By Cecelia Smith-Schoenwalder
Florine Tinsley of Lexington was found guilty Monday of manufacture, sale or distribution of controlled substance. Police had charged her in November with illegally possessing a bag of hydromorphine.
But because Tinsley’s offense happened within 1,000 feet of a school, she was also found guilty of distribution of a controlled substance on school property in Rockbridge Circuit Court.
Selling drugs near a school or a college is a felony in Virginia punishable by a mandatory sentence of between one and five years in prison.
Lexington Police Investigator Greg Gardner says almost anyone who deals drugs in the city runs that risk.
“With VMI [Virginia Military Institute], W&L [Washington and Lee University], and all the county and city schools within the city . . . there’s not really many places you could distribute drugs within the city that isn’t near a school,” Gardner said.
Gardner estimates there are about 150 drug-related arrests in the Rockbridge area every year. There were 40,305 drug arrests in Virginia in 2013, according to the Virginia State Police Uniform Crime Reporting Program. That is slightly below the national average. But the numbers aren’t Maury River Middle School Resource Officer Chris Norris’ main concern.
“[Selling near a school is] something we look for,” Norris said. “We get a tape measure out, and if you’re . . . close to the school, we’re gonna bust you for it.”
Norris said most offenders who face charges of selling near a school probably do not intend to sell to kids. Rather, they are ignorant of the school zones. Norris wants the kids at Maury River to know what drug users and dealers can face. So two years ago, he began teaching a “Virginia Rules” course.
Norris says the course goes a step beyond the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program some schools use. D.A.R.E.’s mission is to teach “students good decision-making skills to help them lead safe and healthy lives.
“I think the big thing with D.A.R.E. was just say no,” he said. “Well, just say no will only carry you so far. If kids don’t know what can happen to them if they do break a law or they do start using drugs, it’s the after-effects they need to know about.”
Norris hopes educating the students early will keep them from making bad decisions later.
“If I could just cut in half the numbers of people who transition from, say, alcohol to marijuana, to meth, then I’m doing something. It’d be nice to get them before they transition to the meth type of lifestyle like the stealing, the violence,” Norris said.
Norris uses the “Faces of Meth” photos during his alcohol and drug abuse courses to show the students how drug use can affect them physically.
“Methamphetamine is one of the most addictive and life-ruining drugs that are out there,” he said.
Gardner is glad Norris is focusing on educating the kids. He wants to see more educational programs like Virginia Rules in school systems.
“I’m very hopeful that it will let them know what kind of hardships people get themselves into when they get into drugs,” Gardner said.
Maury River Middle School Teacher Tasha Polly says the course encourages students to have positive connections with police officers.
“I think it builds a good relationship of trusting the police officers,” Polly said. “Sometimes they’re a little timid, but now they’re free to talk to [Norris] about anything.”
Sonja Cash, whose daughter is in the eighth grade at Maury River Middle School, says she is glad students are educated on these issues.
“Unfortunately, a lot of these kids won’t get that type of discussion at home,” Cash said.
Norris says he has been approached by parents as well.
“A parent came up and said ‘I don’t know what you’re teaching my girls, but they said they absolutely loved it . . .’” Norris said. “Which I’m tickled to hear.”
For more information on meth abuse in the area click here.