Unusual access granted
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The press conference was pretty standard.
The "field trip" afterward was anything but.
Locust Township Police Chief Allen Breach said he was simply trying to give reporters a chance to do a better story Tuesday when he led them four miles from the police station to the property where a major marijuana bust had taken place a day earlier.
It was unusual indeed to be given access to the property in that manner, but we think it was a great demonstration of public access.
If a drug bust occurs at a home in center-city Shamokin, and even when we learn of it after the fact, access is typically easy. Even from a public street or sidewalk, you can see the home, probably the backyard and maybe into the windows.
Not so in this week's Locust Township bust, which took place in a home mostly hidden from view in the woods outside of Numidia. Police served a search warrant Monday and confiscated some 125 pot plants, $47,000 and guns, some of them loaded with the safety switch off.
The media didn't get an invite to the raid, but in trying to offer details about the unique location with reporters who attended a press conference the next day, Breach decided to offer the on-site tour.
He said a driveway shared by three or four property owners runs closest to the defendant's property, so getting close was easy. He led the way with the reporters following in their own vehicles.
Breach allowed the reporters - from The News-Item, (Bloomsburg) Press Enterprise and WNEP-TV - to walk around the property, including through the brush to a field just east of the defendant's home where 49 tubs of pot plants were seized. The reporters were not allowed in the home or a shed on the property.
While the drugs, money and guns were displayed at the press conference, Breach figured it was "educational" for the media - and, thereby, the public - to get a look at the site, particularly considering the sophistication of this alleged drug operation.
"Here's what we were talking about in the paperwork" was the thought, Breach said in discussing the tour later in the week.
He said the area is so secluded that those doing a fly-by in a state police helicopter on Thursday could not make out even the open field where the 49 tubs were found, let alone the house. The aerial check was done to see if there were any other nearby fields where marijuana was growing. None was found.
While Breach, who's been a cop for 15 years, figures he could get some flack for taking the press onto private property, he said it is a crime scene and there are no "no trespassing" signs. Besides, police are routinely checking the property while its owner sits in jail, trying to be sure looters and perhaps past clientele don't try anything.
And he is also hoping to drive home the point that while more people seem to be accepting of legalizing marijuana, it remains a major criminal issue. Breach guessed that half or more of the people his guys deal with in pot busts are using marijuana as a supplement to other drugs. And it's those other drugs that lead to more serious crimes like thefts and burglaries, he said. He compared it to alcohol in that some people can use it socially with no problem, but others can't.
As for the crime scene tour, we appreciate the chief's effort in trying to draw more attention to the drug problem by allowing greater access by the media.
(Andy Heintzelman, editor of The News-Item, writes "The Week In News" for each Saturday edition.)