Thursday, September 27, 2012

What Elizabethtown is, and what Elizabethtown isn't

In the wake of yesterday's drug bust here in Elizabethtown, I have been doing some thinking about our community, what it is and what it isn't.

This was especially true after one of my Twitter followers, in the space of 140 characters, thanked me for updating the community on the situation but also said, "Sad what that area has become."

To be honest, the comment rubbed me the wrong way.

What does that mean? That Elizabethtown is a drug-infested haven where alleged heroin dealers run rampant?

Or is it a community that, when law enforcement recognizes the significant issues and impacts that alleged criminal activity and drugs has, calls in the cavalry and organizes what could be a logistical nightmare for officers from multiple local, state and federal jurisdictions, and patiently and quietly goes about its work to build a case for six months?

When I was a newspaper reporter in my hometown, I often heard local officials say it was so hard to combat drug dealing because the community was isolated and it was hard to build trust because everyone knew everyone. That, to me, was making excuses that it was too hard.

Our Elizabethtown Police Department is to be lauded for the work our officers did yesterday and in the months leading up to it. From the bottom of my heart, as a resident of this community and as a member of Borough Council, I say to each and every officer, "Thank you!" I can't wait to look you in the eye and congratulate you and thank you personally.

Let me be clear about another thing, and let's think logically about it. The borough has 11,000 residents. A fraction -- a minuscule fraction -- was arrested yesterday. And they allegedly were servicing a fraction of our community. So while the numbers seem big, and the related media attention great, let's remember that the vast majority of Elizabethtown residents have not, will not, do not and never will use or sell illegal drugs.

This incident must be a learning experience for all of us. First, we are not immune to drug problems. Police Chief Jack Mentzer said every community, big and small, faces this problem. It's just a matter of actively addressing it and not burying our heads in the sand.

We can also learn about organizations, such as Elizabetown Area Communities That Care (full disclosure: My wife is a board member) that is working hard in conjunction with other community organizations and individuals to develop effective programs to battle drug use. This includes our schools and our churches.

We have a great community. We have people who care deeply about Elizabethtown. We can hang our heads in shame about what happened yesterday, or we can stand proud knowing that it does not define who or what we are as a community.


  1. Well written, Jeff. I am not a native of Elizabethtown, but (as of this month) have lived here just as long as I lived inm y hometown. I moved here as many did, right in between where my wife & I worked. Those of us who are transplants brought with us many things....but drugs are not one of them.

    I say this because this area still has a hint of opposition to what I'll call "outsiders." Your Twitter follower, I feel, exhibits signs of this, or at least insinuates it.

    Elizabethtown and the surrounding community are no different than any other similarly-sized community, with plenty of "good" and some "bad" sprinkled in. Plus, I'd bet you that, if you look @ backgrounds, many of the arrested are from "our town." I don't know that for a fact, but it wouldn't surprise me.

    1. I'm a transplant, too. And to a certain degree, I think you're right about the attitudes. I also think you're right about some of those arrested having grown up in Elizabethtown.

  2. Jeff, that was a nice article. The problem with drugs in America is that simply put, no community is not at risk. It exists everywhere. This is not an inner city thing or a problem that only occurs in the slums. It does not discriminate. Yes, there are areas more likely to have issues based on economic or demographic situations, but it can happen in small town American too.

    I see it in my small town of Stewartstown. I see it in affluent areas like Sparks or Bel Air MD. It happens in good schools and bad schools. Good towns and bad towns. Locals often like to blame the "transplants" for all of their ills, but if you look close, the "locals" are just as involved.

    I teach a class on street drug awareness mostly for EMS providers. In this class we go through the different things people do to "get high". My research on this course is on going. I am always learning something new. The one thing that the research has shown me is that this problem is not limited to a specific type of demographic. The reality is that humans have been trying to perfect "Modern living through better chemistry" for centuries. They are just getting more sophisticated about it now and the "dealing" aspect brings about allegedly easy money to support the modern spending habit.

    Drugs will always be around. Demand for money will always be around. Demand for drugs will always be around. As long as their is enough supply and demand for these goods, it will find it's way into our community. We have to be aware, be vigilant, and supportive of our law enforcement agencies, community support groups, and those that are affected.

    1. I agree with you wholeheartedly, Alex. I think there's a concern among some people in Elizabethtown that this incident will make others in Lancaster County say, "Oh, Elizabethtown is becoming another _________."

  3. I agree with your points in general, and the Chief Mentzer and the fine members of the E-town PD, PASP and other law enforcement officers deserve our thanks for a job well done.

    I am a little concerned, were these alleged dealers permanent E-town residents, or more transient who saw the area as a good location to setup shop. I ask because I *believe* the 2400 block of S. Market only has the Red Rose as a possible residence. Do you know if this is true?

    1. I know at least one, and possibly two, of the alleged dealers grew up in Elizabethtown. The others I'm not sure about. From what I could tell, you might be right about the Red Rose.


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