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Porter confronts drug problem and Chesterton is in audience

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Enough talk. It’s time for action, said Porter Town Council members at their meeting Tuesday.

As it did before the Chesterton Town Council on Monday, the Duneland-area drug problem dominated discussion in Porter, too. And Chesterton council members Robert Crone and Mike Bannon were there to listen and participate.

As it was before in Chesterton, whether each town should develop its own initiatives was debated in Porter, too. The majority of the Porter council supported a combined effort including the towns of Burns Harbor and Dune Acres and, most importantly, they said, the Duneland School Corp., none of which were represented Tuesday.

Citing the School Board’s absence at both drug-awareness discussions, Porter resident Trudi Gallagher said voters need to let the elected School Board know their absence is unacceptable. As a parent, “(Duneland) owes me a drug-free environment,” said Gallagher.

Porter council member Sandy Boothe agreed the schools need to be part of the solution.

Porter resident William Cantrell, a former Union Township School Board member, said schools are a reflection of the community. Until adults clean up their act, kids can’t be convinced the community is serious about not doing drugs, he noted

Porter Councilman Paul Childress said Duneland schools need to be an equal partner in the anti-drug effort and, so far, that hasn’t happened.

Porter council President Jennifer Granat said the on-again, off-again Tri-Town Committee of Chesterton, Porter and Burns Harbor might be the vehicle to create a permanent, action-oriented coalition that attacks the drug problem on several fronts.

“Would Chesterton be opposed to a Tri-Town meeting?” she asked. Replied Bannon, “I would welcome anybody from anywhere to get active and involved and give us ideas. Any place, any time.”

Bannon said Chesterton plans to schedule a second open forum to discuss the drug crisis in the near future, but he also wants to talk privately with high school students over a pizza to get their input, too.

Bannon clarified his statement Monday that seemed to indicate he wanted Chesterton to deal with the drug problem itself. Bannon said his point was that he didn’t want to push the matter onto another level of government or create new bureaucracies. “My comments were not an effort to dissuade cooperation,” he stressed.

Crone, Chesterton council president, proposed a tri-town “take back our kids” rally with recovering addicts, judges and members of the Porter County Drug Enforcement Task Force as speakers.

Porter Councilman Bill Sexton said Duneland has the opportunity to come together as a community. “We all have great ideas. Let’s combine them.”

Granat said by working with a larger group, Porter is not passing off its responsibility to others. “We want the town to take a very active role in this. We’ve got to start working quickly to put some of these ideas into action.” She called for the Porter Police Commission to reactivate its reserve officer program, for the new Porter Explorer cadet post to carry out anti-drug activities, and for the town’s Police Department to be more visible in the neighborhoods and to do more outreach, especially in the schools.

Another goal, said the council, is that the website soon will be redesigned to offer resources and contacts for parents and addicts seeking to get clean and stay drug-free. A concern raised by the public Monday was that this information isn’t shared or made as available as it should be.

Porter Police Commission member Linda Hodges said, “The main thing is we have to look at this with open eyes. We cannot just say this doesn’t exist. It’s been going on too long. I was told if we build the new high school we won’t have drugs. That’s just preposterous.”

Early intervention is needed, Hodges added, to deter youths from starting down the addiction path by using alcohol and marijuana.

Porter resident Paul Ulrich is a 28-year veteran of law enforcement, 19 of them spent fighting illegal drugs. “I really have to commend this community. You’re really ahead of the game. There’s communities still in denial,” he told his council. Nevertheless, anti-drug efforts need to re-invent their message every year, said Ulrich; the Red Ribbon and Just-Say-No campaigns have lost their impact.

Ulrich said he’s a charter member of Porter County’s Community Action Drug Coalition formed in 1998. In the long term, the group is raising money to build a badly needed local drug-treatment center. In the short term, CADC has a speakers’ bureau, said Ulrich, who’s made hundreds of presentations on the drug topic himself. Granat said such programs may prove beneficial for local parents.

Porter council member Sandra Snyder called for Porter to create a municipal/citizen task force rather than waiting for a larger, multi-jurisdictional group to be formed. “It’s words, words, words and no solutions here,” said Snyder. “We need some action.”

She suggested a multi-pronged approach to combat the frustration, helplessness and discouragement she’s sensed. “It is the major responsibility of parents and families to keep kids away from drugs, and it’s the major responsibility of government to keep drugs away from kids,” said Snyder.

To that end, she proposed giving Porter police the tools to vigorously enforce drug laws, starting an anonymous tip line with substantial rewards upon arrest and conviction for drug-related crimes, and agressively petitioning the courts seeking decisive and thorough punishment for drug crimes.

Snyder said the community has drug-free kids, borderline kids who may take drugs, and full-fledged drug abusers. Whether public, private or faith-based, intervention and rehabilitation should be made available, she added, as well as interfacing with youth to let them know we care.

“I can’t imagine the hurt of a child on drugs. It must be horrific,” said Snyder, the mother of four grown children. She said schools should encourage positive peer pressure and get athletes involved in the anti-drug message.

Granat said if each town goes its own way, “I don’t want to keep having the same discussion. We could lose a child in that time.” Childress said no matter what the community does, “We have to realize we will lose some people here. Unless they are willing to say ‘I need help,’ there’s nothing we can do for them.” If they do seek help, he added, a plan should be in place to provide it.

Childress said too many expectations are being placed on creating a task force for fear the impression will be given “now we’ve assigned it to them and the problem’s solved.” He and resident Bruce Snyder called for stricter drug enforcement.

Porter Sgt. Todd Allen, pitch hitting for out-of-town Police Chief John Lane, said their department has a zero tolerance policy regarding drugs and has been making more arrests. After that, “I have no control over the judicial system,” said Allen. Ulrich predicted the methamphetamine problem will intensify in this area.”

Childress and Sexton supported a suggestion made Monday that elected officials in the Duneland area go door-to-door taking the anti-drug message directly to their constituents. “How much of an impact would it make if councilpersons from three towns show up at your door?” asked Sexton. “We did that to get elected. We can do that to stop the drug selling and abuse.”

Granat said grass-roots efforts can be very effective.

Monday, Childress announced he will require drug testing of all employees at his Splash Down Dunes water park in Porter this year. Ulrich said he supports mandatory, random drug testing for administration, teachers, staff and students in schools. “It’s distasteful to some but it works,” he noted, adding that new technology using hair and saliva makes the procedure less invasive.

Porter Public Works Director Scott Guy said a community needs activities for its youth so they won’t have idle time. Margo Ulrich said it’s important to have safe places where kids can feel comfortable; she also said the Porter midnight parade, which has generated complaints over public drinking, goes against the message adults should be sending.

Granat said the parade will be placed on a future agenda.


Posted 3/25/2004