day they decide to go out and arrest everybody. I think that’s what the select board was looking for. We hear about all these fights taking place and all this drug activity and (gang) tagging," Brush said. "It can take time and I know that these guys have been working on it for a long time. Obviously they’ve been working with these agencies for a long time. Hopefully this will make a big dent in the problem."
Wednesday’s arrests should improve life in Bennington, Brush said. "I hope it’s going to have a good impact on Bennington. It will be interesting to see what the different charges are for people and see if there’s any gang related stuff," she said. "I hope they keep up the good work."
Hurd said he was proud of the effort local police have undertaken. Residents should take pride in that, too, he said.
"I’d like to think it’s going to have a long-term positive effect. Certainly, in the short-term, most people are going to feel good about it. Nobody got hurt, it was effective, it showed great teamwork," he said. "People are going to feel like we’re really attempting to make Bennington a safe place to live and work."
The coordinated sweep on Wednesday was the result of a careful investigation, Doucette said. "We had 63 defendants, it was time to round them up and prosecute them."
The investigation was aided by members of the community who shared information, according to Doucette. That cooperation must continue to eliminate drugs in the area, he said.
"In the future, we would ask that the community continue to support our efforts, thereby making the community safer for everyone," he said. "I don’t want to go back to where it was."