U.S. Senator Charles Schumer made a few stops in the Hudson Valley Tuesday. The senior Democrat’s first stop was in Putnam County, outside the sheriff’s department in Carmel. He was there to promote a bill he says would help law enforcement on the front lines of the opioid crisis.
New York’s Senator Schumer says the bipartisan bill would authorize $20 million to the U.S. Department of Justice to create a grant program to help state and local law enforcement obtain high tech tools to identify lethal drugs such as fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin.
“There’s a little device where you can scan for fentanyl that can be held by our law enforcement officials,” says Schumer. “If they come upon a scene where there might be a drug dealer or someone who’s just succumbed to an overdose, fentanyl could hurt them, could kill them. And these little scanning devices prevent that.”
Putnam County Sheriff Robert Langley, Jr.
“Devices like this would be instrumental for law enforcement. The expenses can be overbearing and, with the help of the federal government, through grants, will alleviate those expenses,” says Langley. “Our officers who go into buildings on search warrants often are exposed to unknowns, and this would make just make their jobs that much safer.”
Schumer says federal law enforcement officials have already deployed this drug scanning equipment to screen contraband smuggled into the U.S. at the border or through the mail. He says the grant program is needed because the scanner can be prohibitively expensive for local law enforcement agencies relying on already tight municipal budgets.
“Now, if you’re the New York City Police Department, you can afford one of these. They cost about, what is it, $80,000. They use laser technology,” says Schumer. “But if you’re a local police or sheriff’s department, $80,000 is a lot. It can pay for an officer. So we have introduced something, in a bipartisan way, called the POWER Act.”
“POWER” stands for Providing Officers with Electronic Resources. In 2017, according to the New York state Department of Health, Putnam County faced 20 fatal drug overdoses – an increase of more than 66 percent from 2013. The number was also about double that of each Rockland and Westchester Counties. Also, in 2017, 323 people from Putnam County were admitted into chemical dependency programs. Republican Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell praised Schumer for backing what she called responsible legislation.
“And it’s very important to have tools like this,” Odell says. “Technology can only help us fight this scourge of epidemic, heroin epidemic in our county.”
“We hope to pass this in December, when we do the Justice Department bill,” Schumer says.
Langley says law enforcement needs more funding to fight the opioid epidemic.
“Here in Putnam County, any death resulting from an opiate overdose is treated as a homicide and investigated as such,” says Langley. “We would like to be able to staff a full-time, dedicated investigator that could follow up on these leads that often bring us down into the Bronx and to Queens.”
Schumer then headed across the Hudson River to Newburgh to call on the federal Department of Transportation to reverse course and leave in place a requirement that would have mandated trains carrying crude oil and other flammable substances to use electronically controlled pneumatic braking systems. Schumer’s third Hudson Valley stop was at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie, where he pushed for passage of “The Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act.” In September, Marist College and Health Quest announced they are partnering to create a School of Medicine at Vassar Brothers, and Schumer vowed to lead the venture through the accreditation process.