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Council says ‘no’ to ACE

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After more than a year of community dialogue, Village Council voted on Monday, Dec. 7, to leave the Greene County ACE Task Force, which fights drug-related crime. The vote was 4–1, with Karen Wintrow, Lori Askeland, Brian Housh and Marianne MacQueen voting to leave the task force and Gerry Simms voting to stay.

Describing the vote as one of the hardest in her 10 years on Council, Wintrow stated, “I’ve come to believe the burden of membership in the Task Force is too much for the community to bear both financially and emotionally.”

The vote followed a Council meeting last month in which villagers spoke for almost two hours on the topic, with the majority in favor of leaving the force. Spirited discussions on the issue also took place at several public forums on the topic this year and last. Opponents of task force membership cited concerns that the Task Force is part of a national War on Drugs that is ineffective and targets the poor and minorities, and that drug addiction is better addressed with treatment rather than incarceration. Supporters of local Task Force membership have cited their belief that Task Force membership helps control drug use and drug trafficking in the village.

However, Council’s vote doesn’t mean that the Task Force will no longer operate in Yellow Springs, as it is charged with combating drug crime throughout the county, according to Askeland.

“We’re not voting on whether the Task Force will exist but whether we should participate as a member,” she said.

Along with moral concerns, finances were also a part of the debate. Currently, Yellow Springs is one of six participating Task Force municipalities, which means it provides a fulltime officer for the group. No other small towns or villages are Task Force members — the other members are Xenia Police, Fairborn Police, Beavercreek Police, Greene County Sheriff’s Department and Sugarcreek Township — so that, opponents said, Yellow Springs bears a disproportionate cost for membership. The Village pays about $80,500 yearly for membership fees and the cost of an officer’s salary and benefits.

Part of that expense is offset by Task Force seizure of criminals’ cash and goods, which is divided evenly each year among the member police departments, coming to an average revenue to Yellow Springs police of about $64,000 yearly for the past five years. However, villagers and Council members who oppose Task Force involvement cited discomfort with receiving income from this system.

“To incentivize arrests through civil forfeiture is a problem,” Askeland said, also citing the “quasi public/private” structure of the Task Force as an additional discomfort.

Housh, who had not previously stated his position on Task Force membership, also cited concerns over the disproportionate cost borne by the Village. And MacQueen, who has repeatedly stated her concerns over Task Force membership, urged villagers to come together to find other ways of addressing local drug problems.

“If we as a community think addiction is a problem, then we need to step up to the plate and do something as a community,” she said.

In his vote for staying on the Task Force, Simms cited a recent “60 Minutes” segment on drug task forces in other areas that had spiraled out of control. While he now recognizes the potential for abuse by similar groups, Simms said he continues to support Yellow Springs membership so that the group maintains a legitimate focus.

Because of the extended Task Force discussion at Council’s previous meeting, few villagers spoke on Monday night. However, Linda Rudawski, who works with homeless people, including many who are addicted, urged Council to join the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, or PAARI, an initiative that commits member departments to connecting addicts with treatment programs and facilities rather than arresting them. In Ohio, two police departments — the Lodi Police and Blendon Township Police (including Westerville) — are PAARI members.

Council members expressed interest in PAARI and beyond that, in not just exiting the Task Force but finding a new way to address the problems of drug addiction locally.

“I believe Yellow Springs needs to come to terms with the heroin epidemic and with drug use in the village,” Wintrow said.


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