RED BANK, NJ: This is the second article of a 2-part series on the drug situation in Red Bank.  The first was from our “Back of the House” series that recognized Community Liaison Officer Dawn Shields.

 To read that article, click HERE.

We asked a series of questions to Red Bank’s Chief of Police Darren McConnell on his insight on the past and future fight on illegal drug activity in the borough.

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 TAPinto:  You’ve been Chief of the Red Bank Police Department for six years.  Tell us, from a general perspective, what the drug situation was when you first began to what it is now

McConnell: Over my thirty plus years with the department I have unfortunately seen drugs ruin what could have been otherwise very productive lives.  In the 1990s crack cocaine was very prevalent in our community and in many others and it arguably led to much of the crime that occurred during that time.  Eventually, the prevalence of this drug subsided considerably.

TAPinto:  What have you seen in the types of drug usage over the years?  

McConnell: Currently, the opioid epidemic is permeating our community and every other community across the country.  The addictive properties of these opioids and the relative ease with which a person can become addicted is extremely alarming.  That combined with the agents, such as fentanyl, that are being mixed with heroin, cocaine and other drugs means that the user does not necessarily know what they are ingesting or injecting.  This is making for a particularly dangerous situation and as we have all seen is causing an unprecedented number of overdoses across the country.

TAPinto: What’s the significance of gang activity in Red Bank?

McConnell: While we do have a gang presence in Red Bank, the amount of gang activity we see is very limited.  We document known gang members and where necessary, concentrate our enforcement efforts to curtail gang activity, working with neighboring jurisdictions as well as county, state and federal agencies.

TAPinto: Over the past six years, what have the statistics shown?   

McConnell: We have not kept detailed records specific to drug overdoses for that long.  However, looking at it in general, it is clear that our incidents of drug overdoses have increased dramatically in that time. We currently do enter all overdoses into a centralized location where we share that information state-wide and nationally.  This permits intel and narcotic units to track overdoses and aids in death investigations.

Looking at arrest records, approximately 25% of our narcotic arrests are opioid related arrests, a figure that has been fairly consistent for several years.

TAPinto: Community Officer Dawn Shields is the RBPD’s liaison for combating drug and gang influence.  Tell us your interaction with her in terms of updates and programs

McConnell: Officer Shields does an amazing job of teaching drug and gang prevention programs with our middle school aged children.  She has been doing this for a number of years now but before her, we had been teaching similar programs for at least 25 years.  Undoubtedly, these programs have made a tremendous difference by teaching kids about the dangers of drugs and how to resist peer pressure and make sound decisions in life. 

This year, in conjunction with the Little Silver and Shrewsbury Police Departments, we plan to implement the Not Even Once program at the high school level.  This program is specifically aimed at high school students preparing to go to college or into the workforce.  It is concentrated solely on the dangers of opioids and stresses the dangers of experimenting with these drugs or becoming dependent on them following injuries.  

TAPinto: New Jersey will be voting on the legalization of marijuana.  What do you see in terms of training your officers for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) enforcement?

McConnell: The possible legalization of marijuana does pose various issues from a law enforcement perspective.  The primary issue that is of greatest concern is the ability to properly enforce our DUI statutes.  Currently, there is no test which is readily available and easily administered which would quantify the use of marijuana by a motorist.  Blood and urine tests are effective, however, they are not cost effective and in the case of blood tests cannot be given by police officers. 

Additionally, the implied consent laws of New Jersey do not apply to blood and urine samples, which becomes a legal challenge for law enforcement.  To further complicate the issue, the mere presence of narcotics in the blood or urine does not equate to a per se violation of our DUI statutes.  With alcohol related cases, our breath and / or blood tests are quantified and a blood alcohol content of a set level does equate to a per se violation.

Currently, the Red Bank Police Department has two police officers who are certified Drug Recognition Experts.  The training to become certified is extremely challenging and time-consuming.  Once certified these officers are able to conduct a battery of tests on a motorist to determine their impairment and to determine what category of narcotics they are impaired by.  Unfortunately, prosecutions for these cases are very challenging and are another hurdle in enforcing our DUI laws effectively. 

The Supreme Court is currently scheduled to consider the validity of these tests and hopefully will deem them to be a reliable means of determining the impairment of drivers suspect of driving under the influence of narcotics.   The hope, not only of our department, but of agencies state-wide is to expand the cadre of Drug Recognition Experts in the coming months and years.

TAPinto: What steps are being taken by the Red Bank Police Department, beyond education, to combat the drug problem locally?

McConnell: We are always looking for new ways to enhance our response to these incidents and to the degree possible increase our enforcement efforts.

We fully recognize that we are not going to arrest our way out of this problem and need to think beyond the traditional role of law enforcement. 

To that end, I have met with other local police chiefs and we are exploring the possibility of providing a direct link between law enforcement and drug treatment. 

There are various programs such as this currently in operation, and essentially, they work to connect offenders who are charged with narcotic offenses or offenses that have a nexus to drug use, with treatment options, on the spot.  Recovery or addiction coaches respond to incidents of arrests or overdoses and attempt to place the user in a rehab type facility immediately.  Most of the programs offer some form of consideration for the original offenses if the offender successfully completes the program. 

While opioid addiction is extremely difficult to overcome, and we know we will not be successful in many cases, any success we do have will be a life saved. 

We also are preparing to deploy Narcan more widely within the department in order to enhance our ability to respond to incidents of drug overdoses.  Currently, we have several patrol vehicles on each shift equipped with Narcan.  With the assistance of the NJ Department of Health, we will soon be equipping every officer in the department with two doses of Narcan so that they are equipped at all times to respond effectively to overdose incidents.

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