‘We’re here to try to save lives’: How a Lehigh Valley drug task force hopes to get fentanyl off the streets amid a surge in drug deaths
From The Morning Call:
Jillian Snider, a former New York Police Department narcotics officer who lectures at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said the task force model succeeds because it targets high-level distributors who import drugs to an area and feed a network of dealers.
The biggest such operations are carried out by federal authorities, but city and county level task forces can make a big difference in the flow of drugs.
Snider worked mainly in the Bronx in what she called “street-level” enforcement. It’s a frustrating task, because most arrests are of low-level dealers who will likely be charged with misdemeanors and do little time.
“You’re not getting to the source of the problem,” she said. “But if we can get the felony trafficker off the street, that makes a big difference.”
As with all law enforcement, task forces have to negotiate the fine line between investigative necessities — secrecy and surveillance — and a community’s right to know how it is being policed.
Snider, who is also policy director for criminal justice and civil liberties at R Street, a public policy institute, said task force success stems from the essence of the model — communication among agencies.
“You could have cartel operations in one town and two towns over have the same problem,” she said. “So, let’s share information.”
Both county task forces use the Lehigh County Regional Intelligence and Investigation Center, known as RIIC, which Martin oversees. It’s a crime-data clearinghouse run by three intelligence analysts, two county detectives and support staff. Investigators can use it to establish connections among people, locations, phones and vehicles in drug trade and other criminal activity.
The more tools, the better. Snider said the drug problem is so intractable because of the nature of addiction. One of the paradoxes of drug enforcement is that when police warn the community about a batch of drugs that is especially deadly in its potency, users will not avoid it. They’ll seek it out, eager for a better high.
Some years ago, she recalled, users in New York were dying from a batch of fentanyl-laced heroin.
”The cops were driving around announcing on the PA, ‘There’s a bad batch of heroin that’s laced with something,’” she said. “And there were people lining up to find the dealer who sold the narcotic that killed people.”
Users aren’t the only ones who suffer, of course. From parents burying an addicted child to a neighborhood terrorized by gangs, drugs are a medium of anguish.