Matters of Substance: A collaborative approach toward addressing substance abuse


An important trend that has been gaining momentum in our community is the close coordination between law enforcement, criminal justice system, treatment providers, and prevention professionals to address substance abuse and related problems. These partnerships are vital to the success in addressing the problems caused by drug addiction and alcohol abuse. By working together we can educate to increase prevention and reduce stigma, minimize redundancy, help streamline services, and improve access to the needed care.

Prevention, treatment, and enforcement seem to work better and have a greater impact if collaboration is well organized and well-orchestrated. Such collaborations are vital to providing care that can be effective at all stages of an individual's life, from school-aged children to adults.

We need to develop strategies for the families of people abusing substances, rehabilitating criminal offenders, adolescents needing assessment and treatment, and connecting service providers with the community. A criminal justice system which combines prevention, accountability and treatment is critical in preventing reoccurring crime associated with alcohol and drug abuse. The Brattleboro Police Department is changing the nature of our law enforcement responses to substance abuse and related crime by demonstrating our commitment in working with social/mental health agencies and with our citizens to help solve this problem. Offenders still need to be held accountable, however, incidents should be reviewed independently and when appropriate, alternatives to incarceration that combine conditions, accountability, and treatment should be considered.

Law enforcement strategy should be focused on community policing, problem-oriented policing and reducing availability of illicit drugs. We, as a community, need to first assess the areas of greatest need and then determine the gaps in services provided. The degree to which a community is galvanized around implementing new programs can have a profound effect on the success of those programs.

Substance abuse accounts for most of the criminal activity in cities and towns nationwide. Drug and alcohol-related crime include a broad range of illegal activity - possession or sale of illicit drugs, crimes to obtain money to buy drugs, driving under the influence, underage drinking, and crimes such as child abuse and domestic violence resulting from illicit drug and alcohol abuse. Criminal offenses related to substance abuse require various approaches and the criminal justice system — from police officers to prosecutors to courts — which is well-positioned to have an effect on this matter.

Law enforcement efforts are often dependent on factors and/or resources such as personnel, finances and the nature of the problem. Many communities such as ours have established coalitions to respond to local illegal drug and alcohol problems; these community coalitions serve as valuable partners for law enforcement. By linking law enforcement with these services, we can improve the overall quality of our

Law enforcement officers working with community residents to reduce illicit drug and alcohol-related crime and improve quality of life is a growing trend. Community policing evolved out of foot patrols. Putting officers back on the street has helped them become regular fixtures in communities. Working with the community is a central component of problem-oriented policing, which trains the officer to assess why crimes occur in certain areas, to identify circumstances contributing to those crimes, and to decide how to best solve crime problems. I urge every member of the community to become involved.

Michael Fitzgerald is the Chief of Police of the Brattleboro Police Department and a member of the steering committee for the Brattleboro Area Prevention Coalition.


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