DA says heroin use driving crime in Franklin County
GREENFIELD — Much of the county’s crime shares a common thread, and it’s pulled by a heroin needle.
That was the message District Attorney David Sullivan, Sheriff Christopher Donelan, and Sullivan’s chief trial attorney Jeremy Bucci brought to a quarterly Franklin County Selectmen’s Association dinner meeting Thursday.
“Bank robberies and an unbelievable spate of breaking and enterings have plagued Franklin County recently,” said Bucci. In Greenfield alone in the past two months, there have been five armed robberies, and numerous break-ins.
“At the root of it is what’s really hurting the county: opiate addiction and prescription pill abuse.” Much of Bucci’s work involves the prosecution of drug-related crime, and he’s begun to see similarities.
“There’s a consistent story I’ve heard over and over again,” he continued. “A person is legitimately prescribed oxycodone (the opiate ingredient in many prescription painkillers), then they realize they can’t get any more, and they need it, so they go to the same drug that’s been used for thousands of years. Heroin. Then you get people who commit, with a great deal of purpose, large swaths of breaking and enterings to feed their addictions.” Problems with prescription medication abuse can start young.
“In 12- and 13-year-olds, the biggest problem, nationwide, is prescription drugs,” said Sullivan.
Drug abuse is a problem that can stay with a person, and lead to a life of crime. “Eighty percent of our inmates have issues with substance abuse,” said Donelan, who oversees the county jail.
Donelan stressed the importance of helping the harder-to-reach inmates, through substance abuse and other programs, to keep them from landing right back in jail after they leave.
Sullivan, Donelan, and Bucci all lauded the recentlyformed Northwestern Anti-Crime Task Force, which serves 47 towns in Franklin and Hampshire counties, as well as Athol. It brings state police together with district attorneys, county sheriffs offices, and local police, to work together on area crime.
“One of the task force’s first agenda items will be to get a handle on opium addiction,” said Donelan.
Bucci underscored the important role local police serve in the inter-jurisdictional task force. “Local officers understand who the people are that commit crimes in their communities, and they have connections to others that can help solve them,” he said.
All agreed that collaboration is key to fighting crime in the area. The trio also addressed the need for stronger security in schools.
The Western Massachusetts School Safety Task Force is working to help schools in the four Western Massachusetts counties assess and improve their security.
Like the anti-crime task force, the safe school task force is a partnership between state and local police, the district attorneys’ offices, and county sheriffs.
Though it came into being after the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December, the task force isn’t limiting its focus to violence.
“This is for all hazards; shootings, flooding, or tornadoes,” said Sullivan.
In addition to addressing safety in existing schools, Sullivan said the task force will work with the Massachusetts School Building Authority to make sure that new or renovated schools include safety features.
While preventing intruders from getting into schools is one way to keep them safer, Sullivan said there’s a need to work from within as well.
“Having a good school climate, with respect for kids and teachers, and no bullying, is important,” said Sullivan. “Most violence in schools comes from within.” Though individual towns want to address school security differently, Donelan said there has to be some uniformity.
“Responders to an emergency are going to come from multiple towns,” he said, and having consistency between school safety plans can help those responders do their jobs.
They key is to work with schools to address their individual needs. “The task force is here to help, not to mandate things,” said Sullivan.