MONTVILLE, NJ – The Economic Development Committee held a networking breakfast May 16 at which Sheriff James Gannon spoke on school violence and opioids and state Senator Joe Pennacchio spoke on the state’s economic problems.

Gannon said from the moment he was sworn in, he wanted to attack the opioid problem.

“Our numbers are going up,” he said. “I was in the homicide unit [when I worked as a Boonton police officer]. I spent my time in the morgue. I saw it up close and personal. We had 64 deaths in 2016 and 85 in 2017. Trending at 37% down this year but we had one yesterday [May 15]. We have this problem and it’s affecting everyone—and addiction is in this room. I’m not saying yourself, I’m saying you have a story. A friend, a colleague, a relative, somebody’s kid, somebody’s father – is addicted. So we decided to do something different.”

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Gannon described what eventually became the Hope One vehicle, a former SWAT vehicle that has been painted to become a mobile service van, offering access to services, narcan and training, and a stigma-free connection to counselors. The vehicle visits various sites in the county at least twice a week.

“I knew it would work but not to the extent it worked,” he said. “It’s very focused on recovery. Tomorrow will be our 127th time out over the past 13 months. So far we’ve served 3,400 people. Every time we go out, someone goes to a mental health or addiction program. We go out into the community and they come to us. We’ve trained 1,000 people in the use of narcan and 12 have come back for more.”

Gannon said that there are now Hope One units in Newark, Penn Station (Newark), Atlantic City, Cape May County, and Monmouth County, and he has been invited to testify in Congress about innovative ideas regarding the opioid crisis.

When asked about opioid addiction in the business world, Gannon said a disheveled look, pinpoint pupils, and items missing are signs that someone may have a problem, and he encouraged attendees to contact him for help.

“I’ll drive them [to get help] myself. We can start them down that road to recovery. The only thing we can’t do is make the person [get help themselves],” he said. “Getting the person to understand that it’s time to [get help]. If we could, we would win the Nobel Prize.”

School Violence

Gannon said that the county is very sophisticated about school violence.

“[Local police such as Montville Township] have a relationship with the schools, they know the layout of the schools and have the blueprints in the car, we train for active shooter, and we have long guns in the car to neutralize the threat,” he said. “That’s reactive. But what about the proactive side? Morris County had 21 threats a couple of weeks ago – second in the state. They have to be managed appropriately.”

Gannon said the process he’s spearheading is called RSVP – responsible school violence prevention, which he called a threat assessment lethality matrix. He compared it to a fifth grader saying he wants to “kill himself” vs. a 12th grader who used to have As but now has Fs, recently lost his mother, is cutting himself and has a plan. He said he has the endorsement of several federal agencies for the program. He called the program “good things happening collectively.”

“This is about educators, mental illness professionals – this is about everybody coming together and looking to set forth good policy and protect people,” he said. “There’s no more room for rhetoric. If we’re going to do something, let’s do it, and make decisions. We have to make a change. I think you’re in safe hands.”

Senator Pennacchio

Pennacchio said his first foray to Trenton was with the state Economic Development Authority, where he found out what it takes to have strong economy.

“One thing it doesn’t take is increasing taxes,” he said. “You can’t slap somebody on the back, tell them what a great job they’re doing, and then pick their pockets with the other. And New Jersey is consistently ranked 49th or 50th worst state to do business in. It’s not one thing, it’s many. Raising minimum wage, bureaucracy, family paid sick leave, regulations on business owners that increase the cost of doing business here, combined with high property taxes at home [are deterrents].”

He said the current governor’s budget raises spending by 8% and is a down-payment for increasing government. He called New Jersey a “lousy” state to do business in to begin with and said the governor’s program will tax people more and more. He said this is causing older residents to leave, splitting up families.

“The good news is, the Democrats and Republicans are on the same page, fighting the same battles against the governor, so we’re hoping to come up with a compromise,” he said.

Pennacchio said he has an open-door policy and encouraged residents to call and then come down to see him in his office on Changebridge Road.

About the Economic Development Committee

According to the township website, the EDC’s goal is “developing and implementing a strategic business attraction and retention program for the municipality. Its function is to match enterprises looking for a new home with a suitable and appropriate location within Montville's borders. The EDC's mission is to attract strong and diverse corporations that will add to the township's already strong and diverse business mix.”

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