Addressing the 'big picture'
MICHAEL A. HEERY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Lehighton Area Drug and Alcohol Task Force. Leading the discussion were, left to right, Lehighton Area High School Principal Tim Tkach; Sergeant Joseph Lawrence of Lehighton Police Department; Carbon County District Attorney Gary Dobias; and Lehighton Area School District Superintendent James Kraky.
Lehighton Area Drug and Alcohol Task Force continued its battle against substance abuse by recently hosting a program with local police departments and municipalities to discuss the problem of drug and alcohol abuse - as well as the possibility of creating a community crime watch.
Facilitating the session, Lehighton Area High School Principal Tim Tkach described the task force as "A committee with representation from all parties addressing 'The Big Picture.' We're trying to get the community working together."
The task force also recently hosted an informational session entitled "The Latest Legal Drugs of Abuse." The program was presented by Pyramid Health Group, Inc. to the faculty and staff of the middle school and high school - as well as to interested community members.
Currently, Lehighton Area School District is discussing with the Borough of Lehighton the possibility of acquiring a school resource officer.
Addressing this matter, Sgt. Joseph Lawrence of Lehighton Police Department explained that the officer would be an extension of the police department with an office at the school. He or she would be present during the school day and have contact with the students on a daily basis - with a police car parked in front of the building.
"Visibility is key," said Lawrence . "For too long, the police have been reactive - rather than educating." Currently, there is no school resource officer in Carbon County .
As with so many things, it comes down to the bottom line - money.
Superintendent James Kraky said, "As a school district, we are looking at making a school resource officer a priority. We have to look at the models out there and see what our needs are. Then we need to determine who shares in the cost."
Discussion then turned to the possibility of forming a community crime watch program. Carbon County District Attorney Gary Dobias advised taking the time to form it properly.
"An effective crime watch is two-fold. It provides information and deters crime. It is additional eyes and ears to assist the local police," explained Dobias. "It would be a positive step in the right direction."
Lehighton Mayor Donald Rehrig recalled that the borough had a crime watch about 26 years ago. "At the time, it was dropped simply due to lack of interest. However, there seems to be more interest now."
It was discussed that crime does not just happen in "nice weather" at a "decent time." A core group of people is needed to come together and take the lead.
Several volunteers stepped forward to assist Kraky and Tkach to begin the research and development phase for a crime watch program.
Former School Board member John Finnegan suggested, "Education is key. We should look at building a generation that won't abuse drugs and alcohol."
Kraky agreed that the best way to work toward this goal is to enhance the curriculum that is already being taught beginning in elementary school - making good choices, choosing good friends, etc.
Carbon County Commissioner Wayne Nothstein was asked to look into the possibility of a county-wide tip line. The public could call the tip line and the information would be forwarded to the proper authorities.
Looking at additional drug and alcohol programs, Tkach said he is working with Lehighton Rotary Club on the "Straight-Up Drug Awareness Program." It is modeled after a similar program in Luzerne County where a convicted inmate addresses students and the community regarding the perils of drug and alcohol use and abuse. To date, more than 45,000 students in Luzerne County have heard this important message.
Both Tkach and Kraky thanked the task force for "a very productive meeting."
Lehighton Area Drug and Alcohol Task Force is made up of three subcommittees - parents, school representatives, and community organizations / agencies. Each group is charged with creating specific goals and an action plan to reach those goals.
The next task force meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, January 17 at 6:30 p.m. at LAHS.
For more information about LASD in general and the Drug and Alcohol Task Force Board specifically, visit www.Lehighton.org.