EDITORIAL: Enforcement, not just education, required in drug fight
The first, appearing on Page A2, shows deputies helping children understand the equipment and the procedures for public safety. The photos of law enforcement authorities with kids on Child Safety Day make us feel safe and secure.
The other, a front page story by veteran law enforcement reporter Crystal Owens, reveals a striking decline in drug arrests by the Sheriff’s Office. That story gives us pause.
In the 11-month period between August 2013 and June 2014, the Sheriff’s Office reported only 56 narcotics arrests in Loudoun County. That compares to 2,341 in Chesterfield County for all of 2013. Chesterfield, with a population of 327,000 people, or about 20,000 people fewer than Loudoun, is frequently used by law enforcement officials as a benchmark for comparing crime statistics between the two Virginia counties.
Some Loudoun County officials are concerned about the disparity. So are we. While we appreciate the differences between the two counties, the numbers point to a problem that lurks beneath Loudoun’s growth story and its enviable quality of life.
Sheriff Mike Chapman acknowledges the challenges of drug enforcement in a county as complex as Loudoun, but he attributes the low numbers to restructuring the drug unit. Twenty-one deputies formerly worked in the Office’s Special Investigations Section, which investigated narcotics and anti-crime cases. Five vacancies currently exist, according to Sheriff Chapman, and most of the remaining personnel of the 17-person Tactical Enforcement Unit are now assigned to drug education, multi-jurisdictional task forces or other crime units.
Sheriff Chapman also acknowledges the chilling impact of an internal embezzlement case that has drained the office’s coffers. Little money or resources exist for the undercover drug buys that lead to arrests and asset seizures.
Earlier this year, Leesburg and Loudoun law enforcement told Attorney General Mark Herring that an increase in heroin abuse among its citizens has gradually gotten worse over the last two years. Herring said he's been concerned with the problem since taking office in January.
“I would say it's a noticeable, emerging increase …,” adds Loudoun Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Plowman.
There have been significant increases of overdoses and crimes relating to the drug throughout Northern Virginia.
Loudoun County is not immune. Educating the public about the threat of narcotics and the crimes associated with them are important. But aggressive law enforcement is required to keep our community safe and to preserve its quality of life.
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