Weed and Seed Program starting new initiatives
Published: Thursday, March 3, 2011
Updated: Thursday, March 3, 2011 23:03
In the third year of its five-year grant, Huntington's Weed and Seed Program is taking on new challenges to help better the community.
The Drug Market Intervention Program began in October 2010 and is focused on giving drug dealers a chance to better their lives.
"We have identified six drug dealers in our community that we have ironclad cases against," said Tim White, Weed and Seed program coordinator. "All we need is a signature on their arrest warrant and they could go to jail for a long, long time. But the community feels like there's still a redeeming value in their lives, and if given a chance to walk away from that lifestyle, they would."
White said the program coordinators met with those six individuals and offered the option of joining the program for a chance to change their lives. Two of the drug dealers declined the offer. White said these two are now on the run and federal warrants have been issued for their arrests.
The four drug dealers who took the opportunity to begin a new life have now each acquired their GED's and are now attending college, according to White. He said the program makes sure they stay on track by giving them random drug tests between three to five times a week. So far, all of those test results have come back clean.
White said giving individuals who have taken a dangerous path in life a chance to begin again is a better way to combat the drug problem than putting them in jail with no chance to start over.
"We realize locking people up isn't going to fix the problem. Sometimes all it does is delay the problem," White said. "If you lock them up for 10 years, 10 years later they come back with the same problem. It's a matter of giving them the tools they need and the help they need to break the addiction and to become good parents, good husbands and wives, good citizens and good employees."
White said he has been contacted by other communities across West Virginia and some in other states about how to help duplicate the program in their areas. The Huntington chapter of Weed and Seed got the idea for the Drug Market Initiative Program from a community in High Point, N.C., where the initial program began about 10 years ago. White said about a year was spent on research, along with many trips to High Point to see the program firsthand.
The Weed and Seed Program is a national program developed out of the U.S. Department of Justice, according to a brochure from the Huntington Police Department. Initiated in 1991, the program is an effort to revitalize communities with the help of both law enforcement and community members.
The three main objectives of the Weed and Seed Program, according to the brochure, are to control violent and drug-related crime and drug trafficking in target neighborhoods; introduce new initiatives to prevent violent crime, drug trafficking and gang activity; and to encourage community members to help law enforcement identify and remove offenders and find other ways to meet human service needs of these areas. According to the brochure, more than 150 communities across the United States have implemented the program.
The target area for Huntington's chapter of the Weed and Seed Program covers 1.24 square miles. The west boundary is 8th Street, the east boundary is 28th Street, the north boundary is 2nd Avenue and the south boundary is 13th Avenue and Roby Road, according to the brochure.
Huntington City Council member Steve Williams thinks the efforts of the Weed and Seed Program have benefited the community in a few different ways.
"I think the greatest benefits of this effort are, one, that you're able to start showing a very aggressive stance that we're taking our streets back," Williams said. "Secondly, you create the confidence within the community that they don't feel helpless any longer, that it's an active partnership between members in the community and law enforcement standing arm-in-arm together and being active rather than passive in combating the drug market."
The Weed and Seed Program, located in the Barnett Center on 10th Avenue, is also working to better the community while also combating the drug market. White said the goal for the "seed" initiative is to create things such as after-school programs, home ownership programs and any other programs to help better the lives of community members.
According to White, the "seed" part of the program's goals has been in effect in the area surrounding the program. The building that houses the program also offers meetings and classes such as Alcoholics Anonymous, free computer classes and many others. White said four new businesses have started and about 15 homes have been purchased in the area in the past year.
"Our focus is to go from this being the worst part of our community for drugs and crime and really make it conducive for folks to live and work here," White said.
Ashley Mannon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.