It’s critical for the community and police to work together to confront the crime and blight associated with opioid abuse.
It’s not acceptable — nor safe, smart or fair — for citizens to take the matter into their own hands, either through on-the-ground vigilantism or by posting unproven allegations on social media.
One man on South Whidbey admits to acts of vigilantism, including the slashing of car tires. A social media group regularly posts information about suspects and suspected drug houses.
It’s telling that neither the “lone soldier” vigilante nor the administrator of the Facebook page would allow the newspaper to use their names. Working in the shadows isn’t heroic but foolhardy if it puts people at risk of lawsuits and retaliation. An administrator of the Facebook site even admits that innocent people have been falsely accused.
As decades of a war on drugs has proven, the criminalization of addiction doesn’t work and isn’t humane. Some Island County leaders understand this, which is why they started the new opioid outreach program. A deputy with the Island County Sheriff’s Office, an outreach worker and a public heath nurse work with the community to identify at-risk individuals and do what they can to intervene.
Of course, there are times when law enforcement needs to go to work. Oak Harbor police have been successful in shutting down drug houses by working with neighbors and confidential informants to arrest key people who are bringing drugs into the community. In an act of transparency, the department came to the newspaper to explain what happened and how it was accomplished.
The sheriff’s office doesn’t need a team dedicated to knocking down doors of drug houses. The opioid outreach team, which currently focuses on South Whidbey and Camano, should be expanded to cover the entire island. And Sheriff Mark Brown needs to do a better job of explaining to the community what is being done — and what can’t be done — to shut down drug houses and bring to justice those who are preying on the most vulnerable among us.