Breakdown Must Be Corrected

Wednesday morning’s Operation Horseback says little about the Jamestown community that we didn’t already know.

Jamestown is a convenient stop along the Interstate between three large cities – Buffalo, Philadelphia and New York City – that makes it a prime place for drug trafficking into Chautauqua County. The 47 arrests are the symptom of a problem Chautauqua County is just now beginning to wrap its arms around. Can people get drugs here if they really want them? Absolutely. Is Jamestown in the sort of shape as larger cities that have rampant property crime and shootings? As an editorial in this space detailed last week, the answer is no. Jamestown is still, by and large, a safe place to live and raise a family.

This latest large-scale drug raid should, however, reinforce the need for Chautauqua County to find a better way to find help for those who want it and to keep those who are habitual sellers away from the general public. More than half of those charged in Wednesday’s bust had prior offenses over the last six years, including several that involved either drug use or sales.

One of the men had been charged twice with burglaries in the Falconer area. Another was charged twice for possession of marijuana. Yet another of those charged Wednesday was secondarily involved in a 2009 drug raid when police raided the bottom floor of an apartment house and, thinking the upper apartment was being raided, threw a sock with cocaine and heroin out of his window to a Drug Task Force member on the ground. A fourth individual was charged in 2008 with unlawful possession of marijuana after being pulled over on Forest Avenue for a seatbelt violation. That same person was charged in 2010 for violating terms of his post-release supervision by testing positive for marijuana.

Each of the situations detailed above was a missed opportunity to find these people the help they needed. Each began with low-level crimes only to find themselves wrapped up in one of the largest drug operations Jamestown has seen. No one can argue the Rockefeller drug laws needed to be reformed when small-time users were being locked up for 15 years at a time. Similarly, no one can argue too many people are being charged and convicted of drug crimes only to be released back into society to reoffend.

If there is one lesson to learn from Wednesday’s raids, it is that society was too harsh with low-level offenders in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s and too lenient in the 2000s. We need to find a middle ground in punishment that makes it harder to reoffend. And, we repeat our hope that Chautauqua County’s drug forums can finally help Chautauqua County better treat its addicts.

Operation Horseback details a breakdown in our society. It is up to us to correct it.