News Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.
Westchester County law enforcement has targeted large-scale drug suppliers leading to significant drug seizures, which has sharply reduced the rate of overdoses over the past two years.
Last week, County Executive George Latimer and county police brass last week updated the progress made since the Narcotics Reduction Program was rolled out in June 2020 in response to the opioid epidemic and the rising number of overdoses and overdose deaths.
Many of the overdoses in recent waves involved the use of fentanyl, which makes other drugs such as heroin and cocaine more deadly along with fentanyl-laced pills, said Thomas Gleason, Commissioner of the Westchester County Department of Public Safety.
County police have partnered with local, state and federal law enforcement to make the best uses of resources and execute significant busts and seizures by going after the major dealers rather than low-level offenders and people who use the substances, he said.
“Our goal remains the same, to interdict and intercept these products before they reach the streets of our county,” Gleason said during a May 19 press conference in White Plains.
During the past 23 months, Gleason said authorities have seized 453,422 bags of fentanyl packaged for individual sale; 94 kilograms of fentanyl packaged in bulk; 863 fentanyl pressed pills disguised as prescription medication; 66 kilograms of cocaine; 41 vehicles equipped with aftermarket hidden compartments; and 27 firearms.
In the first quarter of this year, overdoses fell by 40 percent in Westchester compared to the same time period last year, said John Hodges, chief investigator for the Westchester County police.
“That’s what we’re hoping to do on this side of things, by reducing the supply into the area,” Hodges said. “We hope that this trend continues and hopefully we can further reduce overdoses and overdose-related deaths due to fentanyl, which has just been a scourge.”
Hodges and Gleason explained that law enforcement has used a strategy referred to as “precision policing strategies,” where resources are used to go after the biggest dealers rather than more minor criminals.
Hodges said with the cooperation of local police departments, including the use of the county’s Real Time Crime Center which sees multiple agencies provide staff, the FBI, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and Homeland Security, the crackdown has yielded highly successful results.
State Sen. Peter Harckham (D-Lewisboro), who chairs the Senate Committee on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, said the work in Albany is on prevention programs and making treatment and recovery programs available to those with a narcotics problem.
However, the police’s role to drastically reduce the supply of fentanyl is a major factor in protecting people because of the lethality of the drug, Harckham said.
“Fentanyl is nothing more than a poison that’s killing our kids, that is killing our parents and is really ripping a hole in the fabric of our society,” he said. “So for the task force to focus on the people who are moving and trafficking fentanyl is essential, and I applaud them for the work they’ve done.”
Latimer said the efforts by police during the past two years have almost certainly been a lifesaver for countless Westchester residents.
“These men have saved lives,” Latimer said. “There were individuals who might have died of a fentanyl overdose that didn’t because of the work that they did.”
In addition to other agencies, the county police work collaboratively with the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office on narcotics investigations. Since many of the drug-related offenses involve federal charges, information cannot always be readily shared with the public. However, Gleason said his office wanted to highlight the progress that has been made.
“We wanted to provide this update to the public to ensure them that we are hard at work, and very successfully at work, in the effort to keep fentanyl out of our communities,” he said.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/