Combating drugs top priority for police

HANCOCK COUNTY — The Hancock County Sheriff’s Department will add a second narcotics investigator to its ranks in 2017. Meanwhile, local leaders say they’ll focus in on the new year on implementing programs aimed at treating drug addiction rather than just putting users behind bars.

The Hancock County Council voted in July to allot about $45,000 from the county’s saving accounts to pay the salary of a new detective whose sole focus is investigating drug-related crimes.

The decision came a year after law enforcement leaders declared the county’s drug problem a state of emergency and moved $100,000 into the sheriff’s department’s budget to hire a narcotics detective – the first one to join its ranks since 2010, when the county’s drug task force disbanded.

Adding manpower

County leaders hope a two-person investigative team within the sheriff’s department will take more drug dealers off local streets. Their work will be bolstered by that of an undercover drug detective employed by the Greenfield Police Department, who was hired in early 2016.The sheriff’s department hopes to have its newest narcotics detective by March if not sooner, said Maj. Brad Burkhart, the department’s chief deputy.

The county went without a concentrated drug task force for more than five years, after the former team was disbanded in 2010 when the lead detective admitted to stealing $10,000 from the drug-buy fund.

Prosecution of people suspected of drug-dealing dipped in the following years, records show: just 15 cases were filed in 2012.

Bringing drug-focused investigators back onto the force already has made a big impact, Burkhart said.

Jail records show 52 people were arrested on drug-dealing charges in 2016; that’s on top of the 49 cases that were filed by prosecutors against suspected drug dealers the year before. Burkhart hopes that progress will continue in the New Year.

Root of the problem

County leaders say arresting dealers is just the first step toward fighting drug abuse; they are prepared to move forward in 2017 with new programs aimed at treating addiction as well.

Starting early next year, inmates with a history of drug abuse who are being released from the Hancock County Jail will be offered medication that blocks the high caused by heroin and other opioid-based drugs.

Vivitrol, an injectable prescription medicine, will be administered by a medical professional to inmates who admit to using heroin, cocaine, prescription painkillers and other narcotic drugs, officials said.

Plans for the program were announced in late October. Although many of the details about the protocol are still being finalized, county officials hope to implement Vivitrol use in early 2017.

The county’s elected leaders say they’ll continue to throw their support behind initiatives that combat drug crime and addiction in the hope it cuts back on the jail populations and, more importantly, keeps citizens safe.

John Jessup, a newly elected member of the Hancock County Board of Commissioners, said he believes the county is headed in the right direction because it’s addressing drug abuse not only through enforcement but treatment.

Jessup was on the county council when the council voted to add narcotics investigators to the department’s ranks. He saw the hires as an investment in public safety, and he plans to continue pushing for such changes.

“We can’t just put people in jail because it doesn’t solve the problem,” he said.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.