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Problem drinkers

Jun 1, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

New improvement campaign follows several that have come before

Riverton's police chief, along with other local leaders, wants to spearhead a new effort to shrink the problem of public intoxication and problem drinking in the community.

If ever an effort were worthy, this is that effort. And Riverton-area citizens ought to know. This has been tried and talked about for decades.

So often has this topic come and gone, in fact, that there is a genuine worry now that many in town will simply shrug their shoulders and say nothing can be done.

Perhaps that's where the approach by RPD chief Mike Broadhead, still a relative newcomer to the community, could help. He doesn't carry the memories of expired task forces, past mayor's commissions, pilgrimages to other cities and states, and the other things that have been attempted.

When you have not been touched personally by the plague of alcoholism or problem drinking, then it can be easier to take a hard line against public intoxication as a strictly law enforcement problem. "Lock 'em up until they sober up" is the battle cry of this philosophy. Out of sight, out of mind.

But the chief makes a useful point in urging the community to consider another plan of attack in combating what everyone would agree is a condition that warrants improvement -- and one in which improvement hasn't been apparent under the existing protocol of arrest, confinement and release -- with the same core group of offenders often commanding much of the attention.

To paraphrase the chief, what we're doing isn't working very well. It may be time to give at least equal consideration to treating problem drinking as we give to punishing it. Tuesday's public forum at City Hall on the topic was an important step.

The grumblers aren't going anywhere, however. Any public drive on this matter will always be hampered by institutional memory of campaigns gone bad, of certain topics being off limits for discussion or action, and well-meaning beginnings petering out before long.

Yes, we have had this sort of meeting several times before in our history. The problem hasn't been initiative so much as follow-through. Any new effort must clear that hurdle and demonstrate that we're in this for the long haul.

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