The Fix: Problems with Punishment
In "The Fix: Opioid Pipeline," Channel 3 showed how local, state and federal law enforcement work together to try and shut down local dealers selling heroin, fentanyl, cocaine and meth in area communities. But are current laws accomplishing that?
THE PROBLEM WITH PUNISHMENT
Cutting the supply and reducing the demand -- experts say that's how you get a handle on the drug crisis.
People in the northern New Hampshire say they are grateful to law enforcement for helping them reclaim their neighborhoods. Operation Northern Alliance, a recent operation in Coos County, New Hampshire, led to 22 arrests. But the peace didn't last long. In just a few hours police say all but two were released. One made it home before police finished searching the house. Police and the public -- both in New Hampshire and Vermont -- say they are frustrated by what they describe as the revolving door of justice.
"Why? Because they just let them back out and they just keep doing the same thing over and over and over. It's not the law enforcement, it's the court system that is at fault for what's happening," said Edie, one local resident.
"We want to make it a safer place for our kids -- the kids at school -- and we're seeing these families displaced and torn apart by drugs, and it's frustrating at times because you see some of these people that you arrest are back down the same street a couple of weeks later," said Kristin Tracy of Plymouth.
"It's frustrating because we put as much time as we do into a case to make sure that somebody is held accountable for their actions," said Vermont State Police Sgt. Karl Gardner.
In New Hampshire, a new bail statute is making it easier for people caught by police, to be quickly released. The goal is to protect people who may not be able to afford bail. This means it's hard for law enforcement to keep dealers locked up unless they can prove that person is a real danger to others.
Ben Agati, a senior assistant attorney general for New Hampshire's drug unit, says the big challenge is the disconnect between the court system and the people being directly impacted by a dealer's actions in their neighborhoods. "When you have judges and bail commissioners making decisions based on various interpretations of the law, we've heard concerns from some individuals about how parts of the law have been interpreted," he said. "Individuals in some cases being back on the streets in a matter of hours. If a neighbor feels more action is needed, they need to go to their legislator. When we interact with our government, we really make it our government. Change comes that way."
His advice -- build relationships with your police department. If people are dealing and using drugs in your neighborhood, let them know and find out what they're doing about it and what evidence they're presenting the court system. If you find people continue to be arrested and released, it's time to reach out.
Channel 3 is waiting to get the arrest reports and court documents for the 22 people arrested in operation Northern Alliance and what's next for them.