BENNINGTON, Vt. -- Sixteen suspected drug dealers in Bennington County were arrested Wednesday after local law enforcement officials conducted "Operation County Strike Two," the culmination of a six-month-long investigation by the Vermont Drug Task Force. It's a follow-up to Operation County Strike which occurred in January, when more than 40 suspects were taken into custody.
Officers from the Bennington Police Department, the Manchester Police Department, the Bennington County Sheriff's Department, and the Vermont State Police participated in the sweep, which targeted 23 individuals. All 23 individuals appeared in Bennington County Superior Court Criminal Division, where they were arraigned throughout the afternoon.
Three of the individuals arrested had been taken into custody during January's sweep, police said.
Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette attributed the success of the sweeps to the continued collaboration by police during a press conference in Shaftsbury later in the day.
"Our partnerships with municipal, state, and county law enforcement agencies allow us to take productive steps to deter the epidemic abuse of illicit drugs that is driving crime," he said, noting the importance of punishment for those who had been apprehended. "Our goal here is to make our community safe. We need to push back and have successful prosecution, have the judges take a look at these crimes that are being committed and hand out harsh sentences. This behavior is not going to continue in Bennington County."
Doucette also addressed the importance of seeking treatment for those addicted to drugs, as well as the importance of consistency after seeking care.
"I firmly believe that treatment can be successful but once you complete treatment, you need to stay away from the issues that you were having prior to going into treatment," he said. "It's not just a one-time thing. They need to receive their treatment and then stay engaged. Once people are to a point where they can be good members of our community, then we will welcome them into our community, as long as they've resolved their issues."
State's Attorney Erica Marthage said the county needs to remain consistent in combating Bennington's drug epidemic.
"Back in January we indicated this (drug sweep) would not be something we would be doing once and then dropping," she said. "It's something we've maintained a constant eye on and something the investigators here in Bennington have been working on constantly. We're pleased to do this type of operation and it would be my goal to maintain this high level of persistence with these types of offenses, so that we can remain a safe community and make sure these types of crime do decline."
Marthage said a number of the Bennington cases from January's sweep have been resolved and that a healthy number of "stiff sentences" have been handed out.
She declined to speak to extent of the charges or release names of repeat offenders, but did say she was pleased with the number of arrests made Wednesday.
"We have noticed a decline, at least in the court system, with the types of cases like this that we are running across," Marthage said. "So, I think this is a problem we need to continue to focus on."
Seven additional suspects are being sought for similar drug trafficking charges. Arrest warrants will be issued for the remaining individuals, but police say they expect several to turn themselves in.