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ONLINE: BPD holds forum on drug-related incidents in Brockport

by Aaron Cerbone - News Editor
Fri, Jan 13th 2017 11:20 pm
Courtesy of BPD.
Courtesy of BPD.

The Brockport Police Department held a forum Wednesday, Jan. 4, to discuss a streak of drug-related home invasions and deaths in the village. Over the past 15 months there have been nine home invasions and several drug overdoses.

After being asked for a solution against the issue at hand, BPD Chief of Police Varrenti spoke at the forum to discuss solutions to be considered by the village, residents and The College at Brockport community.

The drug problem is a complicated one which takes a community to work on, according to Varrenti, though these is still no definite answer to the question.

Varrenti started his talk by discussing a different kind of drug problem, the overprescribing of drugs such as Adderall and Fentanyl. Both are schedule II drugs, the highest schedule of drug that can be legally prescribed by a doctor.

"Yet, we hand out Adderall, in my opinion, like it's candy," Varrenti said.

Through personal stories, Varrenti described how someone prescribed a drug like this can become addicted and start abusing the prescription drug.

Heroin has been an "epidemic" for years but was considered a "poor person's drug" and received much less attention; Varrenti mentioned that the recent swell in opioid prescriptions and abuse have led to a rise in heroin use in the suburbs as well.

Varrenti detailed how the drug is also being laced with another drug, Fentanyl, which is 30-50 times as powerful as heroin and increases the effects of heroin 500 times. Although Fentanyl can be prescribed by doctors, the drug being used with heroin is illegally brought from China and is not FDA approved.

To combat the rise in heroin use, ambulances have been equipped with NARCAN, a drug which can reverse the effects of heroin. However, this is just a temporary solution, according to Varrenti. Describing a response to an overdose over the summer, Varrenti spoke about seeing the effects of NARCAN first-hand and how quickly the man was released from the hospital. The man was Coleman Barletta, who was found dead in Corbett Park in September after an overdose.

"Where did the system fail?" Varrenti asked. "In the rehabilitation. There was no rehabilitation."

Varrenti who works with the Rochester Opiate Task Force, says the task force is forming a team to respond to hospitals, including a patient advocate, a doctor, a therapist and a life coach.

Varrenti used the forum as a call to action for the community; the system of treating drug abusers and overdoses is missing the most crucial step -- stopping it from happening again.

"You can't come off of heroin without being somehow detoxed and rehabilitated," Varrenti said. "[This] takes tons of money and tons of time but needs to be done in order to solve our drug problem."

The dangers of drugs in general is seen through the consistent rate of home invasions in the village. According to Varrenti, armed intruders have entered houses nine times in the past 15 months and each time the act has been tied to drugs.

The police department is addressing the drug-related violent crimes with education, treatment and enforcement. Varrenti laid out several ideas he has for how different sections of the community can help as well, proposing a temporary moratorium on additional rental properties, saying that if more students are choosing to live on campus, landlords lower their standards for who they rent to. A moratorium would mean that for a period of time, new rental properties would not be created as they develop a plan to regulate the number of rental properties in an area.

This was one of the several divisive suggestions in the presentation with landlords seeing the moratorium as a threat to their livelihoods, restricting their ability to grow their businesses.

The implementing of a "points and penalties" program to take care of nuisance properties was also suggested by the chief. This kind of program has been used by the City of Rochester and other municipalities in the area and involves issuing "points" to landowners who require police intervention, eventually resulting in fines or eviction.

However, as landlord Norman GianCursio described, the law is currently being challenged in court for being unconstitutional and has several drawbacks. He gave the example of four tenants being evicted from a rental property for the actions of one and said it would only cause the individuals to find residence somewhere else in Brockport.

There are also fringe cases which have not been considered under this type of law such as Rochester resident Javonnta Simmons' case. Simmons was a victim of domestic violence and after police were called to her residence and issued nuisance points against the property, she was evicted by her landlord. The rare, unintended consequences of this law has led to an investigation into the law and a lawsuit against the city.

Another proposal was to use the "Broken Window Theory" which works on the idea that "If little violations are addressed, larger violations will be prevented or reduced." It involves arresting violators of "quality of life" ordinances and crimes, a tactic which dropped New York City's homicide rate in the 1990's but has its share of controversy within the field of criminology.

One example Varrenti gave was police breaking up a loud party on a front lawn, issuing tickets on the spot and having the Department of Public Works clean up the mess with the bill being sent to the homeowner. Landlords took issue with the fact that they could be billed for something they were not involved in and would be punished for the actions of their residents.

"Laws that treat properties as nuisances are unjust to tenants and owners who had not involvement in the activity," GianCursio said.

Amid the debate in the question and answer segment of the forum, one attendee thought the debate over ordinances rental properties was misguided and petty.

"I can't help but hear everybody talking about rental properties and what we are going to do to combat this," attendee Tristan Brown said. "I don't own a rental property. I don't even live here. But I put a few folks in the ground this year and this whole talk was about the drug issue that we have, not about who's going to pick up the beer."


Tristan appreciated how educational the talk was for everyone involved but wanted the discussion to stay more focused on attacking heroin use.

"I don't feel that the rental properties are the problem, it's what's happening inside of them," Brown said. "Damn your rentals."


Varrenti assured everyone that if someone comes to the police with their drugs and says they want to get clean, they will not be arrested and the police department will find them the help they need.

The presentation also included some less controversial ideas such as encouraging local judges to use the highest fines for "quality of life" violations and hiring a village manager for continuity in the village government.

Most of the second half of Varrenti's presentation focused on how all individuals in the community can help by identifying houses with drug activity. Village residents were encouraged to pay attention to popular houses with cars coming and going, handoffs and blocked windows. Varrenti urged people to keep records of what they see going on and guaranteed anonymity for anyone coming with information.


BPD will also be stepping up their surveillance as well, currently utilizing pole cameras and considering purchasing unmarked cars in the coming year.

The College at Brockport President Heidi Macpherson assured the community that the college is doing its part as well and currently expels anyone convicted of dealing drugs. 

 

With a large attendance and nearly as many opinions as people in the room, the first forum tackling Brockport's drug problem was a successful venture involving the community and establishing a conversation about the many ways to keep Brockport safe.


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