Drug Dealers’ Choice: Accept Help or Go to Jail

Roanoke, VA – Roanoke police are trying a whole new approach to get drugs off the streets by going into the worst section in the city for drug-related crime, and giving suspects a choice.

This comprehensive plan to crime fighting aims at helping non-violent street dealers get rehabilitated before they are labeled felons.  Roanoke City police say, in the long run, the approach will be a win/win for everybody.

According to Roanoke Police statistics, the 1400 Block of Rorer Avenue is the most crime-plagued city block in Roanoke.   Just one example shows weapons crimes here are more than 800% higher than what would be expected – given the distribution of weapons citywide.

Now, Chief Chris Perkins is employing an approach to crime fighting that is gaining popularity, and results, across the country.

“How many people have a felony conviction on their record and miss out on opportunities that other people have because they made a mistake? The idea is to give that person the opportunity to correct that mistake. I don’t know anybody who hasn’t made a mistake in their life,” said Perkins.

Called the Drug Market Initiative, investigators have spent a year identifying all the criminal players in this area, locating their support system and then presenting them the cold hard facts.

“It’s pretty direct. We tell them we expect them to quit dealing drugs. We tell them we expect them to accept the help that is being offered to them. Of course, the choice is theirs,” said Lt. Daniel Hartman, who leads up the efforts in the Hurt Park neighborhood.

Edward Robertson lives in the 1400 Block of Rorer and says the roundup was definitely noticed and the approach is the way to go.

“I think it’s a great opportunity. Definitely. I would hate to see the young kids ruin their lives over something that is minor,” said Robertson.

Nearly two dozen criminals were identified; just five made the threshold where investigators would offer them an out.   Those who agree receive follow-up attention – that will work to put them on the road to legal productivity.   Those who don’t will join the others who have already been arrested and face significant criminal charges.

“This is attacking the drug market and not the individual. It’s not the individual, it’s the community that benefits,” said Perkins.

Of the five young men that were offered this opportunity,  all of them showed up Wednesday morning for their initial evaluation through Total Action Against Poverty.

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