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City group seeks tough action on drugs


A group of city residents is asking state and local law enforcement to take a much tougher approach to eliminating illegal drug sales and use in Rochester, which they say is out of control. An organization called Many Neighbors Building Neighborhoods, which has also opposed some recent development projects in their areas, held a meeting at East High School last week to push their anti-drug effort.

Many of the people who attended the meeting said illegal drugs – everything from pot to heroin – are wreaking havoc on city families and neighborhoods. Reading from letters they said they sent to state and local law enforcement and justice officials, MNBN organizers called for several actions, some of them controversial. For instance, they want a "central database that citizens can enter alleged, ongoing problem drug houses, drug locations, and drug users." The information would be shared with all areas of law enforcement.

They also said they want an increase in arrests and enforcement of tougher sentencing for all forms of illegal drug sales and distribution, including marijuana, which has been legalized in some states.

"We take no delight in incarcerating people, but we need to stop this devastation," Mary Coffey said. Coffey, who is active in several neighborhood groups, led the MNBN meeting.

Law enforcement officers at the meeting, including Rochester Police Chief Michael Ciminelli, said they would look into suggestions like creating a citizen-led data base for reporting suspected drug crimes. But information-sharing is already a key component of their work, he said.

And District Attorney Sandra Doorley said her office is acutely aware of the drug problems in the Rochester area. For instance, there have been 85 opioid-related fatalities and 350 non-fatality cases so far this year, she said. But it's simply not possible to arrest and incarcerate everybody for possessing small amounts of marijuana, she said.

One resident from the Plymouth-Exchange neighborhood said many young people need more loving adults in their lives to keep them from making wrong choices. Others said more help from the medical community is desperately needed.

Some people in the audience were concerned about the large police presence at the meeting and strongly opposed criminalizing drug users, arguing that it doesn't cure addiction.

"Listening to some of this makes me furious," said Rebecca Baker, who formed Substance Overdose Awareness Recovery Services after her son died of an overdose last year. Addiction is a disease and should be treated like one, she said.

A lack of accessible treatment programs and available beds is the main barrier addicts and their families face in this area, Baker said. Baker helped 40 people get treatment in the last three months, but could find treatment for only one in Monroe County, she said.

Leaders of a Rochester neighborhood organization say that illegal drugs – everything from pot to heroin – are wreaking havoc on city families and neighborhoods. And they want law enforcement officials to take tougher action on drug users as well as sellers.