Governor announces heroin task force

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas has announced the formation of a special undercover heroin task force to crack down on drug dealers in the state. Public Safety Commissioner Kerry Sleeper says the task force is needed because heroin is a major problem in every region of Vermont.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The special undercover unit, which was created last month, has already conducted 19 investigations, made 16 arrests and has 62 pending arrests; and it plans a sweep of four unnamed communities in the near future.

The new group is a collaboration between the Vermont Drug Task Force and the Vermont State Police. The governor says the new effort is needed because the state faces a very serious heroin problem.

(Douglas) “We know that the dealers associated with this drug bring more than just heroin to Vermont. We’re experiencing significant increases in overdoses and seeing more and more evidence of the culture of violence associated with heroin distribution in source cities. If heroin trafficking groups remain active in Vermont, we’ll see more firearms, more violence, more overdoses. This is a prospect that I find unacceptable.”

(Kinzel) Public Safety Commissioner Kerry Sleeper declined to identify exactly how many law enforcement officers are involved in the new unit. The commissioner says it’s more than five and less than 20, but he made it clear that the group faces a very important task:

(Sleeper) “This is evidence that in all four corners of the state, regardless of whether it’s a small community up to the very largest city, in this state heroin is available it’s readily available and plentiful. And as we’ve seen lately, the culture of violence associated with the dealers bringing heroin to this state is also becoming more entrenched, or more regular here in the state of Vermont.”

(Kinzel) Sleeper says the new effort marks the first time that the state has made a significant financial commitment to fight heroin dealers and he says it’s critical that this effort is successful.

(Sleeper) “Nothing that we have seen in this state has the potential detrimental impact as heroin does coming into this state. And I sincerely mean that: the potential of an entire new generation of junkies being created here – and a life of potential addiction and if they don’t have the money, to turn to crime to support that – is going to insure a regular flow of heroin into this state, if not increasing on a regular basis. So we need to knock this down, we need to knock this down aggressively, we need to drive the heroin dealers out of Vermont.”

(Kinzel) Sleeper says the new unit is designed to move very quickly in apprehending suspected drug dealers – that’s something the commissioner says past undercover groups have not been trained to do.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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