Two of the territory’s senior drug prevention officials shared their program’s local goals and outreach with members of the Rotary Club of St. Thomas Sunrise meeting Tuesday.
Catherine Mills, deputy director of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Eric Barnard, resident agent in charge and HIDTA task force commander, spoke of the agency’s program to reduce drug use and its adverse consequences.
Together HIDTA represented one of a series of speakers in the club’s Practice Peace initiative. Peace and conflict resolution is one of Rotary International’s six areas of focus and will be the core focus for Rotary Sunrise during its 2013-14 Rotary year.
Mills has served the community for years. She was Human Services commissioner in November 1997 when she resigned to accept the post she has now held for 16 years.
Barnard moved to St. Thomas to assume his present post about a year and a half ago – after a law enforcement career reaching from his native Texas to four years in the Amazon jungles and on the high seas of the Pacific Ocean.
Barnard says he eagerly accepted his present position, which includes the territory, the British Virgin Islands and Montserrat.
Mills explained that HIDTA was created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. "It is a program where information is shared among federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies," she said.
"It creates a level playing field. It pulls us together. It’s a platform where everyone shares ideas – including the V.I. Police Department, IRB, the federal DEA and FBI. No one agency has more authority than any other," Mills said.
The Puerto Rico/U.S. Virgin Islands HIDTA had what looks like a banner year in 2012. Mills did, however, laud the work of the V.I. Police Department. "We have four highly trained police investigators. I could take them anywhere and they would do great work."
Mills said their job isn’t catching the guys selling pot on the street corner. "We are after long-term goals getting to the leaders of the drug cartels." HIDTA investigates high value/sophisticated drug trafficking organizations.
Barnard has years of first-hand experience investigating drug cartels in South America. "The biggest problem we face is corruption," he said, "people in responsible jobs being drawn into the drug operation for money."
Barnard said another critical concern is an attitude of acceptance that develops if all a community sees and reads in the papers is about drugs and crime. “People betraying their jobs for money, corruption – it promotes a culture of acceptance."
On the other side of the coin, HIDTA promotes a number of youth-oriented drug prevention programs, most notably as a sponsor of the annual Red Ribbon Week in October. Red Ribbon Week is a nationwide observance to honor the Drug Enforcement Agency agent Enrique Camarena, who was killed in the line of duty in 1985.
Red Ribbon Week is celebrated in the territory with marches by students from high schools and the University of the Virgin Islands, rallies and pledge days, and last year, a karaoke competition on the St. Thomas UVI campus.
Speaking after the meeting, Barnard said the "Just Think Twice" program is "great for teens." It’s a DEA program that answers questions, speaking clearly to the kids about the consequences of drug use. "It’s a program geared so parents can work with kids on avoiding temptation," he said. (See link below.)
"Engage Rotary, Change Lives" is the current Rotary International theme and call to action. Rotary Sunrise President Shaun A. Pennington sees the local Rotary community as the group to best bring Rotary’s influence and resources to turn the tide from the serious violence that is tearing the community apart.
The absence of community peace is the most critical issue for the territory, according to a recent poll done by the Source. It is the goal of the Practice Peace initiative spawned by Rotary Sunrise to reduce violence by 75 percent over the next 10 years.
For a schedule of Rotary Sunrise speakers, see http://www.clubrunner.ca/Portal/Home.aspx?cid=1603.